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
Magnus, a friend of mine from back in the day, runs a weekly audiobook podcast called Telling of Tales. This week he’s recorded a version of one of my stories, Leicester Forest East. It was written at the start of this year after reflecting on Paul Kincaid’s review “The Widening Gyre: 2012 Best of the Year Anthologies” for several months. Leicester Forest East , then, is one of my attempts to write a science fiction that’s more quotidian than what’s generally out there and explores our shared common failures.
Please do tell us what you think of the story and podcast by leaving us a comment. I have also been told to share the fact that Telling of Tales is starting a short break so do send your stories to him if you enjoyed his efforts here.
Anna & Isaac dress up as Vikings. Anna & Isaac go on a quest. Anna & Isaac do the washing up. Anna & Isaac have an argument. Anna & Isaac goto outer space. Anna & Isaac take drugs. Anna & Isaac go to inner space.
Anna & Isaac kerb stomp Karl Jung. Anna & Isaac have sex. Anna & Isaac become Maoist revolutionaries. Anna & Isaac get married. Anna & Isaac form a suicide pact. Anna & Isaac trip the light fantastic. Anna & Isaac
get a kitten. Anna & Isaac start a family. Anna & Isaac get divorced. Anna & Isaac grow old together. Isaac dies of cancer. Anna goes to a home.
Yesterday, when talking about the New Weird with Jared of Pornokitsch and Jon Courtney Grimwood on Twitter, I shared some word documents containing the early forum discussions involving many of its key participants.  Not only do these documents have historical and critical value, but I’d like to think that those forum posts encouraged and inspired those involved to do cool shit. Now everyone uses Twitter or their own websites to publish opinions and because of this something seems lost in the jigsaw of tweets, posts and comments. Twitter is too limited for complex conversation, although it can prompt them. However, individual websites are too distant from each other to enable an overview of the conversation to be easily acquired.
An example. The recent discussion about the exhaustion exhibited in contemporary works of science fiction prompted by Paul Kincaid’s review The Widening Gyre elicited tens of thousands of words on blog posts, hundreds of comments, immeasurable tweets, and several hours of podcasts. None of this was bad, but a lot of energy was wasted repeating definitions and assumptions without moving forward, which has affected how the discussion has been received. And by being a scattered collage of essays, reviews and interviews the cycle of call & response that exists between writers & critics is weakened. As such, I doubt many writers of fiction see Paul Kincaid’s and Jonathan McCalmont’s position as challenges to be met and overcome. The disparate conversations make it easier for the substance of what is being said to be ignored or forgotten.
What I’d like to negate these problems is a progressive & intelligent forum or mailing list dedicated to talking about difficult & interesting things involved in the production and consumption of fiction. A place that allows for of conversations, like those New Weird threads, to exist again.
Am I alone in thinking that this is a good idea?
 Paul Kincaid’s own further thoughts are here & here. Jonathan McCalmont’s essay on the subject is here. The two podcasts that I can think of are both episodes of the Coode Street Podcast that can be found here & here.
Stephen Ellwood stood amongst the cinders of the protest camp. Twisted metal branches grew out of the square’s concrete floor without skins. No one knew the cause of the night’s inferno, although several theories had all ready been put forward. A CCTV camera filmed a suited passer-by throwing a cigarette stub towards an overflowing bin. Doubts existed in many that had seen the footage if the fire started in the bin, or if the end landed next to a nylon groundsheet waiting to be caught. Stephen suspect that this narrative of accident without deliberate malice would be the official story.
Another theory, voiced by a hostile media, said that the blaze started inside a tent with the careless use of a camping stove. They always mentioned after the accusation it could have malfunctioned. Survivors refuted this, although Stephen kept it open as a possibility.
Police intelligence possessed evidence that a group within the camp might have attempted to martyr themselves as a human sacrifice on the doorstep of the stock exchange. This, in Stephen’s estimation, remained on the far edge of probability until more evidence could be sifted from the ashes.
Stephen walked around the outlines of tents. The screen erected around the square flapped with the gentle breeze. He held his face mask tighter against his mouth, aware that the grains blowing against his skin might be human. His own theory, unvoiced and without anything more than anecdotal evidence, was that like the economic system the camp once fought, they had grown too big, too fast. Because social systems grew like forests the probability of destructive ruination increased over time. Stephen did not like his theory, it kept him awake at nights. When he made the correlation between markets and protesters on the drive into London he nearly crashed his BMW into the motorway’s central reservation.
A charred arm outstretched and trapped in the instant its owner tried to escape from their burning home crunched underfoot. Stephen’s insides inverted. He removed his leather shoe from the broken radius and ulna, and searched for an exit from the barbecued camp site.
The only comfort he drew from his theory was that after fires well managed forests regrew quickly.