Over on Kickstarter you can read the most recent update for my Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis project. It’s a while since I’ve linked them up on here, but why not? You’ll find out which map took me longest to draw, and how soon I hope for the book to be on its way to backers!
Over on Kickstarter I’ve just posted my 21st update about Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis. You can find out what I’ve been doing over the past fortnight, and what’s planned for the next two weeks as well.
When Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson invented the Fabled Lands codeword system, they created something that massively increased the interactivity of gamebook adventures. Until then, gamebooks tracked a player’s activity through a combination of several techniques: simple branching, unique possessions and player memory. Simple branching is straightforward: if the player was reading a passage that was only reachable after a choice, then the text could ‘know’ that this choice had been taken and could describe what had happened as a result. However, this is a one-time and one-directional choice: no reader can go back and ‘undo’ their choice in the same read-through, and other branches of the narrative are closed to them until they die and restart.
Unique possessions, usually noted in an adventure sheet, can also identify whether a player has made certain previous choices. If a particular horned helmet is only available within the loot of a dragon, then by asking the reader whether they possess it, the book is also practically tracking whether the reader defeated or avoided the dragon earlier in the story. However, this can be complicated if a reader has to manage a limited inventory and decides to jettison an item that seems, at the time, unimportant.
Player memory was the least sophisticated and least reliable of these methods. It was used when a passage simply asked the reader something like ‘Have you visited this place before?’ Problems here are the ease of cheating and the need to ask this question quite soon after the original event, meaning a short consequence delay, because readers can genuinely be quite forgetful.
Whereas codewords are something else. An alphabetical list of neutral, arbitrary(ish) words that can be ticked – and unticked – are unlose-able, repeatable and undoable trackers that can be used by the writer of a gamebook to note any variable they choose. Your reader defeats the dragon? Get them to tick the codeword Basket. Your reader returns to the dragon’s cave. If they possess Basket, all they will find is an empty cave and a faint smell of sulphur… but if they don’t possess it, turn to passage 701 where the dragon is alive and well. Until the reader visits these passages, the appearance of the word Basket in a list in the back of the book doesn’t even hint at the mortality of a dragon. What do these all do, we wonder. If Basket tags a dead dragon, could Burnish imply that the protagonist is pursued by a vengeful ghost? (That one is very Dave Morris).
In short, codewords allowed Morris and Thomson to invent the open-world, responsive gamebook. It’s an elegant and a powerful system, and one which Fabled Lands doesn’t abuse by leaning on too heavily. Unlike what I think I’ve done in Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis.
In the current draft, SH3 has 98 codewords… Some of those track choices in other books and offer you the consequences of actions you took in other books – or that you will only be able to take when I write future books. Some track non-player-character’s attitudes or destinies, locations, others track quest solutions, faction loyalties, the profitability of certain businesses and a whole lot of other stuff. In fact, one of the powerful results of this system is the ability to cause side-effects: the reader kills a soldier and gains a certain codeword, meaning that when they return to that location, the soldier will be dead. But what about when the player visits a nearby terrace and, possessing the same codeword, is directed to a cottage where a wife weeps over her lost husband and cries, knowing that she and her hungry children will soon be evicted for unpaid rent? Now that’s interactivity.
But 98 is a few too many, so I’ll be trimming the fat in the next few weeks. But until then, peer at a blurry section of the entire list and enjoy your own puzzle: what do these arbitrary words actually track? What is possible in The Reeking Metropolis?
Over on Kickstarter I’ve just posted an update about the current project progress. It’s a full one, including some details about plans up until November as well as lots of remarks about work complete. Head over there and enjoy the details!
Over here is a fresh image from Russ, full of action and violence – great! You might spot the eponymous hero himself somewhere in the background (sensibly masked against infectious diseases) as well as a backer in the brawl…
I took a week (and a couple of extra days) off from working on Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis to visit the Lake District with my wife and daughter. The project hasn’t stopped, though – faithful Russ has been churning out the good old black-and-white, as you will be able to see over on the new Kickstarter update. I’m very pleased to be able to reveal the first full-page feature for The Reeking Metropolis – so take a look at Update 19!
You can also discover where I went in the Lake District to encounter some live steam… mmm!
A new update for my Kickstarter Campaign of Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has gone live. It’s brief, but includes some tasty images of the sort of people you might mingle with in the muddy streets of London… Ohh, let me take you by the hand, and lead you through the streets of London… I’ll show you something… Ahem. Excuse me.
