Project B

Now that I’ve explained that Super Secret Project B is a JRPG-style video game based in the world of the Farshores Saga, I can no longer really call it super secret. It’s only kind of secret. And by the end of this post, nothing about it will be a secret.

When I first started developing the game as a serious production, I had intended it as a prelude to the series, explaining where the sheggam came from, as well as providing backstory for some of the main characters while introducing new ones and advancing its own self-contained story. At some point, I realized that in order for the game to achieve its maximal impact, it would have to be released after the final book in the Farshores Saga. That way, it wouldn’t answer any questions before the reader has had a chance to raise them.

However, this made me nervous for a couple of related reasons. First, that’s a long damn time to wait. I’m not that patient, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done with the game so far and I can’t wait to finish it and get it out there. Second, I had intended the Farshores Saga to be longer than a trilogy, and at that point, somewhat open-ended in terms of length. I didn’t know if it would be six books or twelve books. It could be a great many years before the world saw a tie-in video game. I didn’t want that idea to eventually fall by the wayside because I was too busy with the novels. They’re both important to me, perhaps equally so. I didn’t want to sacrifice one to the other.

Then one night, an idea came to me. Why did it have to be just one game? Couldn’t I break the game up into small pieces, more digestible for me and its potential players? So that’s what I decided to do. Production suddenly didn’t seem so daunting, and completing the first game seemed a much more reasonable goal. And I know that once I finish one, making the rest would be a downhill effort. Only one question remained: how many games?

I decided that I would tie the number of games to the number of novels, and release each game after a novel. I began to plan out the entire arc of the games, breaking them up when I thought it was appropriate. I soon realized that with the length of story I wanted to tell in the games that there would be five of them.

And that’s how I came up with the length of the Farshores Saga. Five games, so five novels.

It was good to set that limit for myself. It’s one of the reasons I have planned so far ahead in the novel series; the limit gave me structure to work with. I knew how much time I needed to accomplish a certain story goal, and that put constraints on what I could do with the story. Plotting it became a lot easier. There are a lot of details to work out still, particularly in the later books, but I know where I need to go.

As for the games, well… the main quest is entirely plotted out for all five games. It’s done. Written in shorthand in a notebook, but done. All that remains is implementation and adding side quests for flavor and depth. That’s still a lot of work, most of the work actually, but I’ll never wonder where the games need to go. That roadmap is finished.

So what about implementation? I’ve been working on the first game for a while now, and I can already tell you that the beginning is completely playable. I recently made significant changes to the gameplay and art style, but they were worth the time to do. I’m in the process of making it better, but a good chunk of the game is done. If I were to put a number to it, I’d say 30%. The one thing that can slow me down is getting too excited and adding things it doesn’t need.

Initially, when I envisioned it as a single game, I called it The Birth of Maelstrom (what the name means, I’ll leave you to wonder until book 5 😉 ). This hasn’t changed, but that’s now the name of the series instead, with each installment getting a number and a subtitle.

The titles are, tentatively, as follows:

I – Ghosthand

II – High Tyrant’s Sword

III – Memory Orbs

IV – God Seed

V – Eternity Thorn

And while each series will stand on its own completely, they will also work together, shining light on mysteries in each and enriching the world of Farshores. For example, at the end of Ghosthand, we learn what the sheggam really are and where they come from, a question that is only answered in part in the novel series. Yet, it isn’t information given solely to please fans of the novels; the information is actually an essential aspect of the overall plot of the game series. And even though each series shines a little light on the other, it doesn’t do so in a way that spoils anything or ruins any surprises. I hate spoilers as much as anyone, so I was very careful to construct everything in a way that avoids them.

Maelstrom follows Jurin, a young Sword Patterner and captain of a specialized mercenary group called Ghosthand. They’re in pursuit of a terrorist group called Atarax, who is planning to embroil the world in war in a misguided attempt to bring world peace.

