Wednesday, 14 March 2012

From Space

Before I lay me down to sleep, I want to document a dream I had the other night.
I have two recurring dreams. In the first, I am alone and lost in London. In the second, I am standing in my mother's garden, looking out across the field beyond, at the night sky, and a UFO descends. This dream always climaxes in a close encounter of the third kind: an alien (or 'animate being').

This time, I was watching from the centre of the garden, and the UFO was an archetypal, charcoal grey saucer, barely a ghost in the gloom. Often, they glide at high altitudes, lit like fairy carnivals, but not this time. It skimmed silently across the field, little more than ten feet above the crops. I was excited, not fearful.
I hurried into the house through the back door, and into the lounge. The lounge was dark and claustrophobic, flooded with an eerie scarlet light which devoured form, much as a shadow. My brother was sat at one end of the sofa; my mother in an armchair. They watched a dim tv, unmoving. I threw myself onto the sofa and my brother hissed between clenched teeth: Careful! You nearly sat on it!
Nobody moved or breathed. I could feel the warmth of a body beside me upon my bare arm.
Something pushed itself off the sofa and dropped gently to the carpet, its fur brushing my arm, and a shape waddled out of my peripheral vision towards the back door.

I've been reading a lot about gaps - about space. I love this theory: By leaving spaces for the reader/gamer to occupy, she is encouraged to fill in the gaps with her own personal experiences or imagery, thereby drawing her directly into the narrative.
I love how my dream never depicted the alien and how I have formed my own image of it by filling in the gaps. It was short, with a furry torso. For some reason, I found myself adding a snout to it. I think I was cramming the gaps with an image of ALF.
However, looking at the reviews of thatgamecompany's Journey, it seems that emptiness in a game also creates a high risk of boredom.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Eughyeugh! That's the noise one makes when one is pricked by the sensation of jelly skin. I'm making it now. And not just because I've discovered Loscil's Coast/Range/Arc on Spotify!

It's the sensation baked by the simultaneous bombardment of diverse emotions - when one's nerves are teased like oysters.
On the one hand, I'm genuinely sorry to learn that our external producer at BF is moving to pastures new. On the other, I'm tingling with her ultra-generous feedback on the pre-survey build, and with her microscopic list of amendments. So there's sadness, relief and some sort of pride already. Forget-ye-not to stir in the inexorable terror of the looming public Beta.
(All these cooking metaphors! Must be Masterchef final week!)

I've also made a breakthrough in a new style of writing and design.
I was beginning to fear that I was genetically manufactured to favour a languid and child-like form of magic realism. I decided that I wanted to discover how much suspense I could inject into the new project. So I had a chat with Linda Adams.
She listed structure, conflict, and word choice as the primary devices of suspense.
Back to Mimsy I scuttled, this time reading his incomprehensibly brilliant Story with my 'conflict' lenses on. Isn't it curious how we spot entirely different things when we look at something from a different point of view!
Not really, no.

I thunk a bit. I thunk about the concept of questions. Questions aren't enough to generate suspense, even if they're resonant and meaningful. Strip those very questions bare and dress them in the lederhosen of conflict and see what happens.
I thunk about conflict and curled up with Mimsy. He rested his head on my bosom and his breath was warm on my heaving clavicles. There are three types of conflict, he whispered, coiling my chest hairs around his wedding band finger. There's inner conflict (with yourself), and personal conflict (with peoples), and extra-personal conflict (with things). Mimsy licked his lips and continued: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.
So far so good. Conflict is protag wanting something but being unable to have it.
Protag has two types of desire though solv! Mimsy purred. Protag has conscious desire, which forms the basis for the bulk of the conflict, and protag has an unconscious desire, which is resolved at denouement.
I asked a few professional authors if they consider this when they write. So far, they have ignored me. I bet they don't!
I've temporarily built this into my plot, and it makes for a more informed denouement, but I can't really see it making any difference.
However, by making the decision to design Project X as a (predominantly) linear game, and by upping the pace using only conflict questions, I can honestly see something more compelling than anything else I've written forming in those notebooks. (Um, downside of the linear and pace things is that game duration is greatly shrivelled. Just let me get the quality right first, and then I'll look into the quantity.)
I also considered Mimsy's thoughts on placement of the inciting incident, and chose to place it five mins into the game, after an opening of Mystery.
Reconsidering everything under the strict rule of suspense - or, rather, conflict - has, I sense, made a significant difference to the choices I'm making. They're still, by and large, informed, but informed by a different sentinel.

Remember my loyal, honeyed solv-cake: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.