Author Archives: Simon Jones

Editing 3000 words out of a 15k story

These things take a while. According to my revision log, I started writing Millennium Surfing in January 2013. That is months and months earlier than I remembered. The first draft was completed in July 2014, making it an absurdly long gestation period for a short story – albeit quite a long one.

I then received genuinely useful feedback  from a whole bunch of readers between July and October and began work on the second draft, which was completed at the end of March. As of last night I completed the third draft. So by some measures I’m speeding up.

If the second draft was about adding character and flavour to the story, the third draft was about tearing it to pieces and chopping off unnecessary appendages. It’s a much leaner, subtler and less indulgent story now and quite different from the cold, overly detached first draft.

The first draft clocked in at 12,700 words. The second was 15,400. The third and mostly final draft is 12,300. My intent was to cut it down to about 10k so that it was eligible for submission to Interzone, a magazine I’ve always dreamed of being published in, but that goal is still a long way away.

A story is as long as a story needs to be and, currently, Millennium Surfing is wanting to be about 12,000 words. It’s out for feedback once again so that may highlight opportunities to whittle it down more but, if not, I may just have to resign myself to it being unsuitable for Interzone.

I’ll probably send it off to them anyway, on the off-chance that something grabs them. There’s always the next story, after all.

Talking of which, that’s probably going to be called A Day Of Faces, and the current plan is to release it episodically via Wattpad as something of a seat-of-my-pants storytelling experiment. It’s science fantasy and deliberately anachronistic and is so far hugely fun to write. It’s also about as far from the Serious Science Fiction of Millennium Surfing as I can get, which I imagine is entirely deliberate on the part of my subconscious.

In the footsteps of Tom Francis

This is the blog post in which you can download and install A GAME WHAT I PROGRAMMED.

I’ve been following Tom ‘made GUNPOINT’ Francis’ GameMaker tutorials since the start of the year. The man has an uncanny ability to teach code in a way that makes sense to people who don’t code. I suspect he’s new enough to coding himself, relatively speaking, that he still remembers what it was like.

BASIC, Inform, TWINE and others have crossed paths with me over the year but none have ever stuck. They’ve either been too difficult or not quite relevant to what I want to do. TWINE is still the engine which has most appealed, because it enables a surprisingly pure writing experience. I suspect I may go back to TWINE, armed with a better knowledge of how all this stuff hangs together.

Tom is teaching GameMaker, the system he used to make GUNPOINT (always write it in caps) and which he is now using to make Heat Signature (not sure whether to write it in caps). Although GameMaker has all kinds of nooby drag-and-drop features, Tom’s bypassing all that and jumping straight into code.

I’ve just finished part 13, which has added a nice little menu screen to the game. As such, I thought it was time to share what I’ve been up to. Note that most of the code and actual design are from Tom’s tutorials, so it’s not like I’ve done this myself – however, I have understood the entire process and am already starting to think about what I can use these techniques for later in the year.

Download the latest build here.

It’s ugly as sin.

Instructions:

  • Move with WASD.
  • Aim with the mouse.
  • There are two weapons in the arena. Pick ’em up by rolling over them.
  • Left click to fire.
  • Right click to swap weapons.
  • The weapons interact in an interesting way. Experiment!
  • The enemies react in different ways to being shot.

Not much of a game there as yet, but it’s further than I’ve ever managed to get in 34 years of dabbling. And I’m still excited every time Tom Francis warbles “hullo” at the start of an episode.

Miliband Vs Cameron: both a bit weird

Part of the reason the polls following this week’s Miliband/Cameron TV non-battle are so even is likely because both men came across primarily as being a bit weird, albeit in different ways.

Cameron was a slick, professional politician who was able to come up with an answer for everything that sounded rehearsed, to the point where I assumed he’d been informed of the questions in advance. The direct result of that slick, easy to watch, professional approach is that I didn’t believe a word he said. Everything about it was slimy and uncomfortable and felt over-rehearsed. You could see the formula of his speech pattern and responses so clearly that it became rather farcical and David Brentish.

