Here, have a pretty picture of a bee to brighten this mediocre autumn day. And, just for the record, I totally didn’t stalk that bee for half an hour to get this shot. No, not me.
I thought you might want to know what I’m working on when I’m not translating stuff. Which is the extended version of Zombies and Elephants. And when I say extended I mean f***ing huge.
I’ve mentioned this project before, but at that point I was only planning to do a better version of the original game, which was after all mostly written in 72 sleepless, horrible, panicky hours to meet the Fear of Twine deadline. And the original game shows that. There were a million choices and details that I still wanted to add. Towards the end the paragaphs keep getting longer, until it reads more like a novel with the occasional interactive bit. And I wanted to fix all that. In Ren’Py, because that gives me a lot more options in terms of audiovisual presentation.
And then I thought… but I could improve it. Make it bigger, better. A proper full-length horror game. So now I’m doing the bigger, better, entirely new version of Zombies and Elephants – it will probably not even have that title – which will incorporate the original game (albeit heavily rewritten) as one of five parts.
Pesky other projects keep getting in the way, so I’m cautious about setting a release date, but I hope it will be done in the next few months. Three of its chapters are already done.
We also hope to release The Sea Will Claim Everything on Steam soon, and that version will also have some significant improvements. And of course there’s The Council of Crows and… some other stuff. I’m not saying anything just yet. It’s gonna be pretty damn cool. Honest.
We saw Jurassic World the other day and I… kind of liked it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really quite silly, but I had fun. Popcorny-actiony-brainhurty-fun… but fun.
To celebrate the silliness of the
spiky T-Rex Indominus Rex, I made some very scientific dinosaur hybrids and posted them over on the Lands of Dream site.
I’m done with doing the mysterious thing that I have been doing in October (which took a little longer than anticipated) and am now back to working on graphics for The Council of Crows. Which may or may not be a working title. And things are being done with Ithaka, but that’s all secret and stuff.
I’ll probably try to get some writing done this week. And of course The Talos Principle is coming out on the 11th of December (go and pre-order your copy now, while it’s 10% off!) My proudest contribution to Talos (though not my only one) is that I bought a giant box of donuts for Croteam when we were at Gamescom, but that doesn’t keep me from being absolutely excited about the game.
So creatively things are about as well as they could be in Casa Kyratzes. But unfortunately it looks like the German state and its archaic laws regarding internet-based revenue and/or self-employment are going to do us in rather badly in the next few weeks. We’ve been working on our tax returns for 2013 and things are looking bleaker by the minute. It seems that being self-employed in Germany means that you get all the horrible stuff, but none of the benefits (those are only for people who earn more than 5000€ a month… because… capitalism!)
So we’ll probably have to sell the cat. Any takers?
Built in 2004, black, minor scratches in the paintwork, still in good working condition, makes annoying sounds on occasion. Has its own Twitter account. Runs on tuna/chicken (unleaded).
Anyhow. It remains to be seen how bad it actually will be. We have an appointment with our tax advisor on Thursday, if you don’t hear from us afterwards we probably donated our organs to the mafia.
If you’re bored with waiting for all those exciting games to come out, you could always go and watch Interstellar, which is really quite excellent.
It would seem that I got work. As in: paid work. And to boot it is creative… well… sort-of-kinda-not-quite-maybe-semi-creative. At any rate it’s close enough to make me a happy bunny.
To celebrate this momentous occasion I shall reanimate the blog (for the umpteenth time, I know… please don’t laugh).
While in Greece I did a lot of heavy thinking on the subject of creativity. I realized that there were a few new-ish things that I wanted to try doing (which I won’t quite talk about just yet). I realized that what I really really really *want* to do is to write. I came up with a few things that I would like to write in the future, which is awesome. I came up with a few ideas of what I want to do with the (hopefully) awesome things that I am going to write in the future. I realized that I’ve been too worried about writing to actually just sit down and write. (Which I think is also why I haven’t been blogging.) And I realized that I need deadlines.
Now, I have a very real and very frightening deadline regarding that sort-of-kinda-not-quite-maybe-semi-creative project that I mentioned above, so that’s not going to be a problem. But beyond that I think I will have to be a little creative. Luckily, I have a blog.
So, come November, once I’ll be done with the semi-creative-writing-thingie, I’ll be abusing this blog as a pseudo-deadline-generator and I’ll post regular updates of what and how much I’ve been doing. This won’t only be writing-related, but will also be about the graphics that I’ll be doing for the Lands of Dream and a few other things that shall be revealed in good time. I hope it will help me get back on me feet creatively. I sure could use that.
