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One of the best things I’ve done as a novice game dev is get involved in game jams. Itch.io’s Finally Finish Something Jam motivated me to finish the alpha of my largest Twine project to date, Wreath of Roses, and submit it for feedback. After that was done I took a short break to focus on short stories, and just as I was wondering what my next project should be, I remembered that March is NaNoRenO.
I’ve blogged about NaNoWriMo before. It’s a month-long challenge to complete a novel draft, which has been running for years and engaged thousands of writers. NaNoRenO takes its inspiration from there, but is a rather more modest affair. The challenge is to create a visual novel or story-driven game, in one month. While some people can work alone to create all the writing, code and art for their game, most people prefer to work in teams and focus on their strengths.
On most work days, I liven up my commute by listening to podcasts. They’re easy to listen to, because I can drift in and out of focus without too much trouble, and put together whatever I miss from context. Listening to audio fiction isn’t so easy. I need to focus on every word, or the thread of the plot is lost, and my enjoyment of the words themselves is lessened. I listen to short fiction on audio only rarely, and then only to very short things, twenty minutes or less. Still, I’ve found some remarkable stories online. These are three of them.
That hilariously short attention span aside, and ignoring for a second that sometimes depression prevents me from focusing on anything interesting, I like listening to short stories on audio on my phone. While waiting for the bus, on my commute, on lunch breaks, on the line at the supermarket… wherever I can squeeze in those twenty minutes of peace.
The game’s full title is Niche: a Genetics Survival Game, and thank Darwin fish for that, because “niche game” is the worst Google search term in history.
Anyhoo. Niche is an eco-bio-something sim that charges the player with raising a pack of vague mammalian critters, collecting food, breeding, fighting off predators, and exploring their surroundings. The game world’s science is a biological grab-bag of sorts. Differently colored tiles represent different “biomes” with different physical characteristics. Each critter has its own genome, where some traits divide to dominant versus recessive, and others mix interestingly, like fur color. A “mutation menu” lets the player pick specific traits to introduce into their newly-bred nichelings, rolling the dice and letting the odds determine the outcome. “Immunity genes” exist to discourage consanguinity. Later in the game’s life cycle, “alpha/beta” status for critters was also introduced.
My fall’s reading has been not nearly so prolific as the summer or spring had been. Since Icon wrapped up in October, I still haven’t finished the small pile of graphic novels sitting on my shelf, gazing at me, forlorn. NaNoWriMo happened and I was focused on trying to break barriers in my own writing and, frankly, November had been a rough month for everyone.
It’s a good thing I started out with Lumberjanes, then. This comics series, bound up in four-issue trade paperbacks, hovers somewhere between young adult and middle grade. Though nominally a fantasy adventure book, it’s a little more unrestrained in its fantastical exploration than I’m used to seeing in YA. The art style is vibrant and compelling, but the human figures are stylized enough that the age of the protagonists stays ambiguous. The summer camp environment and the bright and cheery atmosphere give it an overall middle grade vibe.
I promised an update after NaNoWriMo, didn’t I? And now it’s been nearly a month since I wrote my fifty thousand words, and I still haven’t written anything. A lot of things got put on the back-burner for November, and so December has been pretty busy. I didn’t find a lot of time to set aside for contemplating the nature of my chaotic little manuscript, and how to move forward with it. Although I’d been meaning to break my habit of adopting overly ambitious story ideas, and then getting stalled trying to solve them…
The world of Fallen London was yet again enriched this month with the release of the long-awaited Zubmariner DLC for Sunless Sea. A stretch goal of the Sunless Sea Kickstarter campaign, Zubmariner promised to expand on the hints of sub-aquatic travel lore already present in Fallen London, and take players to a deeper and darker place than ever before. As the surface of the Unterzee already features sea-urchins from space who speak the language of stars, and a malevolent living mountain that’s can’t be permanently killed, it seemed a tall order. Still, the early promotional materials were intriguing to say the least, so as a KS backer myself I was very ready to be hyped.
Tomorrow November begins, and with it NaNoWriMo, the yearly celebration of writers getting together and vowing to hold each other accountable to one promise: write fifty thousand words in a month. I tried participating in NaNoWriMo once or twice in the past, about ten years ago. Although I had free time aplenty and I pushed hard on my novel idea, of which I was very fond, I didn’t win either time. Neither did I get a complete manuscript from it. In fact, I’ve never successfully completed a novel.
