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
My current no thinking game1 is the PC version of Brutal Legend. I played most of the X-Box 360 version when it was released and mostly enjoyed it. It’s a Tim Schafer not-adventure game so I expected terrible controls, but the odd thing is that in Brutal Legend they do become more tolerable the longer I’ve played. For instance, the guitar solo magic tricks felt laggy at first, even on a joypad, but after a couple of hours play today I can perform most of them without too many missed notes. Am I getting used to how bad the controls are or do the controls, somehow, get better the further I play into the game?
I don’t know. The buggy you get given to drive around in still handles about as well as the very similar looking buggy you get given in Grim Fandango, which given this game is ten years younger is offensively stupid. Also the camera controls still remain in the way of uncritical enjoyment. Bah.
Is this replay changing my opinion of Brutal Legend? Not really. The idea of Brutal Legend is better than the execution. Now Brutal Legend does have some of my favourite visual design I’ve seen in a game, and I really love the soundtrack, etc. But the controls are still crap.
If only they’d fixed them.
Super Hexagon is a minimalist action game where you navigate through a rotating maze in which the walls fall towards your avatar – a small triangle you move around the edge of a hexagon. It is a simple premise. But the game’s lowest difficulty level is hard. And this should tell you much about the nature of the game. I have played rounds of five seconds, eighteen seconds, thirty-two seconds, more, and seen the game over screen frequently. Winning at Super Hexagon is an exercise in fighting futility. Enjoying Super Hexagon is about taking pleasure in the slow increments of progress you make. When I am playing I go into a trance, focusing on the distant gaps in the geometric walls which appear on the edge of the screen. At my worst I fumble into the edge of an inconvenient pattern after four seconds of playing, curse at myself, and start again.
When I play Super Hexagon feelings of disappointment and pride appear in equal amounts.
Terry Cavanagh has developed a simple & addictive monster. This is something harder & purer than anything published by companies pushing their Fifas, Skyrims and Far Crys with all their distracting narratives & attempts at realism, both of which dilute their ludic essence. This is class A gaming. A $2 wrap of coke of those of us who get their kicks testing their reflexes.
I love games. Everything from the many flavours of video games, tabletop role-playing games, board games, card games, even, as a spectator, team sports like football, rugby and cricket get my attention. Hell, one of the points of rock climbing, for me, is its arbitrary rules that create interesting experiences.
Due to this deep passion for games I treat my own encounters with the arts playfully. Take the idea of genres. Now at this point I’m convinced that trying to define broad labels such as Literary Fiction & Science Fiction is foolish. Definitions abound at this level of labelling but none of them satisfy, either being too universal or too selective without hitting that hard to describe aesthetic sweet spot that makes a game interesting. So I don’t care about these labels or their many definitions apart from when they are used to stamp on other people.
Really from a game point of view I’m interested in the playgrounds that sub-genres create. Now sub-genres, because they have a tighter focus, do have characteristics that can be identified and played around with. They can start with a name and a short list of requirements to sketch out playground’s toys and conventions. If you like, a form of OuLiPo applied to genre. How can this work? Well these playgrounds don’t have any intrinsic meaning so make up a name: Dirty Mediaevalism. Decide on some conventions that apply to it.
So there’s a new sub-genre and its manifesto, of sorts. A new playground to write in created in five minutes. Genres are just games. Go play and let thousands of new playgrounds be built.