Discussion: Interactive Fiction: Perihelion

Perihelion logo

Last spring I entered a short Twine game into the Spring Thing competition, called Perihelion. I meant to do a short write-up and discussion about it soon after, but life. However, prompted by a recent article by Aaron A. Reed, the organiser of the competition, about the author Porpentine, as part of his 50 Years of Text Games project, I was reminded of the influence Porpentine had on me when I first discovered her work in 2015, and how she was a huge influence in particular on Perihelion. Though I had an original idea for the story, stylistically, aesthetically and poetically, I wanted to do a Porpentine-style game. I think the end result wears those inspirations on its sleeve, but I also think my own voice is in there as well.

Naturally, spoilers follow. If you’d like to play the game first, you can find it here, along with all the other Spring Thing 2021 entrants.

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New Project: Eternia Pet Whisperer—Out Now!

Image credit: Shinmera

The Kandria team did a game jam as a little break/reward for getting to the vertical slice milestone. Nick had the idea to make a visual novel, using some of the dialogue tech from Kandria, and make it about adopting animals from a shelter. Amazing right?! We talked about Hatoful Boyfriend as a strong influence, which I was familiar with but hadn’t played—so it was fun to do some research into that game too.

We made the game in two weeks, working normal hours, and it’s been some of the most fun I’ve had in game writing. We all pitched animal characters (the rats and dog were mine), and I came up with the game name and wider story, and wrote the dialogue. Nick handled the engine, and he and Fred shared art duties. Nick also did the sound effects and sourced the royalty-free music. Obviously as a game jam we had a lot of constraints, but this actually ensured a large amount of creativity and focused content—there’s about 20k words in the game. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, mixing comedy with serious themes.

So Nick could gain experience with the Steam release pipeline, we’ve made it available on there for $1 / £0.79. Please check it out on Steam and give us a review if it sounds like your thing! It’s also available on itch.io. Nick even made a trailer with voice acting!

I’ve tweeted and blogged about it in a couple of other places too if you want more info—here’s a tweet, and I also wrote some dev insight for the Kandria monthly newsletter.

The game’s presskit is here for full credits and more info.


New Page: How I Became a Game Writer

This has been a long time in the making over this past year. I sometimes get contacted by aspiring game writers looking for tips on breaking into this career. I’ve sent out long emails before, so I decided to combine a lot of information into a single reference webpage, which I can refer people to. But it’s also grown into a huge 14,000 word behemoth, which I hope will provide a quick reference as well as a deeper read for those that want it. And not to mention the tons of links it has to other writers and resources which I’ve learned from over the years.



Flash Fiction Published: Itsy and the Toothbrush

Just a quick note to say one of my flash fictions was recently shortlisted as a “reader’s choice” in the Didcot Writers competition. It’s published over here on their blog.

This was an open theme, and I wrote the piece specifically for the comp, inspired by real-life adventures I’ve had rescuing spiders from the house! If you’d like to enter their competitions, the submission guidelines are here.

To learn more about Didcot Writers in general, please visit their website. It’s a really friendly and well-run writing group, which I’ve been part of since early 2020. I went to a couple of workshops before the pandemic hit, but we also meet regularly online for “pub socials” and to critique one another’s work. Gotta say I’ve learned tons not only from having my work critiqued, but from observing the styles of other writers. They also hold weekly “Shut Up and Writes” to help keep you going with your writing—alas these clash with my working hours but are very popular.


New Project: Kandria

A little overdue careers update, although I did share the news on Twitter! From 1 November I’ve been officially freelancing again. I’m still working with Brightrock on the unannounced management game, for which there should be news to share this coming year. But I’ve also picked up a new gig on Kandria, an indie platformer RPG about androids in a post-apocalyptic world, which I’m super-psyched about.

I’ve been thinking about going freelance again for a while; I love the game we’re making at Brightrock, which is really taking shape, but I was beginning to feel that I’d be able to deliver my writing for the project without being full-time, especially if I reverted to a narrative focus (for the last year and a half I’ve also been assisting with game design, which has taught me much, but now I feel it’s time to re-focus on my core narrative interests and skillset). I also feel that the greater variety of projects I work on, the more I will develop as a games writer, which ultimately is to the benefit of all the projects I work on.

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Why Ezra Bridger Is My Least Favourite (Star Wars) Character

I got into Rebels in 2015 when I first got Amazon Prime, heady to watch a new Star Wars show in anticipation of the The Force Awakens, and because I loved The Clones Wars show that preceded it. But after a while, before the end of the first season even, I was lukewarm towards it at best.

