My Favorite Games of 2014

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It’s the time of year where folks are snarking about Game of the Year lists, but I think they have their uses and are fun, so I’m gonna do one.

HAH.

My Ten Favorite Games From The Year 2014

10. Dragon Age: Inquisition

There is no game released this year that I’ve had more ambivalent feelings toward. I love Bioware games. I think fighting the forces of evil while developing your relationships with your fellow quest members is a game make rather well. Dragon Age: Origins, though I wasn’t nearly as enamored with it as I was with Mass Effect for genre reasons, told a compelling yarn and had some memorable characters.

Inquisition tells more or less the same story (boo) but has more fascinating characters and couple of nice moments that are buried in the game’s ridiculous amount of filler garbage and terrible navigation system, both ripped from Bethesda’s games. Inquisition traded depth for scope, and I really, really hate that.

And yet, those little moments are just enough. Every conversation with Varric about Bianca or every time I tried to solve the enigma that is Iron Bull, got me to wade through all that mundane, design-contradictory nonsense for over 60 hours. And you know what? I’ve already started a new game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a mess of a game, but damn it Bioware got me again.

9.  Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa is probably the weirdest, zaniest game I played this year. It’s also one of the two reasons to buy a Vita. It’s a giant melting pot of various games (Persona 4, Virtue’s Last Reward, Phoenix Wright) that somehow works really well, even when it expects the player to sit through hours of reading text. The story is a familiar one, a Saw-esque spin of Christie’s And Then There Were None. The characters are funny and interesting enough even though most of them amount to little more than fodder.

Danganronpa is, in every sense of the word, a wicked game.

8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Advanced Warfare is an impressive game on several fronts. The campaign is exactly what the series needed after Ghosts‘ tepid, boring one. The addition of exo suit abilities–jetpacks, ROBOT PUNCHING–gives the player a surprising amount of options when it comes to taking on foes in multiplayer and singleplayer. Equally impressive, is Sledgehammer’s attempt to tell a story that aspires to be just a little bit more than a white dude mindlessly shooting other dudes. Some aspects of that story, such as the villain, don’t work quite as well as I’d like them to, but other bits, specifically bits that incorporate a diverse cast and focus on disability, are impressive.

You can read the piece I wrote about disability and diversity in Call of Duty:Advanced Warfare for Paste here.

7.  Queer Lovers at The End of the World

Queer Lovers at The End of the World is a twine game by Anna Anthropy. It’s the end of the world. You have ten seconds to spend with your lover. What will you do? The game’s free, so instead of telling you why it’s so great, I’d rather encourage you to take a minute of your day and play through it a couple of times. It’s a game that speaks for itself.

6. Alien: Isolation

I love Alien. Deeply. I think the 1979 film by Ridley Scott is one of the few perfect movies. Alien: Isolation is the best adaptation of that film (other games have sought to emulate the gun blazing action in Cameron’s Aliens) and is, separated from the source material, a really good game. For the most part. The majority of the game had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath alongside Amanda as she hid in a locker, waiting for the creature to pass by so we could make a long dash down the hallway to safety.

If only the game was about five hours shorter.

You can read my review of Alien: Isolation here.

5. Glitchhikers

Glitchhikers is the most personal game I’ve played this year.  As an eerie, surreal late night driving simulator, Glitchhikers made me recall a period of my life where I was on the road quite a bit, and it made me remember some old friends as well.

4. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor is brilliant and bland and delightful and infuriating, and good god I wished they would have just clipped the story. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mordor, toying with its rad Nemisis system, creating rise & fall stories about certain Uruks. I actually felt a tinge of sadness and disappointment when I accidentally beheaded one before I wanted his story to end.

But the rest of the game, the majority of it, in fact, is mediocre at best and absolutely horrendous at its low points. The protagonists are dull. The story is poorly written, with a lot of fridging and some damsel in distress quests.

But the Nemesis system? I could play in that sandbox forever.

You can read my review of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor here.

3. Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea, by the makers of Fallen London, is a great game that lets you create your own story as a seafaring (or, Zeefairing, I guess) captain trying to make their living off an underground ocean. The game’s story creation tools, from the immense diversity available in selecting who your captain is to what the game win conditions are, are particularly impressive. I’ve gone mad at sea from staring at monsters in the murky depths too long, and I’ve had my boat sunk by a giant shark with a cage over its head as I sailed back to port. I have yet to beat the game, despite my many, many attempts, but nearly every run has been a memorable experience (including the one where my captain met his fate without leaving the harbor of London).

Alas, maybe the Zee will treat my poor captains better in 2015.

2. Velocity 2X 

Velocity 2X is incredible to watch, let alone play. The game jumps across several genres, often instantly, with a rhythm that’s hard to believe. One minute you’re flying a space ship,  shooting down alien ships in a typical bull-hell screen only to be running along corridors, collecting gems, and solving puzzles. The transitions never feel jarring and it’s kind of incredible how easily the various modes bleed into each other to create Velocity 2X as a single experience rather than a game made up of various parts that don’t quite mix well together.

1. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s a game made by developers that approach the game’s ludicrous, alternate-history subject matter with a serious face and a respect for both the world and its characters. The game’s shooting mechanics, rather than distract from the story like so many games do, compliment BJ’s character arc as a man proud of his work as a killing machine but also as someone who’s growing weary of war.

Wolfenstein is my favorite game from 2014 because it’s a game that works as a whole. Many of the games released this year (Mordor and Alien, for example) have bits and pieces that are absolutely incredible, but they often clash with other areas, design-wise. The New Order is, in contrast, a single,  consistently great experience from top to bottom.

