Announcements, reading

Beating the Lockdown Tedium – Project Shoutouts

It’s the start of the Easter Holidays here in the UK, and the weather is lovely, but we can’t go out due to a national lockdown in relation to Coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean we need to all be bored – here’s a few projects of mine (and by some friends) I think may help turn the tide of lockdown boredom!

GROWING STORM

You can read my latest short story – a 12,000 word sci-fi horror piece called Growing Storm HERE – really excited to see what people make of my latest story. It’s a “spooky sci-fi sea shanty” inspired in large part by the classic novel The Day of the Triffids – with my own twist, too!

DOCTOR WHO: REVERENCE OF THE DALEKS

I released a Doctor Who fan-film in February that I, with a compendium of lovely friends, made over the last three years entitled Reverence of the Daleks. It’s recently hit 1,000 views on YouTube so I’m thrilled by the success so far. Find out more and watch the film through my website HERE!

Also I feel it’s right to shout out two other projects by good friends that I feel are worth promoting while we’re in the sharing mood:

THE PREP DIARIES

Read my good friend Chris Kenny‘s guide to preparing for his first big bodybuilding show – it’s an honest, authentic account of a personal journey and very inspirational. You can view the ebook on Amazon HERE.

STORYMECHS

Long-time Twitter friend Sam Richards has been working hard on his interactive fiction project StoryMechs and will be running a new interactive story in April to help alleviate lockdown tedium, check out all the details on Sam’s Patreon page HERE.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and well in these unknown times and give a thought to checking out these fantastic projects!

Articles, Online Wanderings

Mech-ing a Comeback

StoryMechs logo

I’ve recently been quite privileged to have been invited into an exclusive group of people testing out a new incarnation of StoryMechs, which my good friend Sam Richards previously ran as Tweet RPG back in the heady, halcyon days of Twitter in 2012 – the days with 140 character tweets and before GIFs and Emojis. A simpler time!

StoryMechs – and its predecessor, Tweet RPG – are a really innovative new spin on the choose-your-own-adventure story, utilising the utility and convenience that technology allows to really allow for dynamic stories. I have fond memories on playing some of the early Tweet RPG stories, and indeed met some cool people I still talk to regularly today.

I’ve previously written about StoryMechs when it was brand new – but alas, this came at a bit of a busy time for Sam so the project’s been dormant for a long time; however it was great to hear from him about re-energising the project for new stories. He’s got some really solid ideas and I’m eager to see how they develop.

So, very recently Sam invited me and some others as part of the StoryMechs Focus Group to participate in a brief new adventure to test out the waters. This was a good idea; Sam by his own admission hadn’t run something like this for some time, and considering his plans for the future, this was wise. The week-long adventure, My Valentine, was good fun, so Sam should be reassured that his ability hasn’t waned in the interim.

young game match kids

My experience in the focus group did, however, get me thinking: previously, I think Tweet RPG was almost ahead of its time, existing in a time before Twitter polls and Facebook feeds. I can only imagine how much admin this would’ve added; indeed, now with these features extant on platforms like Facebook and Twitter it makes both the playing of the game a simpler process and I can only imagine how much easier it makes the game to administrate behind the scenes, so it’s a win-win in terms of infrastructure.

However Sam brought up an interesting point in the group chat – that as players using Facebook for a platform, we seemed less willing to add our own spin on our choices – in the old format, where votes and decisions were made through hashtag, it would be accompanied usually by the player’s own comments or point-of-view; with Facebook separating the voting and the comments quite distinctly, it’s almost harder to do that organically; however I feel that wherever there’s a comments field, players will find a way to put in their own spin on what’s happening.

But on reflection, also, I felt there wasn’t as much need – in the case of the mini-adventure Sam ran to test the new format out, cyberpunk yarn My Valentine – to add my own commentary as I think that certainly Sam’s writing has become more filled out and he’s clearly given the story a lot of thought in each permutation. My strategy in the focus group, in my mind, was not only to test out the infrastructure of using a Facebook group to run the game but also in a way to test how Sam’s writing had evolved. I was pleasantly surprised and I feel his work remains strong and enjoyable.

Sam plans to run forthcoming stories using Patreon as a platform for players to reward and incentivise his work, which I feel is an excellent idea. I was pleased to become Sam’s first official patron; I’m more than happy to support him as a fellow writer and friend in developing StoryMechs. Overall it’s a really innovative spin on a classic form of storytelling that I can tell Sam is a natural fan of, and it’s an intriguing and engaging spin using new technology. We’re all prone to mindlessly scrolling on social media so why not add in the opportunity to engage in something truly fun with the medium!

two woman and one man looking at the laptop

I do however identify some areas I feel that need addressing or considering going forward. I think there’s a genuine market for compilations of completed adventures – even some of the legacy Tweet RPG stories too – to perhaps be sold under the StoryMechs brand; perhaps including author’s notes for a more behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the story? Certainly there’s scope to create wide-ranging universes to tell multiple stories within; the key there would be keeping these worlds malleable – multiple adventures spanning different genres would give StoryMechs a broad appeal to a variety of fiction fans. Sam’s writing is strong and I think StoryMechs is a great vehicle for him to get his narratives out there through an innovative and imaginative medium.

