Sunday, October 6, 2019

LAST KID RUNNING _____ Notes from my Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator's Conference session last week

I was a featured speaker at the Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator's Conference last week. (Videos still online.) Thanks to everyone who joined the session and participated in the live chat! It was such a thrill to see all your comments. I didn't get to answer many of the questions, so this is a post to make up for that.

After introducing myself and talking about the LAST KID RUNNING gamebook series published by Penguin Random House, I shared my approach for coming up with an interactive thriller. It's a really simple way to get started, and lets you check that you have your ideas neatly lined up for maximum impact and thrills. Once you have this, you can go all creative and flesh it out into an epic scale experience.

Here are the 4 T's:



#1 — TASK
Give your Player a task, basically an urgent mission. Bonus: have it be a little puzzling, intriguing.
pass or fail. Make this really clear, so you can tell at any point of the story whether the Player has succeeded or failed in this Task.

. Player to get X
. deliver X
. find X
. prove X

#2 — TIME
Next, have the Player race against the clock, or a rival.

. find bomb before it goes off
. get key before your rival does
. get key before they catch you
. get out before nightfall

What will happen if the Player fails? Line up some significant penalties, stakes, regrets, etc. This creates narrative motivation for the Player, and helps propel the story forward.

. lose job
. lose life
. lose something valuable
. end of the world

Once you have all the above elements, you can work out how you will tell the story in your own unique creative style.

What different text formats will you use? Eg, unfold the story via text messages, lab reports, news articles, etc.

What sort of atmosphere will you create? Eg, make it creepy.

How will you flesh out your storyworld? Eg, explain money system, elaborate on the architecture, etc.

How will you create suspense? Eg, by reordering events and hiding important information.

What genre cues will you include? Eg, jokes, puzzles, interrogation scenes, etc.

All these decisions will define your unique storytelling style.


And below, my thoughts about some of the comments.

Re: Twee/Tweego
After using Twine for a bit, I found out about this thing called Tweego, which lets you write your interactive fiction in a text file, and when you're done it converts the text file into a proper Twine document. So, from the middle section of my book onwards, I actually worked mostly with pen/notebook and the text editor on my iPhone, to create the first draft. Really love writing IF like this. More about Twee.

re: IF writing tools
My wishlist for an IF writing tool:
. works on my phone, or a tablet, and saves to device
. minimalist interface / screen, with option for dark mode
. able to zoom, so that I can make the text bigger on the screen
. word count, spellcheck
. just one monospace font will do
. able to host this on Google Drive and publish on Blogspot, or something similar, and there's a setting so readers can't download and reverse engineer the thing (which Twine allows) because I feel it spoils the fun somewhat, like having a peek behind your Dungeon Master's screen

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am not a software engineer and have no idea what sort of Herculean effort it will take to make any of this come to be, so forgive me, heh.

Fellow conference speaker Andrew Wooldridge is the creator of STIM, aka Super Tiny Interactive Fiction Maker. An app that does what its name says. I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Re: Emotional arcs
I mentioned that on top of having different story paths, I also wanted to have each choice lead to a different emotional experience for the reader. Sometimes this meant different emotional arcs for the character that you're playing as. One choice might lead to a really satisfying sense of completing your mission, while another choice would lead to failure and dismay. But sometimes the emotional difference was in the narrative commentary. For example, both paths lead to very similar outcomes, but in one you find the narrator / Dungeon Master cheering for you, whereas in the other the narrator's response to you is more like, bleh. So that makes it funny and it feels more intimate. Like if you're actually sitting with an interesting Dungeon Master.

Re: Word count
I've noticed some epic commercial IF come in at over 500k words. I'd estimate that CYOA titles are 10k to 15k words, thereabouts. I think 5k IF works might be viable if the concept is clever, fresh and perhaps funny. The equivalent of webisodes, or YouTube shorts, a whole bunch of these compiled into one app. 

Re: Creating tension and racing against the clock
I like writing thrillers and creating a sense that there's a ticking bomb in the background, and you the player need to find a way to complete your mission before your time runs out. One way to create such an effect is to keep teasing the player with this.