I realize that most of the above is terribly vague. Which is partially because if I say what new and exciting things I want to do then I’ve committed to them, which is scary. Also because I don’t want to brag about these so-called “new and exciting” things without having anything to show for it. What I can tell you is that there will be cool Lands of Dream stuff soon and that Jonas and I did a lot of work on Ithaka while we were away. And that I’m finally back to updating/rewriting Zombies and Elephants, so maybe the final version of that will be ready before the year is gone.
There once was a short story called Elephants and Zombies. It was written in 2010 and didn’t have a very happy childhood, because the author (that would be me) was never quite happy with the first draft. She opened it up a couple of times, moved a few bits around, and then sort of forgot about it. And then a man named Richard Goodness came along…
That could be the story of how Zombies and Elephants happened, but it isn’t. It’s more like the second act of that story. Here’s the first act:
I once had a dream. In my dream I went to a small house in Cape Town (only it sort of looked a lot like Dover, which I’ve never really been to… never been to Cape Town either… ah… go figure). In the small house in Cape Town a very nice old man who used to direct plays at university was tending bar and I gave him a banjo. Might also have been a guitar, I’m not so sure anymore. The nice old man was happy and then some shit happened and at the end of the dream I was somehow up on a tree on the slope of a hill and before me a zombie elephant was eating someone’s brain.
And I thought: “Cool, I wonder how that might have happened.”
That’s how Zombies and Elephants got started.
So. Yes… fast forward to December 2013. That was when I first heard of Fear of Twine. And it sounded like a darn good opportunity to make my first game. Only I didn’t have a story. Which, if you consider that Twine games are exclusively text-based, was a little bit of a problem. But no worries… still plenty of time until the deadline.
Weeks and weeks pass, with every little spark of imagination scurrying for cover whenever I come near. I stalk the ideas, set traps, put out little bits of cheese… all to no avail.
Deadline week. Still no idea. Richard is nice enough to extend the deadline a little (not only for me; at that point I’m still not sure whether I will participate at all). Second deadline week arrives, stares at me angrily. I cower in fear.
And then while I’m talking to Jonas about his game, The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, I suddenly remember that old story. And I realize that it would really be much better as a Twine than as a short story.
Three to four hours of fruitless searching on at least five hard disks reveal that I must have at some point become so frustrated with the original story that I deleted it. Oops. But what’s there to worry about? It’s four days to the deadline for Fear of Twine. Piece of cake.
And I work. I learn all I can about Twine code, I read up on South Africa, Mozambique, Kruger National Park, Limpopo Transfrontier Park. I spend a great deal of time on the names, languages and other aspects of the near-future setting. And I write like mad, pulling two all-nighters. Somewhere in-between the kind, wonderful Richard Goodness extends the deadline by a couple of days (again not only for my own sake). I forge on.
My keyboard breaks. G, H and F only work if you ask them nicely. While I’m away at my day job (with 0 hours of sleep), Jonas spends a lot of time putting Gs, Hs and Fs back into the game. I also owe him many thanks for suggesting a few brilliant changes to the game; his background in postcolonial studies comes in handy as we discuss semi-satirical ideas like the Great Limpopo Special Economic Zone.
Friday, the 7th of February. Zombies and Elephants is finally finished. (It’s called Zombies and Elephants because Jonas has convinced me that it’s much easier to say. Elephantsnzombies…. see what I mean?)
I’ve finally made my first game. And people are apparently playing it. There are reviews, most of them quite favourable. Emily Short, a living legend of the interactive fiction scene, says that it was among her top three games in the exhibition. Other reviewers, while saying that zombies are getting really old (yeah, I know, but what was I supposed to do) say that at least the writing is rather nice – or even really frightening. (Since I primarily see myself at a writer, that’s what really makes me happy.)
So yeah, people seem to be enjoying the game. That’s so cool… I can’t even begin to say how happy it makes me. I made something, and people actually like it. After trying for so long to find some sort of recognition as a writer (as opposed to as a painter/graphics artist), that is the best thing that could possibly have happened. Moreover, it is something that I urgently needed, because I was halfway ready to just chuck the whole writing thing out the window.
So people like my game. Wonderful, but am I satisfied with my game?
Mhm… I do love the game. The experience of finally producing a game of my own was awesome. I mean, obviously I’ve been making games all this time, and I do love working on the Lands of Dream games… but making something yourself is something else entirely. And mastering Twine (which in all honesty isn’t all that hard to do… go on, try it) gave me this cool “I’m-a-superhero-programer-girl” feeling.