I’d also recommend that Sam look into setting up a StoryMechs website that is platform-agnostic where players are able to sign up, read some of the reviews or previous adventures and learn about the system and story behind StoryMechs before jumping into an adventure through Facebook. At this early stage I realise that Sam is going to have to rely on Facebook or Twitter for infrastructure but the sky’s the limit, though how he combines those two distinct social networks is going to be interesting; we all know people who “aren’t on Facebook” (and likewise with Twitter) so I think Sam needs to be resolute in which platform he chooses to use. My personal view is that Facebook’s near-ubiquity and utility make it an obvious choice.

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Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Sam in real life at an event (more on that in a future post!) and it was great to finally put a face to the name I’d known on Twitter for some considerable time. His enthusiasm for what he wants to now do with StoryMechs. I’d strongly suggest that if you’re into interactive fiction you give StoryMechs a good look. It’s so refreshing to see a writer in his element, and innovating in telling stories he’s clearly passionate about, and is passionate in sharing. I’m certainly feeling pretty inspired! For more information follow the StoryMechs Twitter and Sam Richard’s personal page now!

Articles, Reviews

Opining on StoryMechs

StoryMechsTwitter is an unusual beast, and when I discovered Tweet RPG as a way to take place in digital “choose-your-own-adventure” style games on the platform I was intrigued. I also had a lot of fun, and got to know some awesome people as a result. The nascent Tweet RPG system was a very innovative and creative use of new media to breathe a life into something that a lot of people may not have been familiar with or known much about. Personally, I’d never really played any of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books properly in my youth but saw the Twitter version as a viable extension of that format.

I totally get why Sam Richards (who I interviewed recently) teamed up with Mr Mook to regenerate his game-playing platform. The Tweet RPG brand was living on borrowed time and had to be replaced: for litigious reasons certainly if not creative ones. It also typecast the system to one particular platform which is unfair as the base mechanics are certainly extensible beyond Twitter. Also, the last couple of Tweet RPG adventures were somewhat sprawling leviathans that had the potential to lose their way – their length and complexity stretching the limits of 140 characters, which didn’t do the stories justice, as they were really good.

StoryMechs is an attempt to revitalise the platform under a more general but broader remit. A player has influence over the story like a metaphorical mech; their choices choose the direction the story takes. (I’m aware a few people thought this concept a bit too out-there but I got the rationale pretty quickly and find it’s actually really clever)

The inaugural adventure for StoryMechs was a sci-fi tale titled “Protect the Prince” and pitted the players in control of Captain Scharr the Lizard as he went about fulfilling his duty of the day – to protect the prince! It was a great little story and a lot of fun to take part in. I was refreshed to see that StoryMechs breaks down the epic adventures of old into considerably more manageable – and episodic, I can only guess – mini games that play out over a week or two. It’s akin to playing through a pacey short story, whereas Tweet RPG could seem at times like Tolstoy (or worse – Tolkien!). That’s not to say the adventures were bad; heck, they were an absolute blast but this considerable upping of the pace over a shorter timescale works a lot better. As a player I can more easily commit to taking part over a week and not worrying about losing track of where the plot was and what my choices were; with an eight or nine-week adventure this commitment could be quite daunting or off-putting – if I’m not going to be able to put 100% in all the time, why bother? It does neither my experience or the story justice to play like that.

The adventures also have the potential to be much more concentrated and punchy in pace. There’s also less voting on trivial minutiae that could easily go down a narrative cul-de-sac and leave players frustrated; votes now are more general in scope and the results are left to play out along a set path. There’s a definite de-emphasis on the more hard-core RPG elements that makes StoryMechs more appealing to those outside of the RPG circle and who are interested in influencing how a great story pans out. It brings the best of episodic or serialised fiction together with reader engagement to form something quite compelling. The community so far is rock-solid and I can only hope it grows ever more so!

I’m really excited to see how StoryMechs evolves and fleshes out. I did feel in the inaugural “Protect the Prince” narrative that the voting options were a bit too linear in scope (either be gung-ho or over-cautious) but these issues of narrative, not mechanics; I understand that “Protect The Prince” was a light-ish story designed to run in the StoryMechs concept. The core gameplay mechanics are solid and well-suited to engaging players who may have busy lives with social media. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on if you’re interested in seeing cool stories play out according to the wishes of the readers!

Check out the StoryMechs website to find out more!