Eg, “You're looking at the locked door. You recall someone saying that the key is kept back at the main office. It'll take 20 minutes for you to run there and back. You glance at your watch. You have exactly 23 minutes to go, before your oxygen runs out. Decide to run back and get the key? Turn to xx. Try to break the lock? Turn to xx.”

Re: Pacing and rhythm
One of my ideas that got picked up in the chat: A sentence is a soundtrack. This is about using the pacing and rhythm of the sentences to establish a specific atmosphere. For example, take the same scene we have above, the locked door. I could also write it like this, choppy phrasing to convey getting frantic and breathless in the moment:

“The door. You try it. Locked. Arrgh. Where's the key? You try to think. Where? Where? Oh! In the office! How long will it take to dash there and back? You think again. Aaarrgh. Twenty minutes, at least. But your oxygen runs out in 23 minutes. If you can't open this door in time, game over. For good. Go get key? Turn to xx! Kick the door open, worth a try? Turn to xx!"
Something like that. Two different ways to soundtrack the same scene.

Re: Voice of the Dungeon Master
Back when I was playing D&D, I thought the real draw was the personality and expertise of the DM. That really made the difference. I consider D&D a conversational game. The quality of the game conversation was everyone's prize for playing. So, in LAST KID RUNNING, I really tried to create a sense of a DM unfolding the scenes and guiding the gameplay for you, possibly teasing you with the choices. Some IF writers prefer to have an invisible DM, and they do a great job there. Something to explore for yourself.

Re: Converting from Twine to Text
So I ended up writing in Twee text format, then converting to Twine so I could playtest the different paths and make edits, and then I exported the whole chunk to plain text in order to import this into Scrivener, which is a text editing software that many writers of longform works use, and in Scrivener I transformed the text into standard (more or less) manuscript format, and then PDF-ed this for my editor at Penguin Random House. For the next book, I'm trying to simplify all this. Suggestions will be appreciated.

And that's it for this post. Thanks again to the wonderful people at Decision Fiction for organising this conference! I'm looking forward to putting out an interactive fiction title with them. Hopefully before next year's conference. Thanks also to my new IF tribe, passionate writers all over the world, from New Zealand to the US. I've been checking out your work online, and it's totally inspiring. Let's do this again soon.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

LAST KID RUNNING _____ I'm a featured speaker at the 2nd Annual Interactive Fiction Creator’s Conference, will be talking about the creative process behind Welcome to the Scramble

This is the Chromebook I used to develop most of the
LAST KID RUNNING interactive fiction series.
Thrilled to let you all know that the Second Annual Interactive Fiction Creator’s Conference is happening this weekend, details here and register here.

I'm a featured speaker on the first day, 2pm Eastern time, and I'll be sharing a quick guide to writing your own interactive thrillers, with some examples from my experience creating the LAST KID RUNNING interactive fiction series that's published by Penguin Random House. I'll also give a quick overview of how I used the open source IF software Twine as one of my writing tools.

The whole event is free and it's a 100% online affair that brings together many people from around the world doing interesting stuff in the area of interactive fiction, whether writing or making the technology or just playing and critiquing the latest titles.

Other speakers include:

— keynote speaker Sande Chen, veteran games writer

Angel Rodriguez Bustamante, storytelling psychologist

Guy Gadney, games industry veteran developing AI for immersive storytelling

Andrew Wooldridge, creator of STIM, the Super Tiny Interactive fiction Maker

Minjae Lee, co-founder of Gloovi Inc, which is a mobile app that lets you make interactive videos.

& more.

Thanks to the organisers at Decision Fiction for putting this together. Catch you all at the event this weekend!

Remember to register here, it's free.

— D

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Friday, September 13, 2019

LAST KID RUNNING _____ Here are some excellent photos from my interactive fiction launch event at the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2019

Check out this pic (above) from my LAST KID RUNNING gamebook launch event at the recent Asian Festival of Children's Content. Thanks to everyone who came down, and got a copy. Thanks also to William Hooi for this awesome pic. Those are my fellow Penguin SEA authors with me, Neil Johnson and Barbara Moxham and Leila Boukarim Haig Ghokassian.