And here is Russ’s rendition of that wonder of nineteenth-century prefabrication, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, which housed the Great Exhibition. Not bad for a gardener from Derbyshire, eh? Paxton, not Russ. Russ is Scottish. And not a gardener. Not primarily, anyway.
And this is my best attempt yet at drawing out a legible, useful and atmospheric map for The Reeking Metropolis – out by the end of the year.
One thing I love about maps is the density of information – but that is also one of the things that makes them hard to create! This is very heavily based on the Ordnance Survey 1885-1900 One Inch map of London, available online courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. It’s not a copy or a screenshot, but a digital tracing, with my own exaggeration of the most important routes through the city for a desperate velosteamer.
It also includes my first attempt at using icons for several of the most important locations. Yes, I did begin with the pubs (which are almost completely written).
I had made a few prior attempts, but this seems to work because of the negative space around the irregular city ‘blocks’, which indicates the main roads and gives an impression of a much more complex city. Once again, like with every volume I’ve written so far, I’ve realised that I could have chosen a much smaller area for the reader to explore and still had a jam-packed book. So be it: I guess everyone writing open-world gamebooks (all 2/3 of us currently?) must feel like this. @Paul Gresty? @Oliver Hulme?
Anyway, I’d love some feedback from readers of Steam Highwayman. What works for you with the current maps in Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways? I’ve received some criticisms that these need more labels. Do you agree? Does every location – small and large – need to be identified on the map? Is that what you want in a map? And then, if you’re a backer who pledged for the large maps, do you feel the same? Please give me your views. Perhaps you have some specific critiques of the map above – or something that you think has to be included?
You’re not the only seeker of adventure to find your way into the Reeking Metropolis. That rascally lady of the burnt rose is back to stir up trouble among the wealthy… and she has her eyes on the greatest treasure in the capital. Will you become partners in crime or rivals? Will you earn her respect and friendship, or will the bump on your head from Cliveden Ball remind you of your grudge?
Russ has sent me a finished version of his first illustration for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis, and I love it! From the fancy footwork to the flying gobbets of blood, the leashed dog and the multitude of hats.
I’ve also released another five slots at the SPONSOR A LIKENESS pledge level in the Kickstarter Campaign: that’s five more lucky backers who can be drawn into the final book by Russ.
On top of this, I’ve added some stretch goals to the project: head over and take a look.
In just over a week, Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis will go live on Kickstarter. It’s taken a long time to plan this campaign, partly because I’ve chosen to add some merchandise into the equation, as well as offering two ways in which Backers can see themselves in the finished book.
The basic pledge is exactly like in my previous campaigns; for £15, backers can receive a copy of the gamebook with a written acknowledgement printed in the back. This is a little cheaper than the RRP and, of course, you’ll know that you helped create this. If you’re looking for extras, I’ve been working on custom dice, as well as beginning to redraw the maps from Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways. These will be printed, large (at around A2 size) and folded, together with a small booklet of further regional info, much like an OS map. For £30 you will be able to receive the book, three maps (one for each volume) and two custom D6.
If you don’t yet own your own copies of Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways, or if you’d like to make a pledge as a gift for someone, you can also have all three books at a considerable saving, with or without the maps and dice.
However, for an additional cost of £10 for one book or £20 for three, you can have a custom Wanted Poster printed into the front of your book. This is made possible by the power of print-on-demand, and your books will be completely unique – these will be true one-offs. The extra pledge will pay for the additional printing cost and contribute towards the rest of the project. You will be able to submit a digital image of yourself (perhaps a photo in costume, or even in everyday clothes) that I will edit into the poster, and this will be the first thing you see when you open your copy of The Reeking Metropolis.
Finally, there is a limited and exclusive opportunity to be drawn into the book itself, featuring as a character in one of the illustrations. This is going to be limited to only 5 backers, since it impacts directly on Russ’s timeline and on the whole budget. But it’s something I’ve wanted to offer for years! As part of your pledge, you’ll receive each book, customised with a Wanted Poster, the three maps, dice and an art print of your illustration for your wall. After all, YOU are the Steam Highwayman!
If you’re not currently following the Kickstarter, head over there now. You’ll be reminded on launch and get a chance to pledge for your reward straight away.