—-

Honorable Mentions:

Banner Saga

Murdered:Soul Suspect

Bound by Flame

Worst Game I’ve Played This Year

Destiny

You Are Never Alone: An Essay on Glitchhikers

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Years ago, when I was in a long distance relationship with the woman I love, I spent a large portion of my time on the road, traveling from Rock Hill, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia. Usually, it was night, probably the early hours of the morning, and the journey took three and a half hours. Sometimes I’d pull into her driveway just in time to wake her up at sunrise.

It was nice.

These journeys meant that my social life deviated from that of my peers. While they were out drinking, fucking, and having a grand time, I was usually locked away in my dorm room, reading novels or making playlists for the weekend drive. Of course, I was never one of those craven music fiends who could manage a somewhat steady high on tunes alone. I relied on other, more obvious stimulants to keep me from nodding off and veering into a guard rail. Coffee worked for a bit, as did smoking a pack of cigarettes. If I was truly desperate and tired, I’d take one of my ADHD pills and hoped my girlfriend would understand and forgive the temporary fit of depression and self-withdrawal that always occurred when the medicine petered off.

Staying awake on the road isn’t enough, though, especially when you’re making the same trip every other weekend, always having the same beautiful, yet dull drive to look forward to. Sometimes to stay sane you have to give in to the tomfoolery of the mind. In my case?

I split.

I often had long conversations with different versions of myself, aloud and otherwise, about various subjects—film and literature were the constants. There was haughty, arrogant, somewhat detestable Javy who was always planning the next great novel. Kind, timid Javy who always talked about why social justice and ecological preservation should be humanity’s top priorities. Javy who had a two hour rant on why Brazil was the greatest film of all time. Javy who constantly worried about finances and the strength of his relationships.

After four years of talking with all these versions of myself, the long-distance aspect of my relationship came to an end. My girlfriend and I moved in together. I don’t travel as much anymore—only on holidays to see the folks—and so I had no use for my passengers anymore. I didn’t need their voices or, at least, my awareness of their voices. I made an effort not to think about them.

That is, until I played Glitchhikers.

Glitchhikers is a video game developed by ceMelusine and Silverstring media. I’d guess you lump it into the “abstract with no clear win-condition” category of games championed by indie connoisseurs and reviled by those who would be quite happy if games were about shooting dudes ad infituim. In the game, you drive a car along the interstate at night. Above, the stars pepper the night sky. You can change lanes with the A/D keys, you can accelerate with W, and you can look to your right and left with Q/E. You cannot crash the car. You’re simply driving, unburdened by danger, though there’s something uneasy going on here. Your character is always blinking. Music that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch flick plays on the radio while, from time to time, you’ll also pick up a hitchhiker. You don’t pull over to the side of the road to pick them up. You glimpse them in the distance and then, after a couple of seconds, they are transported to your passenger seat. You have conversations with them. The hitchhiker will talk and you can respond with choices from a conversation wheel. Conversations are often eerie and philosophical and they drift on to an abrupt ending in which the hitchhiker disappears from your car.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.52.49 AM

What I find fascinating about Glitchhikers is that it’s an astounding recreation of a certain time and place that feels like it’s stuck between the world we know and some fantasy realm beyond our understanding. Those who have experienced it, burning rubber beneath a late moon, desperately trying to stay awake, know the sort of Twilight Zone feeling that emerges: an uneasy mixture of fear and soothing relaxation. You’ve never been more comfortable in your life, traveller. You could just close your eyes for a second, y’know? You’re strong enough, you’re not foolish enough to fall asleep behind the wheel. You know the stats. You’ve seen too many public safety ads for that to happen, for fuck’s sake.

However, on the road, there is no greater enemy than comfort. That’s why those voices mattered. They created loud inner debates that shattered my calm and my relaxation. I would not say Glitchhikers (or any game, I hope) is a Javy Simulator. However, Glitchhikers is game that’s about some kind of surreal journey and it’s a journey open to interpretation enough so that it invites the player to fill in the blanks with their experiences. That invitation reminded me of some old friends that might have saved my life at one point or another.

Sometimes I still get the urge to go driving at night. I don’t, though. Gas is too pricey. And there’s also a fear that I might not stop at the edge of town and come home. That I might just keep going, y’know? I miss the road. I miss the stars and traveling with the pines on either side of me and the glimpses of truckers drinking their jugs of coffee and the burnt, ashy cigarette hanging from my mouth and the conversations with those loathsome passengers of mine.

I really, really do.

Terror Aboard the Speedwell, Lights Out, Please, and Her Pound of Flesh

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Emily Short on The Terror Aboard The Speedwell, Lights Out, Please, and Her Pound of Flesh.

Originally posted on Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling:

In keeping with the season, three short reviews of horror IF. The review of Her Pound of Flesh gets into some spoilers, but they’re clearly marked; otherwise, these should be safe to check out even if you haven’t played the games in question.

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Making The Terror Aboard The Speedwell

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Conception and Production

I started working on the original version of The Terror Aboard The Speedwell started over a year ago. I had finished writing a novel in grad school and was sending it around to agents and publishers. People seemed to like it, but couldn’t take it because they couldn’t market it, and I wasn’t interested in turning the story into a young adult novel.

I spent around four years writing this book, so I was understandably depressed and frustrated. I wanted to distract myself and, after playing Depression Quest and reading Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, I decided that I’d make a Twine game.  I wanted to make something that was goofy. I opted to create an R-rated version of the Choose your Own Adventure books I read when I was a kid, most of which featured a survival horror concept.

There was no outline. I just started writing about a couple of people in spacesuits exploring a long-dead Earth. What came out of that was a horror story reminiscent of Alien, The Thing, and Dead Space.  I spent about a month writing the rough draft of the main narrative that all the other paths would eventually branch off of. It took two more months to create those paths and edit them.

