Sometimes coincidences come together and seem to add up to more than their parts, or lead to something unexpected.
The minimalist Auralux in action
1. A new game
I recently enjoyed playing the demo of a game called Auralux, and when I saw the game was DRM-free I bought it. I love supporting developers, but hate DRM, so nowadays nearly all the games I buy tend to be from small developers for that reason. The developer's Facebook page describes the game as follows.
Auralux is an abstract, essentialized, and simplified real-time strategy game.2. A new magazine
You have only one type of unit to command and only one type of order to give those units. You and your opponents start the game with equal resources. Quick reflexes will get you nowhere. The only path to victory is through clever strategy.
Auralux features a slow, floating feel and gorgeous minimalistic graphics. The entire world pulses to the rhythm of ambient music, and the player's actions evoke sounds that smoothly coalesce into melody.
This game is meant to provide a relaxing, cerebral experience. Every action has its reaction, and every option has its costs. Auralux is a game in which your choices matter.
In front of me is the latest issue of GamesTM (issue 106). There is an article (Are You Sitting Comfortably?, pp 82-87) about game-related novels which includes interviews with a number of authors who write in this genre. The authors talk about how they got into writing in that area; what research they do; how much freedom they are given; issues around characterisation; and the differences between writing novels and working on interactive fiction (such as games). A later article discusses the work of Jane Jensen, who has a long history of developing games with strong stories and who has novelized some of the games she developed back in the 1990s (pp132-136). And although it is not directly related to writing, an article called 8-Bit Poetry (pp 145-151) examines the way games designed around limitations can lead to greater art, in the way that the formal limitations of some writing forms (haikus, novels, iambic pentameter) can also lead to greater art as a way to overcome the restrictions. The article begins with the G.K. Chesterton quote "Art is limitation. The essence of every picture is the frame." There is plenty of food for thought there. So this issue of a games magazine actually left me thinking a lot about the inter-relationship of games and writing. I even thought about the mechanics of turning my pulp action survival horror novel Turner into a game with rogue-like elements where the player could explore the whole of the island, but regardless of their actions events would be taking place elsewhere unless they intervened to change the story.
3. A past that linked games and fiction
I've been a gamer since the days of the Atari 2600. One of my systems was an Amiga 500. I loved my first ever Amiga game, the amazing Starglider 2, which was the only game I had for a while. The game came with a wonderfully playful James Follett novella (the 'Use the Forslook' joke is a classic).
So what is all this leading to?
I felt that Auralux had a mischievous sense of humour in the way that it reduces every RTS to its essence: dots. Defences are clouds of dots; base upgrades and repairs are done by dots; soldiers are dots. Therefore I was intrigued by the idea of a playful joke in writing a story full of human drama for such a minimalist game, an irony that matches that underpinning the game. Sci-fi and fanfics are not genres I write in so I thought I would do it as an experiment, inspired by the James Follett example. Which led to this draft, written over a two-day period. It needs work but is a start and I enjoyed writing it as an experiment in a style I haven't tried before. I couldn't resist paraphrasing some Keats (Bright Star) in a few places, along with Fallout, Star Trek, Star Wars, WH40K, the film Dodgeball, and maybe Bob Dylan.
I sent the story to Edward McNeill, Auralux's developer, and was pleased when he said: "This is so ridiculously awesome. Can I post it on the game's facebook page?" So it may get a mention here.
Download my story here, but be aware that unless you have played at least the demo of Auralux, it won't make much sense or stand alone very strongly.
Update, 19th February 2014 - I'm deleting my web server, so have put the story on Smashwords instead - more information here.