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Computer is Bored

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I used to think that if I ever wanted to get involved in the creation of a game as a writer, I would basically have to make it as a writer first, then get involved in games second. I don’t think that’s an uncommon attitude, and if I ever do become a part of the games industry, there’s a chance it would on the strength of my other writing. But one thing I’ve definitely discovered recently was that it wasn’t so much my lack of IT skills that was holding me back from making my own games, but my assumption that it was something only ‘computer people’ could do in the first place.

I’ve been messing around with RPG Maker and Twine for a long time, and they’re fun tools. I’ll probably talk more about the various different bits of game or interactive fiction making software I have been or will be experimenting with in another post. But, for now, here’s some snapshots of the first ever coherent and complete game (in the sense that it has a beginning and an end) I’ve ever made. Its a fairly daft conversation game, in which a skynet-type AI is bored and must be ‘entertained’ through smalltalk to prevent it destroying the world.

Currently, I don’t have any screencast or videos that work with wordpress, so screenshots will have to do. At of the time of writing, it looks like this:

Which is pretty basic-looking. But on the other hand, it feels like a pretty big deal for something I threw together myself. Speaking of which, here’s the ‘boredom meter’ I cobbled together in MS Paint, to track how close the player is to a game over.

Apart from that, all the art and music either game packaged with RPG Maker or was filched from google images, so if I ever decide to do anything professional with this I’ll have to find replacements, at least for the computer eye graphic. Which is a shame, because I like it. Reminds me of Portal and Paranoia.

This is what the game actually looks like in the editor. Weird, right? Just a bunch squares. But that’s because this software is designed for grid-based RPGs. What you’re looking at is a grid, normally filled with tiles that make up a level of the game, with the transparent squares being ‘events’ that sit ontop of them. Normally these are the active or interactible parts of the game, like characters, doors, treasure chests, whatever. But I’m using this software to make more of a visual-novel type game, using almost exclusively the dialogue functionality, so I don’t need any of that. I just want units of conversation, organised in a way that helps me visualise the path of the game.

And this is what the actual code looks like. Well, its probably misleading to call it ‘code’. Its way more abstracted and simplified than that, presented in a very ‘natural language’ kind of way for less computer-savvy people like me to understand. RPG Maker does allow you to go into the code and edit it, and if I want to do anything more ambitious with the software that’s something I’ll have to learn. But for now, this does the job.

The left block represents one of the choices in the game, where the ‘Computer’ offers the player a choice of music for the last part of the game (which triggers when the ‘boredom’ variable reaches a certain level). The right block represents a linear section (the player gets no choices), but one that is influenced by the choices they’ve made so far (more specifically, by the impact those choices have made on the ‘boredom’ variable): the characters \V[****] prompt the game to print the value for that specific variable, and the conditional branches at the bottom determine which version of the ‘boredom meter’ to display (i.e. how full).

I also ended up using the characters \| and \. quite a lot in the game. When printing text (in this case, dialogue), these prompt the game to pause for 1/4 of a second and a second respectively, and I used these to try to make the in-game dialogue reflect realistic speech patterns and make it a bit more engaging to read. For example, when the Computer says something in inverted commas to indicate skepticism, I added a tiny pause before and after that work in an effort to reflect how it might actually be said. A minor feature, but it was interesting to play around with.

Stay tuned for more games projects, as well as possible updates on this one.

In the Sound Studio 1

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One of the new and exciting things I’ve had a chance to do in the Culture Lab so far is record in the sound studio. I’ve had the induction now, so I should (in theory) be able to record things in there all on my own. But to get me started, I’ve had a few recording sessions with fellow CAP student Mike, using some of his kit and technical know-how to help me learn how to use a mic, and to help him get a feel for the studio.

It was a strange experience, with very different concerns to live performance. I didn’t have to worry about memorising my poems, or about what I was doing with my hands or expression, but I did have to be very aware of every tiny little noise I was making. Creaky chair? You can hear it. Clothes rubbing together? You can hear it. The tiniest of mouth sounds? Oh boy, you can hear them. It was a strange experience.

I’m not quite satisfied with my own performance yet – I reckon once I’ve gotten over the teething troubles of learning to perform in an entirely new context I’ll be able to inject a bit more life into these poems, like I would at a live gig. But for now, here they are! My first foray into recording my own work. Full credit for editing/cleaning up the recordings goes to Mike.

The Wolf That Came To The Door
The Tall Man’s Coat
Tsukumogami

Video Game Maps

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Got a bit (re)obsessed with video game maps this last week, and spent forever making great big collages of particular levels and attempting to map various images, bits of story and bits of music from those levels onto them. Also got interested in real-world maps, and the potential fruits of comparing/combing the two. Overall, I think there’s potential to make an interesting project out of this. Just finished writing very wordy blog post about these same ideas over on my personal blog: here.



Misc Things 1

matthew-macdonald-edinburgh-horror-festival

Seeing as how there’s been so much stuff on, far too much stuff to properly write and blog about (although I’ve been meaning to get into the habit of writing a quick journal each day) it seemed like a good idea to just post some quick pictures and links here to keep a record of the things that stood out. Some of these things I’ve written about on my own blog, in which case I’ve added links.

Things I’ve been up to:
Spoken word horror – The Book of Jubilation at Edinburgh Horror Festival, and Loud Poets (featuring me!) – more info here.

Messing around in RPG Maker, brainstorming an idea for a short text-game about conversation with a really needy AI – hopefully more to come!


Events around the high street: Pocket Money Loans, the NewBridge Project and Hidden Civil war – more info here.


Scottish poetry and the idea of ‘the Makar’: Meeting Jackie Kay and Bill Herbert at the NCLA’s event, and learning about the relationship between Scottish poetry and politics – more info here.

Things I’ve been enjoying:
Cool webcomics I stumbled across – Necropolisthe Mistake and Kill Six Billion Demons. Lovely art styles, great story: this style of visual storytelling is pretty much everything I look for (and aspire to) in a multimedia/collaborative work.

The Magic Circle “if creation is a language, you wanna be the slang. Take what the gods wrote, and give it a filthy new truth.” An awesome game about video game design and the creative process. Great puzzles, voice acting, great satire.


Vocaloid musicECHO, Big Brother and Biohazard. Normally the weird janky quality of the vocals puts me off a bit, but I really like these, and I do find the idea of ‘composing’ lyrics with a speech program pretty cool.

Penny Dreadful – plot-wise? Not the best. Character-wise? Pretty great: I’m a big fan of gothic horror and I like the reinterpretations of classic characters. Aesthetically? Spiders crawling out from under tarot cards.