By this point I was more than a little sick of the game and haphazardly decided that, since no one was going to play it anyway, I would release it into the void of the internet as is. I had another project I wanted to work on anyway, one about love and free will, called You Were Made for Loneliness.  The original version of Speedwell was super buggy and had at least ten endings closed off.  It got some buzz though. People seemed to like what they played of it.

I started asking folks  to write for You Were Made for Loneliness.  Ultimately 17, including an artist contributing a beautiful cover for the project, did so. All in all that project took two months from conception to the end (you can read about the process here if you want), and I’m really proud of that one. I think we made something special.

Anyway, after YWMFL was done my mind kept going back to Speedwell.  I kept thinking about all the mistakes I had made with that project and all the Twiney tricks I had learned while working on YWMFL. In the end, I decided to go back and spend a couple of weeks fixing up the game. I’d release a special edition of it for a buck or two just as an experiment to see if people would be willing to pay for it.

I contacted Elizabeth Simins, who had done the art for YWMFL, and commissioned another piece while I got to work editing.   Two weeks turned into a month; so much of Speedwell was just plain broken or held together with gum and duct tape. A good portion of my summer was dedicated to rooting out broken branches, duplicated text, crossed wires, and poor writing.

The new version was ready to go in August. The price was $2.50. I opted to go with itch.io because the distributor was new, the creator seemed friendly, easy to use, and didn’t charge a service fee.

Promotion and Release 

Before I released the game to the public,  I sent review copies to a number of publications and indie sites. I didn’t expect anyone to bite, but I had already committed myself to reworking this project so what was a couple of hours spent sending emails destined to the spam filter or the trash? Kotaku, Polygon, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Indiegames.com, Indie Haven, and about a dozen smaller sites all received a review copy of the game. Only Indiegames.com posted something about it during that first week. I certainly don’t blame the other sites for not giving it coverage then. If, when I was a Games Editor, I had received an email about some guy who had written a 50,000 word twine game, I probably wouldn’t have run a story on it or told someone to review it.

People shared it a lot on Twitter and Facebook. Sales were decent. I had made back the commission fee for the artwork and then some by the end of the first week. People were enjoying it. Slowly, more people started playing it. I saw a surge of buyers after indiegames.com posted its story. Shortly after that the number of purchasers went down. I had one or two people buying a copy a day.

I was satisfied. I had a made nice profit on the game, decided I’d buy myself something nice, and thought that was the end of it. But then two weeks after release Danielle Riendeau wrote a Polygon piece called “the best Alien game is a text adventure game.”  Beyond making me feel super proud of Speedwell, that piece linked enough people to the game that for three days people were buying copies every ten minutes. After this a couple of other sites, like IndieHaven, asked for review codes and posted pieces as well.

Numbers

As of this writing, The Terror Aboard The Speedwell, with both itch.io and VODO sales taken into account, has sold over 500 copies and continues to sell more copies everyday. The game has made back its development cost nearly eight times.

DLC

As part of Speedwell’s  development and marketing, I decided that I would do a quasi-Kickstarter stretch goal thing with free DLC for the game featuring characters from Speedwell. I promised a single DLC for every 75 dollars the game made up to 8 DLCs.  All DLCs were funded and I’m in the process of working on #3 right now. This initially started out as a joke I made when I was working on You Were Made for Loneliness, but I decided that DLC for a twine might be something people would be genuinely interested in, so I incorporated it.

DLC

Protagonist(s) Creation

One of the interesting questions I’ve been asked since the game’s release is why there’s two playable women protagonists but no man. The easiest, possibly cranky sounding answer is “well, because I wanted to make it that way.”  But to explain: there are games released year after year that star only a dude. Usually muscular, usually white, usually deals with his problems by shooting or stabbing them. If you take away games that allow the player to choose their gender (Bioware games, Diablo, etc), then you have a dearth of games that put women in the starring role. Sure there’s games like Tomb Raider, Remember Me,  The Walking Dead: Season 2, and Portal, but those are exceptions in a medium crowded with brotags. I thought I’d do something different.

As far as the two heroines go (Julia/Zoe), I basically wanted to create two characters that, in terms of the player’s power over shaping a character’s identity, exist somewhere between Commander Shepard and Lee Everett. What I love about Everett, in particular, is that he is very much his own person with his own morals and thoughts that exist outside of the player’s choices. The player has some leeway in choosing what Lee does throughout the course of the story, but they can’t really change his personality on a fundamental level.  He’s just not malleable in that way.

I wanted that kind of characterization, but I also wanted to introduce a twist to that sort of design. Zoe and Julia are very different people. I don’t want to to go into the details of how they’re different (because spoilers) but their personalities and their dialog choices are presented differently from one another even if the story demands that they walk along path, though there are exceptions throughout the game, situations where a dialog option is available to Julia but not Zoe or vice-versa.  I designed it this way because I wanted part of the game to be about discovering who this person is that you’re playing as.

What’s Next?

As fun as designing The Terror Aboard The Speedwell and You Were Made for Loneliness was, I think that I’m about done making games with Twine. I’ve got one more Twine project that’s about to be released (plus the DLC I’ve promised to folks who have bought the game, of course) and after that I think I’m going to start fiddling around some more with Construct 2 or RPG Maker.

I also have two non-game related projects I’m working on that I hope to share details about soon.

 –Javy

[R]espawn

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It’s the future. The remnants of humanity, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known only as The Fall, have fled a dying homeworld to seek refuge among the colonies of the solar system. 500 years later on the small moon of Callisto, every human has the right to respawn. Today, you are exercising that right.