The show has an interesting premise, showing the gradual formation of the Rebel Alliance from about five years before A New Hope, I believe. And it’s great to see a new cast, a new planet, and lots of insurgency against the Empire. But it also seems to be aimed at a younger audience than The Clone Wars, with some of the story-telling vastly simplified—whereas The Clone Wars seemed capable of that appealing kids-adult crossover, Rebels feels definitely in the realm of kids, which does make it a harder watch.

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Five Go Mad in Magdalen

A poem I wrote in 2015 during my Open University degree, and resurrected from my archives.

I’m broadly happy with it looking back, though with fresh eyes I think it is a little overwritten. And I hope those caesuras were for a good reason! (I think they were.)

I used the ottava rima stanza form due to its origin in song, and use in mock-epic poems, which seemed to suit the subject matter.


Five Go Mad in Magdalen

Evening slides over the summer with an
accordion buzz flowing from the radio,
trickling into my ear, a haven
on the M40 between cat’s-eye glows,
and a dark-eyed sailor’s lily-white hand.
Night-time is on and a fair lady roams,
her crystal voice massaging the shore, ‘Euterpe’s
new single,’ says the white-lining DJ.

Pink wine is flowing over me, waterfalls
rolling great boulders of vegetables and roasters,
and gravy boats loaded with chocolate truffles;
the thunderous torrent shakes the rafters
and floods the lights. Drowned bodies rise from puddles
under tables, undead dripping dancers
whose Cons and stilettos groove with Terpsichore,
beating like hooves in their music-less revelry.

The spotlight moon shines into the darkness,
now a stage of intoxicated shadows
and syncopated dressage: the half-mast
leg of Billie Joe breaks blow-up didgeridoos
across its knee, and Tasha Yar does apple jacks
while Vulcan-saluting me, signal becomes
noise tuned to the laughter of Thalia,
the windows they howl and cry condensation.

History has taught me dining and drinking
don’t mix, but I’ve forgotten again in sweaty
headiness, so like a river sinking
to the sea, I flow through open airways
into the courtyard, where there’s someone reading
behind glass, beside a stone lion, in cosy
yellow light: I gaze into the face of Clio,
her knowing skin a yellowed, faded, scroll.

Curtains close over more-sensible minds,
tucked in tightly and locked inside, but I’m out
in December ice, where my senses find
nothing to hold, no scent from closed-bud pouts,
no mistletoe over my head. Time
is fleeing and too many star-lights to count,
when a scope inscribed ‘Urania’
is raised to my eye, and she whispers, ‘Audacia.’

Pendragon Campfire Tale

Mildred and the Mountain

Alas I was not selected but I had great fun writing this for inkle studio’s Pendragon Jam. The challenge was to write a short and lightly-interactive campfire story for their upcoming game, Pendragon.

Full spec here.

It was a great excuse to finally dabble with ink as well, having previously used inklewriter. I like.

Play my entry here: “Mildred and the Mountain”

The competition required a quick turnaround, so I didn’t think about what I was making too much beyond adhering to the spec. And I’m also not an expert on Arthurian legend. There are some things in hindsight I’m not totally happy with, but generally I like what I produced—so I also added it to my Interactive page for posterity!

Image credit

1917 and the Power of Gamic Techniques

1917 is an incredible film, and one that seems to have done very well critically and commercially. But on emerging from the cinema, the thing that struck me most about it was how much it felt like a video game.

It’s presented as one long, virtually-interrupted third-person tracking shot—just like the kind of game cameras we’ve been accustomed to since the first Tomb Raider in 1996; and something surely now perfected in modern cinematic games like Hellblade and the new God of War. It’s highly-immersive, just like most games. As you follow the protagonist through the entire film, you naturally search the environment for narrative clues, interacting with the scenes much like you would in a game. You’re trying to piece together the story from the fragments you observe—fragments placed there by savvy filmmakers behaving more like level designers! The only difference is that you’re not in control of the camera, nor the protagonists movement. And this narrative is clearly a hero’s journey, something game narrative design is particularly adept at—perhaps the persistent following of the protagonist lends itself to this.

I think 1917 could have so easily been a game—and as game developer I think that’s the biggest complement I can pay it.

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198X—A Game for the Jilted Generation

(2019, video game, Steam)

Also available now on GOG.com and PS4. I think coming soon to Xbox One and Switch.

(This post had been sat unfinished since the summer, so I finally dusted it off. It’s too long and rambling really, and could use much more tightening up and restructuring if it was to be an actual review or essay—but I think the gushing length and flow captures how much I loved the game in those magic moments.)

This game has really blown my mind. It began back in May when I first found out about it and watched the incredible trailer.

Here’s what I’ve already talked about in a gushing Twitter thread and even more gushing Steam review.

I recorded my entire first playthrough on Steam as well, in two parts across two successive evenings. Later I also played on PS4 once it was released, making a stream video per game.

Now the game is over for me, I’d like to add some additional thoughts, and develop thoughts further that I touched on above.

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