It was truly a landmark event because this is the very first piece of interactive fiction / gamebook that Penguin Random House has published in this part of the world.


Welcome to the Scramble
Last Kid Running series (Book 1)
by Don Bosco
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9789814867207

LAST KID RUNNING is a thrilling gamebook where YOU decide how the story unfolds.

You are Runner X, one of six contestants on the hottest reality show streaming on the mobile web.

The enigmatic Dr Yamato has turned an old building into an exciting running space, filled with crazy Augmented Reality challenges.

But be careful, nothing is what it seems. Can you outrun and outsmart the others? Will you survive Dr Yamato's technological trickeries? Do you have what it takes to be the LAST KID RUNNING? Gosh, read and find out!

Word is getting around that I had so much to say, I kept ignoring the "Time's Up" cues, and the organiser even had to try to drag me away. Is this true? Completely. You should have been there.

That evening, five minutes before the event started, that was when I got my hands on a copy of the book for the first time. Thrills! And now the books have gone out into the world already. I know some young readers have actually even finished reading it and are off to look for more gamebooks to enjoy. And I know of at least one young reader who's already busy writing her own gamebook. Wonderfulness.

This was the first slide of my talk, gives you a good idea what I was going on and on about:

Here are some photos below of Welcome to the Scramble, the gamebook itself, so you can have a quick browse. You can click on the pics to zoom in, and BTW AILeEn stands for “Artificial Intelligence Learning Engine”:

The books are currently being shipped to retail outlets all over. You should be able to get hold of a copy soon.

I can now properly start work on Book 2. Next few years are going to be interesting. I'm really thrilled to be a Penguin Random House author, and incredibly grateful to the whole team for the support they've given this series so far.

Welcome to the Scramble!

— D

Here are a few more photos from the event!

. . . . . . . . . .

I'm a featured speaker at this virtual event!
Will be sharing some insights from developing the

Collect the whole series!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

100 WRITERS _____ See you at the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2019, and check out these other book launch / storytelling sessions by my friends

Note: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project.

It's time once again for the Asian Festival of Children's Content! I've always enjoyed myself at this event. Here's a post about what I did at the AFCC back in 2015. And here's my post for 2016. And this is 2017.

For 2018, though, I did post this introduction to the event, but I posted my event photos on Instagram, not on this blog. I shared this crazy video that LocalBooksSG did for me, and this is me with fellow speakers Cynthea liu and Kristi Wientge, and this is me with a bunch of really cool illustrators guys: Josef Lee, James Tan and Favian Ee.

As for this year (it's happening next week, actually), I will be moderating a panel discussion about something very close to my heart: science fiction! From Asia!

Session info:

Southeast Asian YA Science Fiction and Fantasy: We Do Exist! (Panel)
Joyce Chng, Gabriela Lee, Koen Setyawan 
Moderator: Don Bosco

What is Southeast Asian YA science fiction and fantasy? Who writes them? This panel of writers will share their  experience and journey in writing science fantasy fiction for young adults inspired by the Southeast Asia region. 

B1, Multi-Purpose Room 5 Sep 2019 (Thu) 12:00pm – 1:00pm

To join us, you'd need to get tickets, details here:

I'll also be launching my new book Welcome to the Scramble, Book 1 of the Last Kid Running gamebook series. You can read the synopsis here. This book launch event is free and open to the public, you won't need a ticket to attend.

Book launch details:

See you at the "Books by Penguin Random House" session, part of the Asian Festival of Children's Content.

WHERE: B1, Multi-Purpose Room, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

WHEN: 6 SEP 2019, 5:00PM – 6:00PM


Don't stop here, keep on scrolling down this post, below you'll find even more information about other exciting sessions by my friends at the AFCC. Do stop by and say hi! We'd love to chat with you.

I wish all of you happy writing and illustrating! See you soon.


— D

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Collect the whole series!