I’ve been so busy with Ten Little Astronauts recently that I haven’t properly managed to write about any of the games events I’ve attended this year, even though I’ve got to more of them than ever and exhibited my own work for the first time. For that reason, I’m cramming them all into this one big blog post, in reverse chronological order, starting with…
Reading Comic Con (25th-26th November)
This was the final event at which I exhibited Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure before finishing the whole thing, and the advice I got there (particularly from Noaksey) helped shape the look of the version that’s gone out to all the supporters of Ten Little Astronauts who’ve asked to get an early look at it. (I’m still sending those out on request, so if you’ve put in a pledge – even if you end up doing it after this – and want to have a play at that, get in touch and let me know.) Basically, I was set up in a corner of the room just inside the door, which was an absolutely ideal position for catching the attention of passers-by, except that the default Twine stylesheet I was using for Exponential Adventure at that point made it look more like a survey of some sort than an actual playable game. Compare to how it looks now:
It’s basically just a parchment background with the links coloured to suit it, but I think it makes an absolute world of difference. I made the change literally overnight on my woefully underpowered netbook so that I could have the improved version ready for the second day of Comic Con the following morning, and made a few further tweaks with help from Isak Grozny and G. Deyke after the event.
Oh, and I also got a chance to step away from my display table to meet Danny John-Jules! It was pretty amazing to be able to head over and say hi because I’ve been a fan of Red Dwarf literally my entire life. The theme song was among my first words. Anyway, I couldn’t stick around for long because I’d left the guys behind Elemental Flow watching my table and also there was a pretty huge queue to meet the Red Dwarf cast members who were there, but the main thing I took away from this is that Danny John-Jules is a spectacularly nice guy. He was only announced as one of the guests last thing the day before – since up until then he’d expected to be needed for filming elsewhere – and he was raising money for charity at the event. If it was me, I might have just taken the opportunity for a day off!
If you’d like a look at some of what else went on in the Indie Games Zone at Reading Comic Con, you might like to check out this post from Noaksey himself, and also the (then) live video stream from the event. If I look a little dishevelled in the video, it’s because I’d spent the night sleeping under my coat on the floor of a friend’s house (it was good to catch up, and also saved me having to book accommodation at a spectacularly busy time).
AdventureX (11th-12th November)
This was definitely the biggest games event I exhibited at, and to be honest I’m kind of surprised they accepted Exponential Adventure. This one was ludicrously popular: the queue went out of the building at times and they hit capacity at the venue within half an hour of opening on the first day (so I’m hoping they’ll be able to get a bigger space next year). Mine was the only entirely text-based game on show (as far as I’m aware), and it was only only me behind it, while some of the other projects were highly polished efforts from whole teams of people. It did seem to go down very well, though, despite this being before I’d improved the game’s style or even had a chance to write as much of it as I would have liked. By this point (and indeed at all of the events this year) it was nearly complete, but still something like 1 in 16 possible storylines would lead to a dead end at a certain point.
Despite its flaws at this stage of completion, Exponential Adventure went down very well indeed. AdventureX attracts an international crowd of developers as well as just regular games fans, and I’d say probably quite a majority were developers of some sort or another. Gamers seem to understand Exponential Adventure better than readers in general, but people who have tried to produce any sort of branching path narrative for themselves are nearly always the quickest to realise just how much work is involved in writing a narrative that branches exponentially. This guy, for example, definitely gets it.
This made AdventureX probably the most interesting event to set up at, because usually people were keen to talk about the story in more depth and were curious about the character and setting as well as just the basic structure. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve ended up staying in touch with so many people from this particular event. Also, it turned out that I was staying in the same hostel as a whole bunch of them. I find a lot of people seem reluctant to turn up to events if nobody they know is going to be there, but usually if you’re staying nearby you’ll run into people who are doing exactly the same thing, and then pretty soon you will know people who are there. As it happened, however, I actually did know quite a few people at this one, including Joey Jones (author of Trials of the Thief-Taker), who very kindly watched my table from time to time over the weekend.
If you want an overview of the entire event, Space Quest Historian’s video report is pretty comprehensive. Naturally I was manning my table most of the time, so this video was pretty much how I caught up with everything else that was going on!