[R]espawn is a sequel to both You Were Made for Loneliness and The Terror Aboard The Speedwell. You do not need to have played either of those games to understand [R]espawn, but there are a couple of treats for players who have played the other two games. A full playthrough takes 15-20 minutes.

[R]espawn is free. However, I ask that if you play the game and feel that you got something out of it, to consider donating to either Take This  (donation page) or Dames Making Games (donation page). They’re both wonderful organizations doing important work.

You can play [R]espawn online here.

You can download a copy here.

–Javy

Content warning: While [R]espawn is not intended to be a game explicitly about suicide, there are suicide-related sections of the game.

On The The Terror Aboard The Speedwell

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Hey everyone,

Just wanted to say some words about The Terror Aboard The Speedwell. I am floored by the success of the game and want to thank everyone who bought a copy of the game, gave it coverage, or just passed along the word that it was a thing that exists. I also wanted to take some time to list some information that will hopefully answer most of the questions I’ve received about the game since its release.

* Some folks were having trouble with saving their game, so I uploaded a version of the game that has a save system that should make things easier. It’s available under the files for the game if you’ve already bought a copy on itch.io.

* All the free DLC for the game has been unlocked. Here’s the release schedule:

1. Lenore Strauss: Done.

2. Jonas Salvucci. Done.

3. Travis “Meat” Barker. Release Date: Done.

4. Markie Daniels. Release Date: Done

5. Neil Smith. Release Date: Late November

6. Ryan Benson. Release Date: Early December

7. Ben Bowman. Release Date: Early December

8. Naomi. Release Date: Done.

* Who drew the cover illustration? That would be Elizabeth Simins! Check out her work here.

* Will there be a Steam release? No idea. I’ve seen how the Greenlight process has affected other developers and that’s just something I don’t want to deal with at all. If there’s a publisher who wants to make a Steam version happen, get in touch!

* Will there be a mobile version of the game? No, but there are plans to make the next game a mobile one.

What was this game made with? A nifty little program called Twine.

* What are some other Twine games I should check out? Me and some really talented folks made a sci-fi anthology called You Were Made For Loneliness that’s set in the same universe as Terror. My friend Kaitlin Tremblay (and company) are about to release a Twine anthology project that looks really cool. Soha Kareem also has several great projects that are worth your time. Anna Anthropy has also made some great twine games (among other cool stuff).

* I have a question. How can I reach you? JgwaltneIV AT Gmail DOT com.

Cheers,

Javy

Making You Were Made for Loneliness

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Hey! Javy here. Some people were curious about the formation of You Were Made For Loneliness, so I thought I’d write a small…mediumish post about how the project was developed from beginning to release. Cheers.

Conception: You Were Made for What?

I have this bad habit–it’s a habit a lot of fiction writers have–where I’ll be chest deep in a project and suddenly become obsessed with some new story that’s been formulating in my head. After writing stories for 15 years or so, I’ve reached the point where I can usually push that obsession to the sideline and get back to work. This wasn’t the case for what would ultimately become You Were Made for Loneliness. I was working on my first twine game Terror Aboard the Speedwell, and this image kept popping into my head: an android maid sitting next to an windowsill. I don’t know why that particular picture kept flashing in my mind, but I couldn’t shake it. I allowed myself to become distracted.  I wanted to do something with this picture and whatever I wanted to do with it I wanted to call it You Were Made for Loneliness. I should have put Speedwell on the back burner, but instead I rushed it and released a nifty but rough Choose Your Own Adventure game that could have been a lot better than it was (which is partially why I’m releasing a new special edition of the game soon!). I spent some days thinking about what story I wanted to tell with YWMFL. It would take place in the future. There would be robots, or at least *a* robot, and it would happen in space. In a post-apocalyptic setting, maybe a more fleshed out version of the same nebulous post-Earth setting I had concocted for Speedwell.

I still didn’t have what story I wanted to tell, though–just components–so I thought on it some more. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to tell a story about love, because love isn’t something you see in games a lot–killing, mutilation, sure, but love?–and I also wanted to tell a story about the value of choice. However, I didn’t want to make a game where the player had a bunch of choices that led down pathways A, B, or C because I had played that game. Many times. Hell, I had just finished making that game. I wanted to create a game that would encourage the player to really think about the importance of making choices and earning the right to make those choices. Memories were the final conceptual element I focused on, specifically the interplay between memories and choices and how those two things largely make up who we are as human beings. The unnamed robot would be service droid mentally assaulted by a never ending cascade of memories that didn’t belong to her. Would those memories make her a human being, and if so, would she be her own person, or just a composite of every person those memories belonged to? At this point, the end of April, I had the basics down: character sketches, a general idea of what I wanted this story to be about, and the mechanics. I started writing.

Community: Building the Team

It was pretty early on when I decided that You Were Made for Loneliness would be better suited as a project undertaken by multiple people. The memories that the maid would experience would be about love, memories that would present themselves as hyperlinks in the game’s main story. I had some stories planned out for these memories: a Southern man falling in love with a robber, two star-crossed kids fighting a futile battle against the gentrification of New York,  a rich man following his estranged wife to a foreign country to try and win her back. I soon noticed that these stories contained similar elements throughout. Protagonists were mostly men. They were dealing with desire and regret–themes explored in the stories of Carver, Cheever,  Roth, and Updike. I’ve always liked fiction that’s served as a resentful celebration of our brokenness as human beings, so that’s what I tend to write.  There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, except that I wasn’t writing about love in the way that I needed to.  I was writing about one kind of painful love in a world filled with many kinds of that particular human experience.If I wanted to tell the kind of story I set out to tell, I would need more people to create pieces based on their own experiences. The first few emails went out to folks I knew, to test the waters. A talented editor I had worked with named Kaitlin Tremblay. Indie developer Tony Perriello. Insightful critic Jon Hamlin.

