Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Post: The Canterbury Tales: The Text Adventure

Luke Bellmason had an interesting idea for keeping himself on track and motivated while writing:

One of the great things about being an indie writer is that the hours are great, and the fact that there’s no boss, nobody telling you what to do or how to do it. The problem with that though is there’s no imposed structure forced upon you, it’s all self-imposed. And we all know that a self-imposed work structure is only as strong as the will of the person enforcing it, i.e. not very. Which is why I spend most of the time I set aside for writing on Twitter or writing blog posts.
What I really need, I often think to myself, is an office. Somewhere I can go that has no phones, no internet access and maybe is near a nice cafe. Maybe some proper, smart looking files to organise everything, and rubber stamps. You got to have rubber stamps! They make everything look all official. Then I think, no, what I really need is a company with a snarling Chief Editor who shouts at me to get my work on his desk by Friday!
Well, I can’t afford all of that, but what would my offices look like if I had unlimited funds? I imagined an old factory building, converted to offices but with the old upper walkway and stairs still intact. A big open ground floor, entry lobby, with a cafe, a video games arcade and perhaps a library. And a quiet room with leather chairs and newspapers. All of the actual writers would be upstairs; the Head Writer, the Story Editor and the snarly Chief Editor.
That was about the time I got a little bit carried away with this idea. After drawing out the upper floor, I imagined all the different stages of the writing process; from concept to planning, to writing the first draft, through the second draft to the final draft and proof reading. As has been said, we have to wear a lot of hats as writers, but for each task I imagined a completely separate writer with his or her own office. The various stories I’m writing for the Canterbury Tales all have to go through these stages, one by one.
So if I could imagine all this, I knew I could build it as a video game. Since my stories are ‘about’ video games, or video game universes, this seemed highly appropriate. And the simplest kind of video game I know how create is a text adventure, also highly appropriate since “words is my business.”
Using a piece of free software called Inform I was quickly able to construct this space (I didn’t bother with the ground floor since all the useful work will be done in the upper offices). I laid out the Project Director’s Office, the Planning Office, the Head Writer’s Office, the Story Editor’s Office, etc. I even built a tea room and a Character Lab, and a Locations Dept. And also an Art Dept.
So what actual use is all of this? Aside from wasting a huge amount of time I could have spent writing? Well, one of the main things I did was create ‘files’ as objects which could be manipulated in the game. Each story has a file and the file contains all of the drafts, outlines and concepts. I can move these files around to represent the stage I am at with a particular story in the so-called ‘real’ world. I can give the Miner’s Tale to the Outline Dept. and at the same time give the Slaver’s Tale to the Head Writer, which tells me where I am with each story.
I also programmed the Project Director to tell me which story is in which Volume and how far along each volume is. In the game environment I can organise the whole project, I can even do it on my iPad without needing to ever save or load the game since the game will be ‘always on.’
The best part though, is possibly the issue of morale. Writing can be a lonely process, and being in the middle of a large project it can sometimes be difficult to feel like you’re making any progress. So another thing I created was ‘posters’, which are game objects which are made by the Art Dept after each story is completed. I can hang these posters on my office wall in the game and see at a glance what I’ve achieved so far! I also added ‘unlockables’ which are little souvenirs of each story. These take the form of small cargo containers which have a little memento of a story inside them.
Interestingly, because this ‘text adventure’ is going to have to run for the rest of the whole project, two or three years, I’ve had to program it for stories I haven’t written yet and so it was while making these little mementos I came up with some interesting ideas. A couple of these ideas may well form the central theme for the Bounty Hunter’s Tale and the Pirate’s Tale, which I hadn’t even worked out yet. I hadn’t set out to come up with story ideas, but this how my mind works. I set out to do one thing and end up with another.
So now I have a whole Volume under my belt, and my virtual text adventure based office complex is ready to swing into action I’m ready to actually sit down and maybe, just maybe, do some writing!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that sounds like a lot of time to spend on a 'virtual' office! Glad it also brought you some good ideas.