Indies Unplayed (29th October)
This was the absolute first event I ever attended to exhibit my own game. and I think it was a great one to start off with. It was held at Secret Weapon, a London gaming bar that I would totally go to all the time if I lived anywhere near it. I’d already met a couple of the other exhibitors – Gary Kings and Chris Payne – at EGX the month before, so again it’s worth noting how easy it is to get to know people in games. Two years ago I hadn’t been to anything like this, and it wasn’t until pretty much this time last year that I started making a concerted effort to do that, so it really doesn’t take much to meet developers provided you can physically turn up at places where they’ll be.
Indies Unplayed was probably the smallest of the events I went to, but actually Exponential Adventure seemed to attract more interest here than at Reading Comic Con even though some of the other, flashier titles were the same. Thinking back, AdventureX was pretty much the ideal place to exhibit because people were there for narrative games specifically, while Reading Comic Con probably wasn’t such a good match simply because not everyone there was into games at all (though the variety of things going on also meant it was probably the most fun for me to be at: I saw some great costumes while I was there!). Indies Unplayed was somewhere between the two, in that although people woludn’t necessarily have been expecting a text-based game, they were very much there for games in general.
I did have a bit of a think about how I’d set up the table for this first event, and – since I wasn’t sure how long people would be likely to play or how much competition there would be for screen time – made sure to set up some posters pointing people towards the online demo, which loads reasonably nicely on a mobile phone. I printed QR codes, which turned out to be the most popular option, but also made one copy of the poster you see above, largely just because I thought “Tap phone on rippling muscles to begin demo” set the tone nicely. The poster includes a concealed NFC sticker which I’ve set up to open the demo on any (unlocked, NFC-enabled) phone placed on it. This saw less actual use, but got a few laughs and proved useful on at least one occasion when a player didn’t have a QR code reader installed but did have NFC working. The mobile option was useful in general because it meant that anybody who took an interest in the game due to seeing someone else play could have a go right away: that might not be practical for all games, but for all my Twine stuff at least I’ll be sure to sort it out somehow.
This being the first event – and having no idea what the response was likely to be like – I also considered how I’d get people to take a look at Exponential Adventure in the first place. Ultimately, I ended up ordering a super cheap fancy dress robe off the internet and wearing that while I was at the table. Partly that was because I hadn’t had time to think about designing a T-shirt with the game’s title on it, partly because I’m not sure I want a T-shirt with the game’s title on it. It did seem well worth wearing something to indicate that I was actually there to display the game, though, rather than just mooching around the pub with a pint. The Ten Little Astronauts T-shirt I’ve had printed has turned out to be surprisingly effective in getting people to take an interest in the book (which also helps explain why so many companies at EGX have been lobbing merch at me – the first NFC device I started fiddling with was a PS4 branded rubber bracelet flung by someone from Sony).
EGX (21st-24th September) and EGX Rezzed (30th March – 1st April)
Okay, I’ll be honest. Both these events were long enough ago that I’d struggle to write anything meaningful about them. EGX Rezzed was my first chance to actually play the (nearly) complete version of Craft Keep VR, the game I was brought on board to write for after meeting the developer at EGX in 2016. Basically, though, the main thing I’d write about is the people I met and the games I saw, and since I’ve met and seen several again since, I think the better option would be to list a few…
Games you should take a look at sometime (in no particular order):
- 2000:1: A Space Felony obviously caught my attention as it’s a murder mystery in space. That gets it brownie points (as does the knowledge that the creator has also produced an Agatha Christie-inspired game specifically), but what really stands out is the openness of the mystery itself. I’ve been tempted to write a mystery in Twine, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks to that is that if there’s an option inviting you to “Accuse the butler,” that might provide a hint even if it appears alongside the option to accuse any number of other people. 2000:1, however, demands that you scour the spaceship you’re on in search of clues (which could be anywhere), photograph them, and then use those photographs to interview the suspect, MAL. Essentially, the fact that you uncover the mystery by asking questions, rather than providing answers, means that there’s virtually no way for you to pick up clues from the way the game challenges you. You have the clues. What you need to do is address them in the right order.
