AdventureX 2016 / Writing Humour In Games

We really need some Little Buddies versions of the art. Just saying.

We really need some Little Buddies versions of the art. Just saying.

Over the last weekend, the yearly AdventureX convention in London grew up. It’s been running for the last few years, and I’ve always meant to but never actually managed to get down to it. This year though saw it raise money via Kickstarter to properly support itself, fill the halls at Goldsmiths College in London, and make itself an essential note on the calendar for anyone interested in adventure games, interactive fiction or other narrative driven stuff. What stood out for me wasn’t the talks though, but the general atmosphere. I’ve never been to a friendlier conference, or one with less ego on display. Everyone was there for the exact same reason – to celebrate this wonderful, crazy, goofy little genre we love so much.

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Sunless Sea And Me: Zubmariner

What’s that bubbling from the deep? Yes, finally the Sunless Sea expansion Zubmariner is out, and if you don’t mind me saying so, I think it’s pretty darn good. I wrote two of the ports for this one, an elephants graveyard called the Gant Pole where the beasts of the zee go to die, and the port of Nook, a silent society living in and harvesting the flesh of a giant eel in the name of Freedom. And that’s just some of what’s to be found on the Zee floor, including the crystal city of Anthe, the dreamlike Dahut, and vast numbers of wrecks, new monsters, and other reasons that sensible people stay on the surface.

This probably calls for a ‘mwah-ha-ha’. Ahem. Mwah-ha-ha…

The Long Journey Home

What is there to be found on this strange planet?

What is there to be found on this strange planet?

Meet The Long Journey Home, which I’m writing for Daedalic Studio West. It’s an RPG! It’s a roguelike! It’s a procedurally generated universe that you won’t find boring after seeing a few systems of it! And I’m super, super excited about it. Creative lead Andreas Suika has put together nothing short of a team of wizards to make this thing happen, and I’m thrilled to tag along behind them, cack-handedly throwing words at a screen in the hope that they all sound good. Seriously though, this game is doing a lot of stuff that I’ve wanted to see these things do for literally decades, including treating the crew as a vital part of the mission (complete with personalities, skills, arguments etc) instead of just stats, combining ‘proper’ RPG questing with an unpredictable universe, and offering basically all the freedom that you’d actually get if you were trapped at the wrong side of the universe on a slowly collapsing ship.

It’s Farscape. It’s Voyager. It’s Star Control II. It’s a lot of more obscure franchises and European SF worlds wrapped up into one, designed to play differently every time you play. Can’t wait to show you more of it, but check out the website for at least a few more details.

Sunless Sea And Me: Christmastide

"I WILL TAKE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO GIVE. I WILL TAKE MORE."

“I WILL TAKE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO GIVE. I WILL TAKE MORE.”

Merry Sacksmas! My latest Sunless Sea story just went live – a special, free quest to celebrate the season (though it’ll still be available afterwards). Mr Sacks has come to town, and he needs your help. Every year he shows up to take the people of London’s sacrifices. You will help him deliver the unwanted ones far from the reach of the Bazaar, and prove that when the ammonia snow falls, it is indeed better to give than to receive. And there’s a bit more to it than that, but I won’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that in the Neath, many a good deed goes unrewarded… but that only makes the moments of compassion all the more important.

I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Hope everyone likes it. Not to be unseemly, but I’m still so happy to have been part of this game and to have had the chance to leave a few marks on it. It’s such a wonderful world to spend time in, and I’m thrilled that it’s currently getting its due in Best Of lists. Not to mention a nomination for the Writers Guild of Great Britain’s gaming category, alongside Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, which I haven’t played (though only for want of a PS4), and Sam Barlow’s awesome Her Story. Would not mind losing to either, though obviously hope Sunless gets the nod. I do really like that all three are indie titles though, where actual writing took priority over flashy marketing. Not always the case!

(Also, secretly, I can’t say that I mind that when people comment in reviews “Well, YOU make a better game!”, I can tell them “Sunless Sea, baby!”, drop the mic, and walk off while We Are The Champions plays at high volume. Okay, so it’s scraps of a bigger team effort, but… sssh! Don’t spoil a good retort…)

Next year of course we’ll be seeing the expansion pack, Zubmariner, which explores the even darker world beneath the waves. Really looking forward to sinking my teeth into that one, if they’ll have me. Quite a lot of game writing and design on the slate for next year actually, which is cool. More on that in 2016 though.

Auditioning For SHODAN

In retrospect, SHODAN's designers regretted going for the Evil Face.

In retrospect, SHODAN’s designers regretted going for the Evil Face.

After many, many long years, we’re finally getting System Shock 3? I am, to put it mildly, ‘a little excited’. System Shock for me is one of those gamer-defining games, with SHODAN one of the PC’s greatest ever villains. While we don’t really know anything about the sequel except this teaser page, I can’t wait to tangle once again with the digital goddess who can do anything except fix her own speech impediment.

The only downside is that out of sheer personal pique, I just know I’ll never be able to fully enjoy it, knowing that other people had the honour of making it. “I hate all of them!” I hiss. “Especially any particularly lovely ones!” But… hmm. Since I’ve scored around 15 years of professional writing experience under my belt since System Shock 2 came along, just maybe I now have the clout to throw my hat into the ring? Maybe?

Let’s find out. Here’s some sample audio logs. Consider them an audition.

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The Beginner’s Guide

Sunless Sea And Me: Now With Added DLC

It's all about the Art, as the serial killer said to their victim.

It’s all about the Art, as the serial killer said to their victim.

What’s that splashing sound? That’s a great big dollup of new content being added to Sunless Sea. Hurray! It’s written by me! Sorry! But hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway! (I don’t think there are any puns!)

In order of my typing then. First up – the rodents of Pigmote Isle need your help again. This one builds on Amal’s awesome rodent war by letting you return and help the rats and cavies decide what to do next. You’re the Hairless Adviser, leading them through their tricky foundations and trying to get them ready for the rest of the zee to notice them… or alternatively to abuse their trust for your own purposes. Mwah, ha, and indeed, ha.

Then, it’s time to play with two more characters. Backers who supported the game at Corsair level and above can match their strength with the legendary Pirate-Poet, roaming the zee with her powerful Alcaeus ship. She was originally promised as a straight enemy, but I wanted to experiment with something a little different. I’ve always liked the idea of the worthy opponent in fiction, and the idea of friendship behind fighting. Sunless Sea doesn’t have much scope for that in the naval battles though because you just tend to be against ‘pirates’ or ‘Unfinished Men’ and so on. Having a specific character as an enemy allowed me to experiment with a relationship forged through battles… though as ever, it’s your choice what form it takes.

And finally – she’s here. After getting bored of her latest exile/cruise, the Merciless Modiste has turned her eyes to the zee in search of a new captain worthy of her scandalous fashions and murderous hobbies. She’s one of our ‘backer’ characters, along with the likes of the Sigil-Ridden Navigator and Maybe’s Daughter, though based on an existing character rather than a person. She was a fun one to write – a cheery sociopath completely commited to art, and the philosophy that while great art demands great suffering, its obligation does not necessarily have to fall upon the artiste. Anyone can recruit her, though to finish her story, you do need the Pirate-Poet DLC. Let’s just say, their pasts and your future are connected, for better or worse.

(The DLC is currently backer-only, but will be available to all at some point)