The story manages to get the things done that I wanted it to do. Strong focus on character. Exploration of racism and class and exploitation, but without being preachy and turning the characters into mouthpieces. And I feel that the end is horrible and gory and pulpy in just the right way. So yeah, I’m happy with the story.
But the game is still terribly rushed. Currently I have seven different kinds of hell going on at work (the paying kind of work that keeps me from making games), but as soon as that is over I intend to give the game a much-needed update. It’s not only a lack of polish and some minor spelling mistakes that still bother me.
For example: a lot of people seem to think the game is terribly linear. Well, let me tell you something: Zombies and Elephants tracks over 40 different variables. Almost everything the player does has some sort of effect on the story, but this being my first Twine, I failed to realize that most of these things, like for example whether or not you get the chance to fix the car, wouldn’t be apparent to anyone playing the game. You never know that you just narrowly scraped by the other ending, the one where everyone decides to walk to the city. My bad. I would quite like to fix some of that, making the game less linear in the last third.
And then there’s a million other, smaller things that I wanted to put in. Character moments mostly, because I am ever so fond of some of the relationships that developed between some of the characters as I was writing them. (For example: I initially wanted to have only one doctor, with the second one dying either off-screen or fairly early in the beginning, but then I ended up liking the way they interacted way too much to lose them so quickly.)
I want to expand the (well-hidden, randomised and hard to get) cure ending quite a bit, because that was the last thing I put in, mostly frantically copy-pasting at six in the morning from existing bits of the game to have something, anything, in place there. And there’s an entire other ending that I always meant to put in but never had the time.
So… um… if you find the cure ending, which isn’t the easiest thing to do, don’t be disappointed please, it’s a work in progress.
A note on the endings: The cure ending isn’t only rushed, it’s also not what I consider to be “The End”. I was innocently researching (fictional) drugs that could be used against a zombie outbreak (preferably without landing me in jail for copyright infringement) when I stumbled across this article (and the real-world science article that it links to). Originally I was just going to name-drop a few drugs while you talk to the two doctors, but after I read this I thought “This is way too good to pass up.” And thus the cure ending, and just why it is so terribly rushed. Now the *real* ending for me….
(Avast! Here be spoilers!)
…the real ending for me is the one where you watch someone else as he is killed by the elephant. It isn’t easy to put into words why I think that this is the true ending. The obvious reason is because that was the ending of my dream. I know that this sounds air-headed and flimsy in a million different ways, but the image stayed with me; it just had that much power. The other reason, the one that is really hard to explain, is that the ending feels right. It seems like a fitting counterweight to the very wordy, sometimes philosophical main body of the game, which is all about slow, creeping horror and which always stays very close to the protagonist. I tried so hard to give a realistic account of how someone in this situation would feel and react that this ending, which leaves the player powerless and which suddenly seems to take a step back and look at the events from afar, feels like the only right way to end it. After all this waiting and talking, the extreme violence of the ending seems carthartic; it dissolves all the tension in one gory rush. And don’t tell me that it’s not realistic that an elephant would suck your brains out through its trunk… this is a game about zombies.
And here’s a final thing. This game never was about winning. I’ve had several bits of feedback in which players were telling me that the fact that the elephants get infected was very upsetting to them. And that’s not really a bad thing. It should be upsetting.
But it had to happen. The fact that the final death blow is delivered by animals that are usually thought of as gentle giants seems to me to only add to the general sense of helplessness that the ending is supposed to conjure. Think more Romero and less Shaun of the Dead… that is what I was aiming for.
I think this is more or less what I wanted to say about the game. I still don’t feel like I’ve adequately expressed what I wanted to achieve with the game and its ending(s), but then again I am always ever so uncomfortable with talking about my art. You can’t just separate the imagery from the meaning or reduce it to a “message.”
I am really glad that so many of you enjoyed the game and I promise that this won’t be my last solo game. And I’ll try to update Zombies and Elephants as soon as I can.
I wrote a poem today:
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zwei zwei Zwei zwei
zwei zwei zwei zwar zwei
Aquarium Sa zwei Sa
Affäre Sa zwei zwei
as a as a as a as as A as A Sq AS
ASq as a as AS a as sad as a as a a a Zambia zwar
zwar zwei zahlreiche
zahlreiche zwar zwar zwei
zahlreiche zwar zahlreiche
zwar zwar zwei zwei zwei
zwar zwar zwei zwei
as zwar zahlreiche zahlreiche
Sa zahlreiche zahlreiche
Sa zahlreiche zwar zahlreiche
zwar zwei zahlreiche
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I call it “Ass On Unlocked Smartphone Keyboard“.