I told them I wanted to write a story about an android named Naomi reliving the memories of dead lovers while working for a rich, lonely woman. I told them that it was a story about love and figuring out who you are. I told them I couldn’t pay them anything beyond what we could make off a tipjar paypal link since I was already paying for art and music. I asked them to submit memories: stories, poems, even non-fiction that I could use in the game.

Look at the game in twine

A look at the game in Twine. The descending passages in the middle are the frame story. The passages to the right are memories submitted by the writers. The ones on the left are passages concerning the AIs in Naomi’s head. That spider web? Zoya’s incredible labyrinth.

They all agreed to submit pieces. Fueled by those responses, I was ecstatic and confident in the story concept, so I sent more emails to people. I tweeted about a mystery twine game that I needed writers for.  Soon I had folks I knew (and didn’t know) asking for details. A lot of them. Marc Price. Kitty Horrorshow. Richard Goodness. Lilian Cohen-Moore. Bryant Francis. There was also a large number of folks who didn’t join the project and I couldn’t blame them, really.  I was, after all, essentially asking these people to write for little more than (possible) tips. There were also writers who just plain weren’t interested in the concept, or were uncomfortable with writing about love, which was (again) totally understandable.

I emailed artist Elizabeth Simins and asked if she would be interested in drawing an illustration to be used as a title screen and promo image for the game. We agreed on a price and delivery estimate. I did the same with a composer who had been recommended to me. By the end of April I had 14 people–what I thought would be the final number of members on a team we hadn’t even given a name to yet.

Tsukareta : Work Work Work

Creating the frame story for You Were Made for Loneliness was one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences I’ve had. I’m particularly proud of how the frame story works as a solid house for the memories submitted by other people on the team. I also think it’s one of the better stories I’ve written. The drama is understated but slowly builds up to a tense showdown. The world-building is done subtlety. Naomi’s lack of free will is shown via choices that are crossed out whenever a cursor scrolls over them, the gist being that Naomi is aware of her surroundings and interactions with people (and even has feelings and thoughts about those interactions) but she herself cannot interact with anyone or anything outside of carrying out an order given to her. It’s a nice little trick I stole paid homage to borrowed from Depression Quest and re-purposed for our narrative.

That lack of choice finally ends when the tension reaches its peak and Naomi, by becoming self-aware, has earned her right to have a choice, something most games grant their players right from the start. I drafted the story several times while I waited for my writers to submit their pieces. It took a while for it to reach its current state. I suffered writer’s block at several points, mostly because I didn’t understand Naomi. I knew who she was as a concept (a socially-imprisoned, depressed individual struggling to create an identity for herself) but I didn’t know who she was a person, as someone I could write. I wrote entire sections only to delete them in frustration. They were too overwrought, clashing with Naomi’s characterization as someone withdrawn from the world. Sometimes they were just too fucking boring.

I reached the point where I didn’t want to work on the story. I avoided my computer. I played Dark Souls and rewatched The Wire instead, anything to avoid sitting in front of my laptop and staring at Twine. And then Elizabeth sent me the illustration: a beautiful, colored illustration of Naomi as an eyeless mannequin with a serial number stamped on her neck. The image jump-started my desire to get back to writing. The last half of the story didn’t come easy, but it came. Slowly. Key by key. (Lesson here: artists are wonderful and can pull your ass out of the frying pan. Give them their due respect.) Around the end of May I finished the rough draft of the frame story and started to edit it. The majority of submitted pieces began to come in, and they were good. A tale about a woman slowly  poisoning  her lover. A story about two would-be lovers sending each other disturbing videos over the internet. A heart-breaking confession.  A bit about a husband and wife separately recalling their relationship. An incredible hyperlink labyrinth made by Zoya Street that centered around some translated poems of Izumi Shikibu.  And, by god, there were even a couple of happy love stories!  I implemented the submissions into my story, choosing to hyperlink certain words in the frame story to these memories (example: “nude” would lead to the aforementioned confession).

YWMFL

Elizabeth’s illustration

All was going pretty well, except that my music person had mysteriously disappeared. In the end, I decided that it was probably for the best and chose to spend the music money I had budgeted on someone to edit the frame story.  Patrick Lindsey turned out to be that editor. I sent a couple of other emails as well to see if folks were interested in joining the project.  Nina White joined the team, agreeing to submit some pieces. Sidney Fussell joined up as well, submitting a cool story based around music genres. After a rather silly voting process done via email, we chose Tsukareta (“The weary” in Japanese) as our team name. I continued to edit YWMFL as the days marched on.  I sent Patrick a draft of the frame story while I waited for more submissions to implement. He sent me the draft back a week later and, after some confusion on my end involving  Microsoft Word’s aggravating Track Changes feature, we had a version ready to go a day before launch. I prepared the release annoucment for my blog and emailed the team thanking them for their participation and telling them that I would launch the game in a couple of hours. I encouraged them to share the links to the game on their blogs and, if they wanted, to share the pieces they wrote for YWMFL outside of the game itself.

DLC

Free “DLC” for the game.

I released the game in the early hours of June 25th and dragged myself to bed. When I woke up around 9:00 AM, some folks had already started to tweet links to the game. I joined in and anxiously awaited player response. I spent the next couple of days with my eyes glued to the stats screen, watching as thousands of people played our game. It’s been about a month since we released the game, and over 7,000 people have played it. Some have left nice comments, a pleasant mixture of constructive criticism and praise. A couple of sites began to post links to the game. A positive review or two. A nice analytical piece. Some folks have even thrown a little money our way. Overall, I’m rather pleased with the game we made. It isn’t for everyone, but I put a lot of work into creating the kind of game I wanted to see exist, and I had a lot of help making it that way. So if you’ve played You Were Made for Loneliness and liked it, consider searching for the works of the writers, artists, and editors who helped me put it together and support those folks. They are incredible people:

Rollin Bishop 

Lillian Cohen-Moore

Cameron Cook

Bryant Francis

Olivia Frank

Sidney Fussell 

Richard Goodness

Jon Hamlin

Kitty Horrorshow

Patrick Lindsey 

Tony Perriello

Marc Price

  Elizabeth Simins

Zoya Street

Kaitlin Tremblay

Stephen Wilds

Nina White

Thanks for reading (and hopefully playing)!