- Elemental Flow includes another interesting mechanic, also conversational. I think it’s best described as playing out like a cross between a puzzle and a quick time event: you have a range of different conversational abilities (explain, empathise, etc.) that have different effects depending on who you’re talking to and what they’re saying at the time. Sussing out which to use is a big part of the challenge, but then on top of that you also have to be attentive and react quickly so that you don’t end up either talking over the character you’re conversing with or listening intently while they’re waiting for you to speak. I get the sense that it’s possible to muddle through with a less than optimum strategy – and I’m pretty sure I did this myself during the demo – but working out the ideal approach to any given conversation makes things much, much easier.
- Critical Annihilation is a frantic voxel-based shooter that reminded me a lot of arcade classic Smash TV. The view is more or less top-down, giving you the opportunity to run in any direction you like while also shooting in any direction you like, which is handy because enemies tend to flood in from pretty much any direction. Single-player gameplay at least is tough as nails, with vast swarms of baddies flooding towards you within the first few levels, but on top of simply blasting your way through them (which is tremendous, scenery-levelling fun) your character will gain perks and equipment as they gain experience, meaning that you tend to gain a few more goodies even when you lose.
- Mao Mao Castle takes advantage of the LEAP Motion Controller to great effect, allowing you to guide a pixel art Cat-Dragon through levels crammed with flowers, pebbles, rainbows that you want to run into, and buildings, trees, pillars that you don’t. There’s also a mobile version on the way with touchscreen controls, but seriously, if you get a chance to play it using the motion controller, don’t pass it up. It’s spectacularly good fun.
- Attack of the Earthlings would be best summed up as “reverse XCOM.” It’s a turn-based strategy game on a grid pitting humans against aliens, but in classic sci-fi fashion it turns out that…DUN DUN DUN…mankind is the evil invading force! I actually wasn’t a fan of this idea to begin with – it’s been done plenty of times and tends to come across as preachy even though the basic point is fair – but two things about Attack of the Earthlings specifically mean it works really well. One is that it’s really, really funny. The writing is just superb. The other is that though I think it’s fair to describe it as “reverse XCOM,” it does genuinely invert rather than simply re-style the game. In XCOM, you control a squad of soldiers and much of your attention is focused on gunning down the aliens’ deadly close-combat troops before they can eviscerate anyone on your team. In Attack of the Earthlings, the situation is flipped: most of your units have no ranged attack and a great deal of the challenge comes from positioning them to deliver those close-combat attacks without being obliterated by the humans’ superior firepower on the way. The game actually introduces some neat stealth elements in order to let you do this effectively and those are – to me at least – totally original. I don’t think I’ve seen quite the same thing anywhere else.
There are definitely games I’m leaving out here, partly because I have a literal list scribbled down and the ones from EGX alone would make for a long post in its own right. As this is a long post as it is, I think I’ll leave it there. This is what I’ve been doing for the past few months, and those are some of the things I’ve seen. If you made it to any of these events or know about any more coming up in future, it would be great to hear from you!
I’ve got two fairly big events coming up next week, so if you’re anywhere near Winchester then do check this out. The first is the Hampshire Writers’ Society Gala Evening (Tuesday June 13th, 6pm in the Stripe Building of the University of Winchester), where I’ll be setting up with my books as part of the Members’ Book Fair. If you’ve been following since I posted about the event last year or the year before, you’ll probably have some idea what that’ll be like, but the speakers at the Society are different every month and this time around I think they’ve got some especially good people on board. One of the speakers is Claire Fuller, who I’ve mentioned on this blog on a few occasions already, and the other is Erwin James, a columnist for the Guardian.
If you check out this writeup of last year’s event, you’ll notice I mentioned that the other authors there really seemed to have put a lot into their displays and that it was all very professional. Well, I’ve stepped up my game this time around with some lovely swag! Continue reading
Before Ten Little Astronauts was launched by Unbound – submarine promo video and all – it formed the bulk of my work for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. The way the course was weighted, that one project was just about as important as every other module combined. On top of that, in a move that I can only assume was intended to keep postgrads up all night to finish the thing, that final project would dictate the upper limit on your results. You could hand in the greatest works of literature ever devised for the smaller modules, then still end up disappointed on results day if the big one didn’t measure up.
Well, on Friday I graduated with Distinction.
