ADoF writing notes: Interlude #2

Weird tangent chapter! We’re back with Wynton Simons. Except this time it all makes a bit more sense.

‘Interlude #1’ cropped up halfway through the first story arc and was designed to be discombobulating. At the time it didn’t make complete sense. It broke the narrative structure, it shifted style and it shifted to a completely different setting and group of characters.

This time round, you’re armed with the knowledge that the A Day of Faces story has some kind of dimension hopping aspect. We know that the scenario seen in ‘Interlude #1’ collided violently with Kay’s worled in ‘Lineage’ and ‘Apex Predator’ as Holt made his appearance. And in the first 3 chapters of Arc 2 we’ve found out more about Cal’s dimension jumping abilities.

I’m not sure how obvious it was at the time, but ‘Cladogenesis’ did of course see Kay and Cal arrive in the same general space as Wynton and co – as is made blatnatly apparent in ‘Interlude #2’. The mock-Aviary is a highly convenient landmark around which to anchor the action and a potentially confusing plot point.

Wynton and Holt are both great fun to write. Holt in particular is someone who on the surface seems like a monster, but actually has a world view that kinda makes sense – or is, at least, honest. Whereas Simons is deliberately ordinary – with all the sci-fi-fantasy stuff going on in the rest of the story, Simons provides a mundane counterpoint.

Anyway, I’d better not say any more for fear of spoiling things. Next ep we’ll be back with Kay and the gang, so stay tuned.

Soundtrack: Fragments, Ben Prunty’s latest electronic loveliness.

Thoughts on the Heat Signature alpha

On Sunday I discovered that I had access to the Heat Signature alpha, due to owning a particular version of Gunpoint, Tom Francis’ previous game. I’d seen him talk about the alpha but hadn’t realised I qualified. Typically, it was the last day of the 2-week access.

The above video is what happened on my 2nd attempt. In short: it’s great fun. So much potential.

My only real concern comes courtesy of an interview with Tom Francis over on Gamasutra, where he talks about having the space stuff be more of a background element since the interior stuff has taken focus. I think that’d be a real shame – there’s a ton of untapped potential in the space stuff and it’s that aspect which gives the game it’s immense scale and unique feeling. There’s nothing else quite like it.

The interior stuff, meanwhile, is reminiscent of every top-down shooter/brawler – Hotline Miami in particular. Which isn’t a bad thing – it’s in good company. But it’s the space stuff and the interplay between the two which makes Heat Signature exciting.

ADoF writing notes: Cladogenesis

Let’s talk comments. The major benefit of serialising a story and releasing it weekly like this is that you get a sense of readers interacting with the material. In the case of A Day of Faces my readership is still pretty tiny (just over 400 reads currently) but there’s still a palpable sense of people are reading my stuff.

A comment dropped in on this chapter:

“WHAAAAAAAT? Nice twist!”

Writing in a serial format enables that kind of thing to happen. Sure, if I release ADoF as a completed novel the reader might have a similar experience, but they probably wouldn’t share that specific moment with me.

And, actually, perhaps they wouldn’t have the same experience. By serialising you add an additional layer of tension and excitement, at least for those readers who are encountering the story at the same time I’m writing it. It’s not just a twist at the end of the chapter: it’s a twist which won’t be picked up for another week.

Really, though, 2015 has been my most productive year by far for writing. A big part of that is having the sense that people are reading. It drives me onwards to keep making stuff. Outside of ADoF I’ve also written my first short film screenplay for years. I’ve been blogging much more actively. I’ve started creating regular YouTube videos again. I’m working on my first proper game.

Pretty much all of that I can put down to using Wattpad as a publishing platform. It’s truly invigorating, much like YouTube has been for video creators.

If you’re experiencing writer’s block, try exploring serialised writing. It’s terrifying and exciting and rewarding all at the same time.

The Lift: complex conversations in Twine

I’ve written before about Twine, a game making tool aimed specifically at constructing choose-your-own-adventure style text games. If you heard about Depression Quest last year (probably for all the wrong reasons), then you’ll have encountered a Twine-built game.

Anyway, I’d previously been attempting to create an elaborate steampunk adventure based on an Arms Race comic script I’d written a few years back. It could have been quite fun but was far too enormous a project to be my first foray into making games. As you can see from my blog post about responsive characters, what I was really interested in was character interactions.

Fast-forward to now and I’ve got two strands of game-making going on. First up I’m still making my way through Tom Francis’ superb GameMaker tutorial series over on YouTube. That’s going OK. The other thing I’m now working on is a new Twine-based project, having put the Arms Race adventure on hold.

This new project is called The Lift and is deliberately extremely contained in its scope. It has two characters (including the player) and one location: a lift in a crappy apartment building. It’s entirely about the interaction between those characters, with the player dictating the relationship.

The goal is to make it feel extremely responsive and natural, with the conversation (or lack thereof) proceeding in a convincing manner such that the player feels engaged with the relationship. Depending on the actions of the player they might forge a new friendship or simply stand in silence as the lift ascends the building.

I’m trying to avoid simple Bioware-style Good/Neutral/Bad responses, instead favouring a less structured and more freeform conversation tree. I’m already finding out exactly why most devs constrain their conversation options! The approach I’m taking wouldn’t be practical for a larger project with multiple interactions, but given that the entire purpose of The Lift is the conversation I think it makes sense on this occasion.

Anyway, once it’s done I’ll be posting it up somewhere for free, at which point you can tell me whether I’ve created something interesting or messy. I’ll be blogging how I go, too.

First 5 Minutes: Proteus

I’ve wanted to try my hand at recording some in-game commentary for a while, with the above video being the first actual result. The idea is to play through the first five minutes of a variety of games, examining what they do well/not so well and generally discussing the importance of that first impression.

This first video takes a look a Proteus, a quirky indie game from a few years back which is still unlike anything else I’ve played.

It was a lot of fun to make the video, so I’ll probably do more.

The joy of an empty wilderness in The Witcher 3

Eurogamer published a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the launch of The Witcher 3 this week, with writer Robert Purchese having been given complete access to the studio for three days. Prime Ministers visited, developers crunched deadlines, and controversy reigned briefly for no good reason over the game’s supposed ‘downgrade’.

The whole article is fantastic but one particular section jumped out at me, in which the game’s director is remembering the moment the ‘open world’ was first stitched together and made playable:

Something “really really scary” then happens in October 2014, at that first playthrough of the game. The great open-world is realised but it feels… empty. “We had these cool quests, this cool content, but nothing in between,” Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz says. “We knew it’s not enough,” his brother Konrad adds, “and we knew if we want to release an open-world game we got to fill it with interesting content, and we got a really short amount of time to do it.” It’s at this moment the question marks – points of interest – are born, all twists on around 20 templates dreamt up by a newly created and dedicated strike force team.

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Copy thoughts: Keeping it fresh

I’m hoping to do occasional articles like this, looking analytically at both my own work and that of others.

Software dev FXHOME just released PhotoKey 7 Pro, the latest version in a long-running series of image editing products. I’m the lead copywriter at FXHOME and was responsible for writing the copy for the new website. It turned out to be a lot of fun. You can check out the results here. Continue reading