–Javy

Those who want you dead…

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Javy:

This is worth a read.

Originally posted on Deeper in the Game:

 I heard an accusation. But what she and my Dad were trying to make me hear was their question:Why do you love a thing that won’t even let you exist within their made up worlds?

Pam Noles -Shame

The issue for marginalized folks in any geekdom is navigating this issue, all the time, every time: how much of my money do I want to give to people who literally want me dead?

Your options come down to three choices, all of which are terrible:

Speak no evil

Participate, enjoy to what you can, try to endure or avoid and say nothing.  You avoid some drama, but you’re always subject to microaggressions, and nothing changes.  Enjoy feeling like you contribute to people prospering who want you to die.

Disengage completely

Walk away.  You do not give money or fame to the people who hate you.  You’ve been driven out of…

View original 388 more words

You Were Made For Loneliness

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Games
YWMFL

It’s the future. The remnants of humanity, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known only as The Fall, have fled a dying homeworld to seek refuge among the colonies of the solar system.

Twenty years later in a small pawnshop on Callisto, an android is waking up from a deep slumber. Within her, long faded memories shine to life once more.

You Were Made for Loneliness is a love story created by Tsukareta, a small team of writers and artists.

You can play the most recent version here.

[The game has been updated. You can find the older versions here (1.0) and here (2.0).]

You can download a copy here.

[Update: A semi-sequel to You Were Made for Loneliness can be purchased here.]

If you like this twine, please consider giving us some money for our work via this paypal link:

Donate Button

We hope you enjoy our little game.

–Tsukareta

Trigger Warning: suicide, depression, and psychological abuse are themes explored in YWMFL.

What folks have been saying about You Were Made for Loneliness:

You Were Made For Loneliness, you see, is definitely not for everyone, but, for those who can brave disturbing scenes in their texty Twine games, it does offer both food for thought and some great, wild prose by Tsukareta. You Were Made For Loneliness tells a sad, sweet, philosophical and deeply touching science fiction story mainly revolving around robots, artificial intelligence, love and ethics.” — Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

You Were Made For Loneliness…a Twine narrative adventure by the Tsukareta writing collective, starts with an old lady purchasing a robotic maid from a pawn shop on Callisto, and from there weaves a tale of memory, the post-apocalypse, regret, murder, psychosis, and in its own skewed way, love. It’s a work that heavy in subject, heavy on experimentation and it’s very well done indeed. Players should be warned that the narrative deals with everything from suicide to depression and psychological abuse, making this a less-than-lighthearted tale, but one that will stay with you for a long time.” –JayisGames

You Were Made For Loneliness is, basically, a love story. It’s a lot of love stories. The kind of love that you wish you had, or the kind you wish you still had; the love that puts the fear of god into you, or the other way around; it might be every love story. It’s small in its scope, but ambitious and rather long. It will probably take you a touch over an hour to complete. ” — Edmund Chu, Solitonic

“You Were Made For Loneliness is a lovely, interesting, sad, disturbing and hopeful game.” Mike Joffe, Video Games of the Oppressed.

Tsukareta is:

Rollin Bishop (writer) is a doodler of words living in Austin, TX. He currently serves as Contributing Editor at Laughing Squid, and often posts inane ramblings on Twitter.

Lillian Cohen-Moore (writer) is a tiny spooky wizard who writes, plays, reviews, and breaks games. She is also a writer, editor and journalist. Website: www.lilliancohenmoore.com

Cameron Cook (writer) is a writer, filmmaker, and teacher from South Carolina. He releases a new short film every other month, along with a new short story in the months between.  You can find him on Twitter.

Bryant Francis (writer) is a writer and madman who was once ordered to gaze into the eye of the internet and behold its majesty. He’s never been quite the same since. Obsessed with giant robots, he has a tendency to cackle to himself while he works and was honestly a little shocked to find himself helping to write a game about love. You can read and watch more of his work here, and you can chat with him on Twitter as well.

Sidney Fussell (writer) is a writer, warlock and recovering misanthropist exploring race and identity in games. He mostly tweets about food. Mostly.

Richard Goodness (coder/writer) is a Brooklyn-based writer and musician. In addition to writing the Twines “Sam And Leo Go To The Bodega”, “The Richard Goodness Trilogy”, and “TWEEZER”, he curated the 2014 Fear of Twine Exhibition. His current project, Zest, is a management simulator. (@richardgoodness, richardgoodness.wordpress.com)

Javy Gwaltney (designer/editor/writer) devotes his time to writing about these video game things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter.

Jon Hamlin (writer) is a writer of words, former student of history, politics, and language, and compulsive player of video games. He writes poetry, play sketches, short fiction, and video game and cultural criticism regularly. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his partner. @WordsmithJon

Kitty Horrorshow (writer) is a genderfluid birdwitch whose passions are writing, horror, curses, bones, houses, and nonphysical spaces.  http://kittyhorrorshow.wordpress.com / @kittyhorrorshow / http://kittyhorrorshow.tumblr.com

Patrick Lindsey (editor) is a Boston-based game critic and occasional developer-type person. He co-hosts the Indie MEGAcast podcast and won’t shut up about DOOM or Far Cry 2. He reluctantly claims responsibility for what you’ll find on Twitter @HanFreakinSolo.