It’s been a long time since I actually got my results. The ceremony was held in Winchester Cathedral – the largest medieval cathedral in the world still standing – and the University can only use it so many days each year. Given that it takes a while to mark all those novella-length projects, we didn’t get our results in time to graduate the same year as we handed them in. Still, good things are worth waiting for, and I’m pleased to have already had some success with Ten Little Astronauts in particular.
The Winchester Writers’ Festival is always a big event. I always meet a whole bunch of interesting people, and I always learn a whole lot of new things. Because a lot of elements of the event are the same every year, I think it’s probably not worth trying to write out an introduction to it every time. If you want an introduction, you might like to take a look at my writeup of the Festival in 2014, which covered my first impressions about it (though I only had a one-day ticket), and/or my writeup of the Festival in 2015, when I was chosen for a scholarship and so could afford to turn up for the whole three days.
This year, in terms of a ticket, I went for something of a middle ground. Having had a bursary the first year I went and a scholarship the second (and having got a steady job after that), I felt as though I’d had as much financial help as I could justify. As great as it would have been to turn up for the whole three days, I decided to just go for a Saturday and Sunday ticket, and turn up for the free evening events on the Friday.
I’ve read at the Friday open mic three years in a row now, but this is the first time I’ve got a recording of it. I pretty much just handed my phone to a friend (thanks for that!) so the audio quality isn’t great, but thanks to the university’s microphone and speaker setup I think it’s at least comprehensible. I had prepared to read Osiris Likes This, but since the length of each open mic slot was dropped from five to four minutes, there wasn’t quite long enough and I went for The Three Idols instead. Continue reading
It’s taken me a little longer than I’d hoped to write about the Alresford Literary Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair, largely because I attended the Winchester Writers’ Festival immediately afterwards and was all set up to run Flash Fiction Day immediately after that. June has been absolutely crammed full of good stuff, but it has made it rather difficult to find the time to write about any of it.
I’ve now attended three book fairs in total, having started with one held by the Hampshire Writers’ Society last year, and though I’m hardly an expert at this sort of thing, I’ve noticed enough similarities between all three events that I feel as though it’s worth considering them all as a bundle rather than trying to get into what happened at each one. So far they’ve been much the same, which is great because I always seem to get a lot out of them. Continue reading
The Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair is coming up on the 14th of June. That’s this Tuesday!
I mentioned this in a recent blog post that focused mostly on the Alresford Literary Festival, but the Hampshire Writers’ event was such a success last year that I think it’s worth giving it a post all to itself. If you’re in the Winchester area, I’d really recommend going: there are a lot of authors who’ll be turning up. The place to be is the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester (on Sparkford Road): it starts at 6.
If you can’t make it, I’ll be aiming to write all about the event (and the Alresford festival) here. However, the Winchester Writers’ Festival is now less than a week away as well, so I can’t say for sure exactly when I’ll get around to it: June is a very busy month, and naturally I don’t expect July to leave me much more time!
On Saturday the 4th of June, I’ll have a table set up at the Alresford Literary Festival from 14:30-16:30. I’ve never been before, but Robert Hardy (who played Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter Films) is going to be there so it promises to be a pretty interesting event. I’m hoping I’ll get a good chance to talk to people while I’m not manning my table.
I’ve taken the opportunity to build on my display from last year’s Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair. The publication of Osiris Likes This hasn’t shaken things up too much, as it occupies a space that used to be taken up by flash fiction ebook CDs. Though the ebooks on disc have been handy as freebies–and the processes involved in creating them proved absolutely essential for one of my more adventurous MA projects–they’ve never attracted a lot of interest and Osiris Likes This is far more deserving of the space. Plus I gave all the CDs away at last year’s Writers’ Festival, so it’s something of a moot point. Continue reading
I mentioned a while back that I’d be doing more audio work similar to The Mucky Angel, and here it is!
You might remember this story from Red Herring, my 2013 flash fiction collection. Well, a few weeks ago I was running a workshop at Winchester College and I’d been asked to read out a few of my stories. One of the points I wanted to make was that comedy in writing works best when you combine an absurd situation with a twist ending, and I felt as though (TM) did a pretty good job of illustrating that. However, it involves a lot of character speech without a whole lot of narration and, when read aloud, the only way I could make it clear who’s who was to give the characters silly voices. So I booked some time in the university recording booths to make sure I wouldn’t sound totally ridiculous attempting to voice “Big Harry.”
