Saturday, a day when the Walklate-Ellwood household sits in their shared office ignoring the world. Except not today, because the Ellwood half is heading out to a workshop session of the writing circle they attend. I haven’t looked outside today and the curtains are still drawn, so the weather could be anything and not surprise me.
Tomorrow Leicester City Football Club have a chance of winning the Premier League. If someone had told me this twenty years ago when I attended my only football match, a miserable second team match between Leicester City and Norwich, then I would have refused to believe it. This long held mood of low-expectations has start to lift over the city and blue banners are draped everywhere. This is an upheaval of the natural order and one which is pleasant to watch.
As I’m on foot most of the day and locked into a room for four hours this afternoon, along with the social activities I wish to enjoy after, today will I not achieve much. Because I intend to only have one or two drinks later I might be able to get some stuff done later tonight, but wouldn’t plan on it.
Yesterday’s food experiment worked. Today’s lunch will be whatever I can buy on Queens Road in Leicester, probably something from a nice deli. No idea what curry I’ll eat tonight.
THIS MORNING: Jen’s cat attacked my feet in a berserker rage!
Having a slow day to get started. There was a lot of activity yesterday and this is the weird middle day of a sprint, where I can see what I’ve done and I also can see ahead of me what’s left. I’ve been rereading the Fail Better Games Storychoices wiki this morning to refresh myself on a lot of their theory. I’m also trying to avoid playing their games Fallen London and Sunless Sea.
Maybe I’ll treat myself later.
Anyway it’s getting late in the day and I need to make myself some lunch, so the scrum notes are below.
It occurred to me after publishing this post that I didn’t set the goals for the sprint that started yesterday. They are fairly simple:
Of those three goals attending the workshop session is a fixed event in my calender and the bid for time has already been placed, and the second task is well on the way at the start of the second day.
LUNCH TODAY WILL BE: ONE POT TOMATO AND BASIL PASTA!
The holiday starts today! All of the real work on this IF work starts today. Awesome. It’s also freezing cold outside, which should help keep me inside and not wandering the city looking for interesting places of caffeinated distractions where I can sit and read.
Yesterday evening I attended my local speculative fiction writing group. For the first hour of the session I distracted myself by watching the Clarke Award announcements on my phone and reading Aaron Reed’s book on writing interactive fiction, Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7. Second half I got some words down. Then went to the pub and had a reasonably good time discussing workshop bureaucracy and some other topics, which have escaped me. It helped that I could drink more than usual, but this also exposed the inadequacies of the bar we visited that I’d not normally exposed to. Oh well.
Some items which came up in the unpublished Tuesday scrum, where I carried out a quick retrospective were:
One item which appeared on my radar was Harry Schwartz’s talk on org-mode, which was posted to YouTube. It makes me want to revisit my configuration of Emacs & start using org-mode again to write documents and organise my life. There are some environmental interoperability issues that need to resolve, but it might be a task that I can reflect on if I get stuck with something else. Configuring my text editor to do cooler and cooler things is a form of meditation. :)
LUNCH TODAY WILL BE: HUMMUS!
Yesterday’s afternoon of work was frustrated by our awful washing machine. It’s an excuse but one that I’m sticking to. Today has been made slightly more complicated since I am due to support some work activities from home later tonight, which will eat into the 21:45 – 22:30 time before bed that often gets used for reading/writing. This Monday I won’t get to watch some episodes of The West Wing, which makes me very sad. :(
It’s a Sunday afternoon. Jenny & I are sat in our home office in front of our desktop computers. My work laptop sits next to me doing things. A glass of Co-Op apple and cucumber sparkling water sits half empty to the right of my keyboard. Pink Floyd’s The Wall plays through my giant red headphones. My parent’s will call for their weekly chat in a couple of hours.
I have been made to book holiday or lose it, so will shortly be enjoying an extended break from productive work. This is great. There will be almost two weeks to lounge about reading and playing games. What the hell am I going to do with that time?
It’s simple. Apart from working on short fiction I’m going to learn how to produce material in another niche medium and write a piece of interactive fiction. I’ve had a book on my shelf about Inform 7 (a language for writing these things) and a fascination with IF for about half my life. It won’t be practical. It won’t make my day job easier. But it will be something different to do.
