Steam Highwayman coming soon!

It’s been a busy summer!  Somehow, between all the weddings, trips, church events and socialising, I’ve ploughed on.  Steam Highwayman will be launched on Kickstarter on the 5th September and for a long a nervous month I’ll be watching and praying, while the book is available for backing from all over the world.  I’ve already been publicising the project on social media, introducing the gamebook to fans of steampunk and fans of gamebooks alike.  If I appear on your social feed, you might start to get sick of seeing me!

I’ve had to develop all sorts of new skills to get this far: graphic design and video-making, advertising and marketing and overcoming my naturally polite, patient tendencies!  I really can’t wait to be back in the writing zone again, when I can concentrate on producing the next volume.

Still, I’ve enjoyed all this work massively, and I hope it’ll bear fruit soon.  It’s amazing to imagine that in a matter of months I may well be holding a copy of my own work, talking to readers world-wide and with the success behind me.

Gamebook Page Mockup

I’ve been experimenting today with different styles of illustration and layout, using Microsoft Publisher and my own two hands (though mainly the right one). Result: a mockup that resembles a page of my finished gamebook.  Illustrations all my own, with Mitsubishi uniball micro.  Font is Georgia: nicely serifed, not too full-on.

Velosteam Design

I’ve been working on the design for a steam-powered motorcycle – a velosteam – for my Steam Highwayman gamebook.  Despite having written more than 100,000 words and having made many assumptions along the way, I’ve never actually pinned down the appearance or internal workings of the second main character in my story.

Cue Mr Crabfu of California.  His excellent article about using real miniature steam workings to better understand and design steampunk vehicles catalysed my new design – which may not be perfect, practically possible or the final version I use.  But it does feel a lot more real than anything else I’ve sketched or created yet.  I’m going to show some of the process I used here.

I don’t have any CAD or computer graphic skills so I used what I knew: pencil, rubber, ruler, cartridge paper and a protractor for some laying out.

 

 

This is where I started: with an angled view to feel how a boiler, originally elliptical, would hang between two broad wheels.

I then created a second angled view, with an inversely pear-shaped boiler, clustered with a small firebox, two pistons and a condenser.  I spent quite a while deciding where to put my vent and ended up with a python-esque sausage out the rear left.  Leaf-spring suspension is better for my period, together with some drive linkages and guesses at a mudguard.

I then laid our plan and elevation and angled the pistons, which could feasibly be a little smaller.  I looked at steam traction and locomotive wheels and went for a 24 solid-spoke style.  The leaf-springs are back – I really like the carriage ancestry they imply.  I also drew a line-figure on the plan to consider riding position, seat, handlebars and so on.

 

How would the velosteam work with a pillion rider?  I also reinforced the boiler with oak laths and added that snakey vent.  At this stage I realised how long the velosteam was going to be…  I had started with a 3 wheel length, but the circumference of these wheels is something like 3’3″.  Which would make my whole velosteam more than 10 feet long.  I feel like I’ve got the scale of the machinery wrong for what I’m trying to create and may have another go later at making this machine.  But forward with the process!

 

Now a frame to hang all the components from: two curvy pieces of iron, a spherical gas tank, front suspension, pillion footstubs (which I later replaced), lubrication pipes, steam pipes, and friction igniter.

 

 

 

 

Several stages later, I have added a saddle, fairings, handlebars, regulator handle, gas valve, footrests, an indeterminate F-marked blob (secondary water tank?).

 

 

 

Taped the whole thing to my window for tracing and…

 

 

 

Voila!

 

 

 

A Whiff of the Workshop – Steam Highwayman

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You manage to haul the struggling engineer onto the back of your velosteam and ride off towards West Wycombe. She is not at all impressed when you unload her in front of Lord Dashwood, but despite herself she is fascinated by the steam carriage he is building. He has called it the Wagtail and its sleek aluminium lines are quite captivating.
Lord Dashwood takes you aside. “Good work,” he says, handing you a purse of guineas (1260d). “I knew she’d see sense.”
The three of you get to work on the engine, but after a week’s tinkering and tuning, involving many trial runs, Lalage Harris puts down her tools. “We need a stronger material for the shafts and cylinders. There’s a titanium alloy that people have been using that is what we need, but it’s not easy to get hold of.”
Lord Dashwood claps you on the shoulder. “If anyone can get hold of it, you can! I put prodigious faith in you. Bring me that alloy and you can name your price.”