For a while, this was a source of great stress to me. When I envisioned my writerly future as a kid, it involved a shelf lined with books with my name on them, and the books were invariably fantasy novels. Novels were are are most of what I read. I didn’t adjust to regularly reading short fiction until quite recently, and I learned pretty quickly that it’s no use trying to write something that you don’t read. Every fiction magazine will quite rightly expect you to read a few of its issues before you even consider submitting.
Last year during NaNoWriMo I was unemployed and dedicating myself to writing more or less full-time. Ostensibly, that would have been the perfect time in which to make my next attempt. But I had determined that my mind was shaped for short fiction, and I was making my stand on a fictional universe built out of interconnected short stories. It was a fairly bold project in its scope, and ended up being less of a success than I’d hoped, creatively or otherwise. It did force me to stretch my muscles, though, and I learned a great deal about what was missing from my writing toolbox.
Now I have determined that it’s time to make a similar attempt, but more consciously. Going into November, I hope to put down fifty thousand words of continuous narrative, but I don’t fully expect to get a novel out of it. In fact, since I’m entering the race with almost no preparation, I expect the result to be rather an inelegant mess. My challenge right now is nothing more complicated than to start at the beginning and make it all the way to the end. It just so happens that this is one of my major vulnerabilities as a writer, and I’m beginning next month’s challenge partly in order to address this unacceptable gap in my toolbox.
Another challenge I’ve set myself is to write unselfconsciously, to turn off the inner editor, which is exactly what NaNoWriMo is designed to do. I like to produce polished material, of course, but as the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of done. Turning off the inner editor means you relegate her job to an outer editor, which is the person most qualified for the job to begin with. I hope this drive for unselfconsciousness will help me touch on some more sensitive issues, that I have been avoiding writing about for a long time.
Meet me back here in a month or so to see what sort of results this experiment produced.
Crossposted to Dreamwidth.
The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation runs a yearly competition for interactive fiction called IFComp. Though it’s been flourishing for many years, I hadn’t heard about it before this year, and too late to be able to plan and execute a worthy submission. Still, nothing’s preventing me from browsing the 50-odd submissions and looking for something to catch my eye. As a novice to IF I’ve only had hands-on experience with a very few platforms for writing or playing it. IFComp, though, exposes a whole array of techniques and manipulations that I wasn’t previously familiar with. Needless to say, this affected my play experience significantly.
Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending – K.G. Orphanides
This was the first entry I played. Eight characters is a parser game, where commands can be entered in the text box or through navigation links. Some of the commands are helpfully explained in the in-universe manuals. Some are fairly intuitive, once you catch the trick of it – another effect of my being a novice player. I fussed for a long time over trying to open a simple chest before I learned to adjust to the game’s expectations.
Medical history can be fascinating, depressing and hilarious in more or less equal measure. A few of my smarter teachers have touched on it here and there, and it always helps to contextualize the material. It also puts things in perspective, when you’re learning about historical beliefs that represented the best medical thought of the time, alongside the best modern understanding of certain scientific mysteries. Makes you feel like maybe we know as little about the human brain as our antecedents did about germ theory. Someday, future podcasters will laugh at us.
Laugh, and be horrified. “Sawbones” is essentially a humorous podcast, as the subtitle says, “a marital tour of misguided medicine”. A doctor and a sidekick ask hard-hitting questions about garlic and butts. Given the rich history of the medical profession, they could conceivably keep producing weekly episodes indefinitely. So far their subjects have ranged from sleep disorders to deadly viruses, not to mention a lot of things that are no longer considered ill-health at all (left-handedness) to things that are straight up fiction (hysteria).
I love Sawbones because it keeps my commutes lively, and helpfully has a large back archive so that I’m never stranded without something to giggle about on the bus. I love it even more because almost every episode gives me a new story idea. As they say, fact is usually stranger than fiction. Nothing I could come up with independently is going to beat the 1918 flu pandemic, the discovery of vitamin C, or the history of sleepwalking.
Crossposted to Dreamwidth.