To keep myself honest I’m going to treat this in the same manner I’d treat a work project and run a variation on the Scrum Methodology. With twelve days off starting from the Thursday coming that’s enough time to do four sprints of three days each. If I start today running three day sprints then I’ll get myself at least five sprints over the course of the project. This post should be considered the planning session for sprint one. I will write a retrospective post on Tuesday and short scrum updates tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday.
The daily scrums will be published to this site in an effort to keep myself honest.
What’s this game going to be about and what technology am I going to use to write it? Well I’ve had the book on Inform 7 for ages and it’s a fun language to use. The snippet below is a work of rudimentary IF. This compiles into a working example.
The Study is south of the Landing. “Two untidy desks line the walls. A desk lamp sits next to a monitor and keyboard.”
A desk lamp is an object. “The lamp is a cheap Anglepoise knock-off.”
The Landing is east of the Bedroom. “The narrow corridor leads to the study, bedroom, and bathroom. A steep staircase next to the bedroom door descends into the Living Room.”
The Bathroom is west of the Landing. “A shower cubical & bath at one end. A toilet and sink at the other end.”
The Bedroom is east of the Landing. “Some of these directions are a bit tiresome.”
The Living Room is below the Landing. “A living room.”
The sofa is an object. The description of the sofa is “A blue Ikea sofa.” The sofa is in the living room.
Deckard is an animal. The description of Deckard is “Deckard is a fluffy brown tabby cat.” Deckard is in the living room.
There are some nuances which I have not yet explored, but you can do a lot quickly with Inform 7. As such the game is going to be set in an underground market place and involve three very short pieces of fiction. At the end of the project I want to have implemented and done the following tasks. Because the project is being ran under SCRUM I’m throwing in fiction writing activities under the scheme, so that the time is properly accounted for.
Finish writing a short story for Jon Cronshaw. Type up. Send.
Map out the game’s environment on paper and in code. Give full descriptions of rooms
Write encounter one: the old man and the evil waiter. Implement this as a menu driven conversation with item collection
Write encounter two: TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous
Write encounter three. TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous
Design a through line which unites the three diverse encounters and provides a number of different endings for the player
Polish the game and release a beta version
Attend at least one fiction workshop session
Attend Wednesday writing sessions on Queens Road with the Speculators
Start and complete draft zero of the story based on prompting phrase “Transreal Alien Landscapes”
In the first sprint I intend to tackle tasks one, two, and start prototyping for task three. Tasks one and two require little explication and will probably be worked on in the West End Brew Pub. :) Task three I will provide some requirements for in tomorrow’s scrum.
CURRENTLY READING: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
So I am reading ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ by Charlie Jane Anders are the moment, because it’s a book which I suspect is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m also reading it because it will be discussed on The Coode Street Podcast’s bookclub this month and I wanted to listen to the program more actively. I’m only about fifty pages in and I’m finding it difficult because of how inoffensive both the writing and the story have been so far.
(I don’t actually think it’s bad as such, just not my groove.)
However one small detail caught me out. Where I’m at the boy, Laurence, has just been given a Heinlein juvenile and recommended to read more Heinlein by a rocket scientist in her twenties. This strikes me as anachronistic and awkward. It’s hard to figure out why, but Heinlein was not in print when I was in my early teens and I’m not certain he had much to say to me. It feels like an awkward intrusion of skiffy nostalgia. The Ready Player One effect.
That said, my own nostalgic impulses would have had Laurence being given the triptych of Playstation Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, IX), or even the first Kingdom Hearts game. They didn’t kindle my reading or my tastes for the speculative, but Final Fantasy VII is the game that encouraged my brother to learn to read and feel like a more universal set of cultural touchstones than Heinlein. It would skew the feels down to an audience between twenty-five and forty something. I’m not sure where the Heinlein reference is meant to aim for and it jars.
 – For those unaware the Final Fantasy games are basically slightly interactive novels which take anywhere from 30/40 hours if you blast through the game just to consume the story to well over 100 hours if you explore/collect everything.
The only way that I can describe Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast, Cabbages and Kings, is as amateurish — but in the best possible way.
To my knowledge this is his first attempt at podcasting and he has only produced twenty-three episodes so far. The program’s format is a welcome change from the usual podcast format in SFF and gaming, where two or more friends meet regularly to discuss the things that have excited them in the time between episodes. Here instead, we have Jonah talking with a guest about literary science fiction & fantasy. His opinions expressed through speech and editing are undiluted and this is refreshing.