The games will differ from the novels in a number of different ways. Most importantly, tone. Maelstrom will be quite a bit lighter than Farshores, especially in the beginning. This was a conscious decision. I wanted someone who was familiar with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to play Maelstrom and come away feeling enriched, not disturbed. And while there is a lot of fighting in the game, there isn’t the same level of violence that will be a major part of Farshores. Somewhat paradoxically, though, Maelstrom will be the tragedy of the two, since it details the events leading up to the sheggam scourge that nearly destroys the world (even though that particular event doesn’t actually happen in the games). As the release of both gets closer, I’m going to stress this difference so fans of one aren’t too surprised or disappointed in the other. That said, while the tone and level of violence will be different, the level of storytelling will be the same in both. Maelstrom isn’t dumbed down at all, just filtered for content appropriate to the medium.

In my post To Indie or Not to Indie, I mentioned that I intended to take a hybrid approach to my writing career, with a mix of traditional and indie publishing. Maelstrom will be the indie part of that. My plan is to release the games on PC and Mac through Steam, as well as through the Apple Store and Google Play Store, a few months after each novel is released. I hope that this release schedule will keep the Farshores world fresh in the minds of fans and draw fans of one series into the other while they wait. I’m really excited to show both to the world, and I hope you’ll be there when it happens. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think in the comments!

To Farshores, and Beyond: Part II

As much as traditional publishing gave way to indie publishing with the advent of new platforms such as Kindle and Nook, so too did the video game industry change. Steam, Valve’s world-conquering distribution platform, changed the way developers reached gamers. One no longer needed a big publisher like Electronic Arts or Square-Enix to distribute games. You could do it directly, as long as you had a product that gamers would want.

But creating a game is still a monumental undertaking. When I was working at Nintendo, a few of my friends who also worked there decided to get together to create a game. I was brought in as the writer, having already published some of my Fourth World stuff. We started planning. But even this group of very motivated gamers did not get far beyond the planning stage. Creating a game is not as simple as just sitting in front of a keyboard and typing away. There are a lot of moving parts that require specialized knowledge. Failure to understand all of these parts could result in a game that is completely unplayable.

This is true of writing, too. One must patch all those plot holes or readers will complain. But it’s a much bigger deal for games. Imagine making a mistake while typing away in your novel, and the entire thing suddenly becomes completely unreadable. Such a catastrophe would never happen from a typo in a novel, but frequently does in a typo of computer code. And even if catastrophe does strike and a novel is lost, it’s usually because of some computer problem. Game developers deal with this routinely.

The biggest obstacle for us, however, was managing a team. When writing a novel, you are responsible only to yourself (for the most part). Only your schedule matters. Only your creative direction matters. As long as you create something of quality, you’ve done your job.

With video games, everyone on the team has their own ideas, their own schedules. There are bottlenecks. Technical incompatibilities. Creative differences. Any one of these could cause the project to collapse.

Despite having committed to the novelist path, I still kept my ear to the ground when it came to game development. Games still did something for me that novels didn’t, and perhaps, subconsciously, I knew that I still had the urge to create games.

I eventually came upon tools that allowed a single, focused game developer to create games much like those I loved since that fateful day in 1997: Japanese-style RPGs.

I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a shot.” I thought it would be a nice way to scratch that itch, even if nothing ever really came of it.

It was turning out pretty well, so I thought I would incorporate some of the ideas of the Farshores Saga into it, and make it part of the history of the Farshores world. I thought it would help me make the world real for me and help bring out some of that flavor into the novels. It would also give me an opportunity to create backstory for the characters.

At one point, I was playing through what I had created. I knew that it was more than just a repository of backstory and worldbuilding to aid in the creation of my novels.

I knew I could make a game that other people would want to play.

Thus was Super Secret Project B born (the “B” stands for “Brandon” because I’m, uh, super-creative).

I’ll have more details about this project in an upcoming post.