Turns out that I do. However, it was funny enough that I decided to stick with it. Continue reading
Booking for the 2016 Winchester Writers’ Festival is now open, and so are applications for bursaries and scholarships. Since these schemes helped me get to the festival twice–in 2014 with a bursary and in 2015 with a scholarship–it seems well worthwhile passing on the message and making sure that the event is open to everyone who wants to go.
- Are limited to writers aged 18-25.
- Cover the entire cost of a full weekend ticket to the festival.
- Are extremely competitive: there are only 10 places available.
- Close on April 7th, 2016.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a student to apply for a scholarship. If you are, it’s probably to your advantage because that demonstrates a commitment to writing, but you can demonstrate that commitment in any number of other ways. Full details of the application process can be found here, but it ultimately boils down to showing that you’re already working hard at becoming a better writer and that a ticket to the festival would further your goals.
- Are open to anyone.
- Cover £50 of the cost of any festival ticket.
- Are far less competitive than scholarships.
- Close on April 15th, 2016.
A bursary will only cover a bit more than a tenth of the cost of a full weekend ticket, so probably won’t make for an opportunity to stick around for the whole thing. However, every little helps, so if you aren’t eligible for (or don’t manage to get) a scholarship then applying for a bursary would still be well worthwhile. It would, for example, nearly halve the price of a Sunday ticket (though I’d highly recommend choosing a day that includes some one-to-one appointments as these are extremely helpful). Full details are available on the same page as the scholarship information (but you have to scroll down a bit). Continue reading
I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a handy excuse for putting off doing anything until January 1st, and later on a handy excuse for giving up for ten months when you fail spectacularly in early March.
That said, starting something at the beginning of a new year does make it easy to set up a schedule, and so on this occasion I’ll be joining in too. My New Year’s not-resolution is to write a game article a week. At the moment I’m hoping to make most of them reviews of specific titles, but I’ve also got plenty of ideas for articles about game design and mechanics. Most likely there’ll be a fair bit of crossover between the two. The main thing I’ve settled on at this point is that whatever they are, there’ll be 52 of them by the end of the year. Or at the very least, there’ll be a dozen-ish by early March.
In the past it’s proven difficult to keep up weekly or even fortnightly updates. Beyond the Black Throne became problematic partly because I was juggling it with an MA course that steadily demanded more and more of my attention, but also because the interactive format made for tight deadlines and more or less eliminated the possibility of building up “buffer” updates that I could write ahead of time and post when necessary. Producing images and animation to illustrate the story—however hilariously amateurish those things were—also took a lot of planning and ate up a lot of time.
I’m still planning to pick up the story again at some point, but in the interests of producing something on a regular basis and building up my games-related portfolio, I feel as though the reviews are a safer bet for the time being. For one thing, I’ve already played through a bunch of games that I’d like to write about, which means I’m already halfway towards having a “buffer” ready. For another, games (even if they’re primarily text-based) offer the possibility of illustrating a post with screenshots, which don’t take too much effort on my part.
I expect it’ll take a while to play through anything I’m going to write about, which isn’t a challenge I had to face with Beyond the Black Throne, but at the same time that seems more compatible with my job at the moment than responding to reader suggestions and fiddling about with paper cut-outs. I could happily fit in the button-mashing after a day at work, then write the actual article on one of my days off. Combined with the buffer posts, that should ensure I’m able to keep these things regular.
But beyond that particular goal for the year, I’ve got another decision to make. I’ve still got access to the university recording equipment, and while that’s the case I want to make the most of it. However, that’ll mostly mean recording things I’ve already written, and I’d quite like to keep producing new stories at the same time. So here’s a question for you:
“New, experimental things” at the moment will likely involve audio, video, or interactive fiction. They’re by no means limited to that, though.
In any case, I’ll be doing a little bit of both either way. If you’re curious to see something a little different from me, I hope to have some recordings done in the not too distant future (and perhaps some 3D printed things too). If you want conventional stories, I’ll be including a brand new one in each of my monthly newsletters.
Happy New Year!