Miliband, on the other hand, was the polar opposite: a little wild and uncontrolled, embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch because you were constantly expecting him to do something bizarre like sneeze massively or start dribbling or start swearing uncontrollably. As a result, he actually came across as being far more genuine and, in fact, far more like a normal person would be in that kind of high stress interview scenario. In other words, he didn’t seem to be a Professional Politician, which can only be a good thing. Of course, he also had no real substance to any of his ideas and was hugely vague on everything.

I doubt I’ll be voting for either of them.

DIY gaming part 6: The GPU

Turns out I forgot to blog about the final part of my computer upgrade: the GPU. Bit silly of me, given how important it is. I purchased the other components over the course of last year and built the rig in September, but only purchased the GPU right at the end of November.

This was all about waiting for the new ‘sweet spot’, which seemed to be on the verge of changing throughout 2014. NVIDIA had already teased some new tech and were clearly building up to something – that turned out to be the 970, a card which offers phenomenal power-to-price value.

The 970 is more expensive than the 960 and not as powerful as the 980, but it sits in-between the two perfectly. An overclocked 970 starts to edge up towards the 980 in terms of performance, while cutting costs to go for the 960 is likely to be limiting in the long run.

I went for an MSI version, which has a nice super quiet fan when it’s not being taxed. I have an Asus variant at work which is similarly spiffy.

Aside from its raw power – it can handle anything I throw at it, so far, and can run any pre-2014 game at 2x my monitor’s normal resolution without breaking a sweat (eg 3360×2100) using NVIDIA’s cool built-in supersampling thing – it also runs very efficiently, which means it’s quieter, cooler and less hungry than a card of this power has any right to be.

And, thus, my computer upgrade is now complete. Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age Inquisition at Full Everything and super high resolutions are amazing, and it turns older games into perfection. Star Citizen is silky smooth. The big test comes in May with the arrival of Witcher 3 – the first game to really push beyond the current console gen. Fingers crossed it can handle it.

Experiences of SXSW

I went to SXSW! This is exciting because it’s an event which has grown increasingly relevant and influential over the last decade, has spread into every corner of every news website I read, and this year…I was there.

FXHOME kindly flew me there and back, accompanied by my colleagues Kirstie, Josh and Andrea. In summary: Austin is wonderful. SXSW is weird and confused but mostly good. Continue reading

Making Far Cry 3 better with self-imposed limitations

Far Cry 3 took me a long while to get into. I bought it long after release and even then it didn’t entirely click, with its ludicrous, mad playground of bizarre wildlife, open tropical island territory and huge arsenal being amusing but not terribly engaging.

It was a little too loose and lacking in focus, and its story too daft to be engaging. I’ve never been one to enjoy games which provide vast options, tending to prefer a game which specialises in a few key areas and gets them just right (Shadow of Mordor being a good recent example). Continue reading

Making games with Tom Francis & GameMaker

Back in November I mentioned I was working through FutureLearn’s game course. That never quite worked out, alas. It was an oddly pitched course, simultaneously focusing on complex and boring infrastructure stuff while being really basic in the creative areas. Lots of other people clearly loved it, but it didn’t click with me.

AND THEN TOM FRANCIS HAPPENED.

Tom Francis made GUNPOINT. It’s a delightful indie game where you can jump through windows, punch people a lot, and rewire entire buildings to do crazy, emergent fun stuff. He made it in GameMaker, and recently started publishing tutorials on his YouTube channel.

They’re utterly great, pitched at just the right level for me. He dives straight in to doing creative, responsive stuff – aided I’m sure by the simplicity of getting up and running in GameMaker’s IDE, compared to the faff of working in Eclipse for Android development. The tutorials are a perfect blend of technical insight and game design analysis.

Crucially, Tom clearly remembers exactly what it’s like to know nothing at all. Highly technical people tend to have an inability to remember what it was like at the start of their learning (often because they started learning as kids, and thus have simply Always Known). Tom knows exactly what I want to know, and how to teach me it.

As such, it now looks entirely possible that I could have a proper, simple game of my own in existence before the end of the year. Which is hugely exciting.

If you’re interested in making games but have literally no idea how to do it, click here to check out his tutorials.