Tony Perriello (writer) and Olivia Frank (writer) live in Pittsburgh, where they spoil their cat baby and rewatch The Wire a lot. Tony makes games sometimes and blogs never, you can find both of them at http://tonyperriello.com.

Marc Price (writer) is glad the NBA playoffs are over so he can sleep again. He writes about basketball videogames for Goodgamebro.com. You can find his tweets about food and games here.

Elizabeth Simins (illustrator) is an artist & illustrator living in New York. She makes comics primarily about games, but also sometimes about other things. Her work appears regularly on Kotaku, irregularly elsewhere, and unceasingly on her twitter.

Zoya Street (writer) is a game design historian and critic. He runs ezine Memory Insufficient, co-organised Critical Proximity conference, and is the author of Dreamcast Worlds.

Kaitlin Tremblay (writer) is an editor, a writer, and a fledgling game-maker. Kaitlin makes horror games focused on feminism and mental health. She has a Master’s in English and Film, Specialization in Gender and Genre, and can be found on Twitter ranting about Godzilla.

Stephen Wilds (writer) can be found somewhere in the shade down in the dirty South, writing about video games, comics, wrestling, and he even finds time for some fiction in between tacos. His work is located at www.CultureMass.com, www.BlankManInc.com, and hidden on one hundred and one different USB drives cleverly scattered across the state of Georgia.

Nina White (writing as Ashton Raze) is a co-founder of Owl Cave Games, creators of Richard & Alice and Sepulchre. She used to work as a journalist for The Telegraph, GameSpot and others. Now she can be found writing various adventure games for Owl Cave, as well as the hugely successful universe sandbox game, Starbound. Nina is also a novelist, with 2012’s Bright Lights & Glass Houses being her first release. New books are in the works! Which is good.

 

Me and Dark Souls

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I step into the chamber. It’s large, but not massive. There’s a row of pillars on each side, but what’s more interesting are the two creatures wearing golden armor at the other end of the hall. Ornstein and Smough. Dragonslayer. Executioner.

I ready my flame sword and my shield, and myself with the understanding I will probably perish almost immediately. This time and many other times. I utter my little mantra (“May this death teach me something new”) and charge into battle.

Ornstein, thin and agile, zooms across the floor and skewers me with his spear.  I recover and slash at him with my sword, but he jumps away. Smough twirls into us like a giant hammer-wielding hurricane. I block the blow with my shield, but Ornstein’s already at my back, impaling me with his spear.

The lights go out, but worst of all, I don’t think I learned anything about their pattern.

*

I stare at the calendar on my phone. May 5th. Another day gone, another day closer to post-graduate school life. Another day in which I will fill out an application for a job I might not get. Another day to tweak a small twine project I’m putting together with some writers I know. Another day to look at my Damn Good Novel that needs to be edited and know that I’m not brave enough to do it yet.

May 5th.

Ten days until the online literary journal I’m the editor-in-chief of needs to go live.

Eight days until graduation and greeting my parents after their love drive and nice warm chats  with my brother about his upcoming freshman year of college–at the same school I went to, no less.

May 5th. The Day of the Battle of Puebla. The local Tex-Mex places are offering deals on margaritas and tequila, but I don’t drink either of those so I’m just shit out of luck, I guess.

May 5th. A strange, stagnant time to be alive.

*

They rush into battle in that  now old familiar way: Ornstein flying across the floor with Smough shuffling along with his mallet o’ death.

By now I understand their movements. I’ve died at least five times now and made the long trek back to this hall each time, but I have both their attacks memorized. However, the fact that the two might occupy a single space and unleash a random combination of attacks sets me on edge, makes me play it safe. I  keep my back pointed toward the wall and my front facing the pair of them. But they move in formation, Ornstein orbiting Smough. They know I want to play it safe–like I did with Capra Demon, with Gaping Dragon–but they won’t let me.

In the end, my defensive play doesn’t work. Ornstein zaps me from afar with his lightning bolt, which bypasses my shield. Sometimes he zooms in and I get a small stab in, but it’s a ploy to make me think my tactic is working, to make me think I can break him down slowly.

It works. I live out a series of moments all of which involve Ornstein slaughtering me. I learn nothing. I am nothing. Right before my last death, I kneel down to read another player’s message etched in the floor hoping it gives me some hint, some key that will help me emerge victorious in the 11th hour.

“I did it!” the message says.

“Liar” is my last thought before Smough crushes my bones with his hammer.

*

The worst bit of moving around? Losing friends. We all lose friends, in the end. They leave us or we leave them in one way or another.  However, there’s little doubt in my mind that my reluctance to become close friends with people is at least tied to the number of a good people I knew for and cared about before moving away from college and the bout of depression that occurred after the move.

Down here I’ve made friends, but not many. I am not opposed to the notion, and I do not find people disgusting or disappointing. Quite the opposite: I am incredibly anxious person who lives in constant fear of disappointing those he respects.  The less I have to deal with that anxiety, which can be a boon to my work or be cripple it for large periods of times, the better.

This isn’t something I have to worry about so much with other writers I’ve met through the games writing community. There’s obviously a distance there, a bubble of sorts provided by digital communication but there’s also the sense that these people experience the same set of anxieties, or their own separate kinds of anxieties, that make them much easier to talk to, though you may never bring up those anxieties in conversation.

Still, there exists a yearning for those meetings with old, familiar faces. The meetings in person. The conversations at cafes into the late hours of the evening about Joyce and DuBois and  Woolf and Pynchon. The golden old days that are gone gone gone.