My start with the podcast came with Maureen Kincaid Speller’s appearance in two parts to discuss The Buried Giant, and after that I subscribed and have listened to one or two more episodes from the archive. In places the editing is jagged and there are signs that Jonah is still fumbling to find his way. However, he is enthusiastic and apparently interested in the topics under discussion and the opinions of the people who he converses with. This is charming and the lack of polish does nothing to obscure that: in fact, it might well highlight it.
If anything, the rawness gives the podcast and the opinions expressed on it an added authenticity, but this is another, longer conversation
Now I have given Jonah some gentle criticism and comments in the past, so there’s nothing for me to repeat here, except as a lead into praising his openness towards improvement. This progressive drive is well evidenced by the last episode which I listened to while driving home from work, where he gave an end of year review of the podcast and thoughts on how it could be improved. (And yes, Jonah, I could have skipped forward to the next podcast in my playlist, but I didn’t.) This introspection and commitment to playful experimentation is a Good Thing!
As an episode to start with, try the two mentioned above about the Buried Giant. They are in the show archive around last November.
So Cabbages and Kings is roughly produced and by someone who’s still learning how and what they are making. There is a voice that’s determined to try new things that’s only going to get more distinct. Go on, give it a chance.
Go here: http://www.cabbagesandkings.audio/
HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is Aliette de Bodard’s fourth novel and is the start of a series called Dominion of the Fallen. The cover copy describes it a murder mystery, which means I’m sympathetic to it from the start. However, although there are murders and a mystery running through the spine of the novel, the answering of these questions is of secondary importance to the novel’s high politicking between the houses that run Paris. It’s the arguments and the back and forth between the Houses which vie for control of Paris, which make HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS a pleasure to read. Personally, I found the novel slightly too long, but that’s forgivable because what it trades away in pace it pays back in mood and intelligence.
To me it seems to be one of the defining fictional devices of our time — charting the conflicts of gangs. We’ve seen this before in Game of Thrones. And, of course, it also forms one of the foundations of the Harry Potter series. This focus gives us two things: firstly, a deliberate reduction of the world into the smaller, identifiable groups, and, secondly, other perspectives to narrate in a potentially continuing narrative.
But once we’ve found our flavor of gangland fiction then we’re hooked and waiting for the next volume. With HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS I’ve found an experience that I want a repeated hit of when the next volume is released.
It’s the shortest day today. Time for a moan.
Although given the year that I have had mostly spent indoors under fluorescents, I am hard pressed to notice. Now if I’d written about the end of the year last year I’d have probably said it was a difficult year, and I am about to say the same thing again, because that’s the present we have. Everything, for everyone, except a few, is difficult. The good times of easy money, free time and no anxiety are gone. Whatever feeling that I grew up with in in the post Cold War era of Blair & Brown has finally evaporated. 9/11 and the decade that followed put the coffin lid on the project we call society, and the Tories post twenty-ten have hammered in the nails and throw it in a deep grave ready to be covered in shit.
And that’s what I thought last year before all of the shit of the last six months. The first major crisis I can’t write about, but it caused me, in an effort to escape from it, to drive down to Nine Worlds at Heathrow Airport on about four hours sleep and thirty hours of work.
Oh yes, and my partner, J, broke her neck and back in October. She’s mostly recovered now. There was no neurological damage and she required no surgery to glue her back together. She was very lucky! But on top of the first crisis still continuing it’s been a tense twelve weeks.
And the rest of the world has shown itself to be complicated and riddled with doubts. In the small, unimportant field of science fiction and fantasy the sad puppies were an unnecessary thing. A misguided, mostly illiterate out gassing of loosing ownership of something that never really existed in the terms that they articulated.
Also the Tories were elected to torment the UK for another five years. They’ll continue to blame their predecessors until the next collapse, and after that’s happened won’t stop the blame game.
Did anything good happen this year? Is there any light on the horizon? Maybe. I went away for a week to think and be taught in Yorkshire. It was not enough time spent away from everything.
Can everything get any worse? Sure. Today, on the twenty-second of December, the temperature was thirteen degrees. December is now apparently experiencing a ‘heatwave’ according to the World Meteorological Organisation definition. Also, November was the hottest on record. Our climate is collapsing. Everything is collapsing.