Leave West Wycombe House…                                                  492

Here’s a single passage from my current Steam Highwayman gamebook.  It’s an open-world steampunk adventure set around Marlow, High Wycombe and Maidenhead.  Rob the wagons of Transport Guilds, intercept the telegrams of the Compact for Worker’s Rights, ride the midnight roads of Berkshire and find lasting fame – through ruthlessness or mercy!

Steam Highwayman – Updating Inventory and Selling Possessions

shigh22-11Breakthrough!  I’ve rewritten my inventory system in Steam Highwayman to make something much, much more streamlined.  Discovering that I was able to display a passage named after the nth string in an array, I’ve moved onto creating a passage for each generic object and giving the reader the opportunity to read about it whenever they open their inventory.  The same passage, when displayed within a passage tagged “shop”, gives the option to sell that object.

I always wanted to have variation within the game’s prices, so objects fit into one of six or so categories, and shopkeepers and fences will offer you better prices on some of those categories – eg revolutionaries will give you more for weapons, engineers for tools, hungry people for food.

Now that I’m writing it down, it looks like a minor matter – but I assure you, it’s not!

I’ve also included a photo of a (glitchy) version of what I hope to display in your ‘legend’ section – a list of the deeds of the day and your past deeds.  Simply because I’m pleased that it now registers when you have been attacked by a deer.

Steam Highwayman – Embedding Graphics and New Factions

sepiashmapshrunkenIt’s been a good day astride the velosteam.  I’ve created a 2-part mini quest that introduces you to one of my Factions, the Compact for Workers’ Equality.  You’ll want to watch out for their posters in urban locations and their supporters in pubs everywhere…

And on the technical side, I’ve been using help on the twine forum to embed a map for the first time.  This was one of the first things that I was asked for, so I’ve managed to get the first version embedded as Base64 encoding, whatever that is.  It now sits in your inventory just above your pocket watch…

I’ve moved my demo from a separate demo-map into the top left corner of this ‘real’ bit of my old neck of the woods.  The demo extends up towards Stokenchurch and beyond Christmas Common, which is the entrance point for your story.

Steam Highwayman – A Responsive Map

Try exploring this story: steamhighwayman0-3

I’ve now completed a demo map to explore on your velosteam: 14 passages or ‘rooms’ that respond to the order and time in which you visit them, generating unique text and interactive traffic events.  I haven’t got any graphic interface for this yet – it exists purely as the relationship between passages.  But I have sketched it here to help you locate yourself:

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One of the underlying ‘vanilla’ engines of this story was always to be your ability to rob any passers-by, either creating story-lines as you become despised or hated by particular groups or simply making easy money.  This means that in true open-world fashion, you will need to be able to interact with all the traffic that comes your way.

At the moment these interactions are very rough, but essentially different sorts of road (main road, road or lane) and different times of day (day/night) will be more or less likely to generate different classes of traffic (pedestrians/farm vehicles/goods vehicles/guild vehicles/locobuses/private steam carriages etc).  You may be able to hail them and get rumours or rob them – reminiscent perhaps, and purposefully, of the sail ahoy mechanic in Sid Meier’s Pirates Gold.

I intend to keep working on this demo map until all the major modules are working.  So far we have:

  • A weather generator
  • A clock
  • An inventory
  • Health and wound counters
  • A rudimentary fight system (not yet plugged into the encounters with traffic
  • A fence where you can sell items (with still some bugs)
  • A pub where you can rent a room
  • Locals who will give you a rumour to investigate (and the space for many more)
  • Characters who will remember you
  • A wreck engine that will leave destroyed traffic at the side of the road
  • New today – the ability to wait somewhere until nightfall or morning

I mean to finish writing Squire Lynch’s quest, finish the interactions with the guild engines and create a quest at a nearby steam fairground.  Still haven’t done anything about my pistol engine…

Also I’ve got some lineation and matching issues with the generated text in my passages.  I’m slowly building more reliable templates so that in a completed version, everything should look seamless.  Other bugs include:

  • Unresolved fights
  • Unwritten encounters with private steam carriages and quest vehicles
  • Some difficulties with { and [ trailers