*

I run past the towering guards in front of the hall, dodging their  blows.  I am angry, and tired, and ready for this fight to be over. I enter the arena, say my mantra, and charge directly at Ornstein. No more playing it safe. I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care about living or dying, I just have to know that I can kill one of them. I have to know they can fall, that they are mortal.

I have to know.

I need this and I have to do it on my own.  I don’t know why I need this, but I need this. Badly.

I circle him, not bothering to put up my shield, and slash at him again and again and again. He gets me good but he weakens quickly as well. Smough swoops in with his hammer, but I put up my shield just in time, trading blows only with Ornstein.

I drink up all estus flasks and dash in one last time to stab the dragonslayer. I watch him fall to the ground dead just as Smough swings his hammer into me, but I’m not even upset.

“It can be done,” I tell myself. It can be done.

*

The commute to work is almost two hours.  This is a pain in the ass, especially since I often head straight back after teaching two back to back classes.

But sometimes it isn’t so bad. When I was younger, I would go see my girlfriend every other weekend, often making the three and a half hour journey in the early hours of the morning. I would prepare for each trip, creating music playlists, storing small coffee packets into my glovebox so that I could use to make coffee in the bathrooms of gas stations on the interstate. I didn’t have much money then and saving every cent so I could see her. I would navigate the labyrinth of South Carolina’s dirty back roads to the interstate. I would watch the sun come up over the interstate. I would plan my novels and short stories. I would drink ungodly amounts of coffee and pull over to the side of the road for emergency bathroom breaks. When the coffee didn’t work, I’d reluctantly smoke a cigarette because it was the only thing that would keep me awake.

But getting to see Lily after such a long journey was bliss. Long distance relationships are, for a very large part of them, hell and I don’t wish them on anyone. However, nothing quite beats being together with someone you deeply care about after not seeing them for weeks on end. It makes up for all the fights about stupid shit, for all the weary conversations because you’re both just tired and have had bad days.

Sometimes I get fleeting sensations of those long night journeys and the weekends with her when I’m coming home from work. A brief taste of old rewards for surviving a difficult era.

Soft times are nice enough and safe, but goddamn the hard times can you make feel alive.

*

Ornstein isn’t a problem anymore. I have found the balance between being aggressive and defensive. I can respond to his movements more quickly. He thrusts his spear. In another version of this moment, a past one, I am leaning into the spear and taking a fatal blow, but in this one I’m skillfully dodging the hit and counterattacking with a slash aimed at his back.

Ornstein dies. Smough absorbs his  companion’s lightning powers into his hammer. As it turns out, I have grossly underestimated how difficult the behemoth would be. He is easy to outrun, to dodge even, but I can’t get close enough to land a hit and guarantee that I’ll move away in time to avoid a nasty, crippling attack.

And yet, I still try. Losing chunks of health with nothing to show for my efforts until, at last, as I cower behind the rubble of a pillar, I realize what I have to do to win.

I rush out to meet Smough and smile as he lifts the hammer.

The poor son of a bitch doesn’t even know I’ve won.

He brings the hammer down and I die one last time.

*

Lily is downstairs trying to work on her law school homework but apparently our cat keeps sitting on her textbooks. Today, I’m writing this. And I have to grade some papers. And chat with our department’s nice webhost. And check, double check, triple check my students’ grades before submitting them. I will also work on that twine project.

At some point, I’m sure an urge will drift into my mind encouraging me to sit down and edit the aforementioned novel, but it won’t happen today. Instead, I’ll likely spend the late hours of the evening submitting more job applications, hoping to get a bite.

And yet in spite of all of these busy happenings, I feel the stagnation creeping over me and nothing to distract me from it. Exercise is a slight slap to ward off that feeling, as is writing small pieces like this.  I need a new project, something challenging and audacious.

Until then, I have Lordran.

*

I step into the hall once more. I do not utter my mantra. I know I will be victorious this time. It is a fact. Across the seventeen versions of this moment that I have lived and died, this will be the one where I triumph.

I sprint toward them. We meet in the center of the room and begin, not a battle, but a dance, weaving between the pillars and slashing at one another. I have not merely memorized their movements, I know them, can identify the slightest twitch in Ornstein’s hands.

In a way, I feel bad for the pair of them. They’ve given me a gift after all, forcing me to master all the skills I’ve learned throughout my journey in this one intimate battle. We’re almost friends, you could say.

I open myself up to attack, baiting a crippled Ornstein (just as he baited me) and allowing him to take away a slight chunk of my health. Too greedy. I land a blow and send the Dragonslayer to his final grave.

Smough absorbs his powers. I drink an estsus and trade my sword for a bow. He chases me around the destroyed pillar while I fire arrows at his gargantuan belly. An age passes. I wear him down slowly, like a grunt bringing down a war elephant by chucking sharpened pencils at him.

I do the math in my head. Always firing from the right distance to do the most damage I can without opening myself up to his hammer.

I use at least a 100 arrows, maybe 120.  I know when I have the final arrow lined up to fire. I let him get close, stomping toward me, ready to lift up that hammer and smear me all over the floor. To put everything back in place. To bring his companion back from the dead.

To do this all over again.

But this is not his moment. It is mine.

I let loose the arrow. It soars over cracked pillars, over the body of the dragonslayer, over the moments of past lives, of my failures, until it embeds itself in the right eyeball of the giant. He drops his beloved, bloody hammer. He topples headfirst to the floor and explodes into white dust.

I stand and look at the space where he was. I look around at the destroyed room and out into the cathedral where those two stone guardians I dodged are and in front of me where two elevators are now active to lead me onward and upward and I look at the shield and sword in my hand and then my inventory and at long last I look at my hands, my real hands holding a real, tangible controller.

What now?