Week 7, paused

This is an edition of Robin Sloan’s video game development diary.

Welcome: to returning readers as well as everyone newly subscribed. If you missed it, week 1 sets up the motivation behind this project. All the previous editions are available over on my blog.

The k in the headine at the top of the page is gathering its forces for a fresh assault.


Orpheus

Orpheu, Odilon Redon, ca. 1903-10

As I warned you in last week’s edition, all my efforts this week—really very close to all my waking hours—were committed to a substantial new writing project. I am halfway done, which is good, because I have two weeks to write it, and one of them has elapsed.

But then I made coffee this morning and thought, am I really not gonna send anything? So I decided I would compose this very brief edition in which, rather than share my own progress, I recommend a couple of other works that are relevant to the interests and goals of this newsletter.

Wot I got

Exactly the same game I had last week!


The diary

Jordan Mechner’s The Making of Prince of Persia is his contemporaneous development diary for that video game, which is considered an all-time classic. Confession: I have never actually played it (although I did watch over my friend Steve’s shoulder while he played it on his Apple II, many years ago)—but I still found the diary totally engrossing.

I first read this book years ago as a PDF; it’s now available in a jaw-droppingly beautiful edition from Stripe Press:

The Making of Prince of Persia

Inside, it’s a rich and absorbing production, with many of Mechner’s original diary pages on display, along with lots of material like this, the original frames he rotoscoped to produce the game’s fluid motion:

The Making of Prince of Persia interior

In December 1988, Mechner writes:

Russ and I “fixed” the digitizer (it was in the wrong slot) and changed my life. In the past week, sword fighting has gone from a vague notion of something I’d have to put in the game someday to reality. The little guy now thrusts and lunges. Everyone who’s seen it is thrilled. The amount of painstaking work still ahead of me is too huge to contemplate, but it’s paying off more dramatically than anything I’ve done in months. This is going to be a good game.

Wonder weeks :)

Disclosure: I think the volume preceding this one, chronicling The Making of Karateka, might be even better, because Mechner is even younger, and he knows even less. His breathlessness and uncertainty are overwhelming and, honestly, inspiring.

The guilelessness of Mechner’s diaries is what sets them apart. There are very, very few records like this, notes taken day-by-day in the weird furnace of creation, and then—importantly—not edited to strip out that breathlessness, that uncertainty. (This development diary of mine is a different animal entirely, because, even though it’s chronicling a process, it’s written with an audience in mind. In fact, it’s a stretch to call it a “diary” at all, but/and I am okay with that.)

If you and/or someone you know (a young person, perhaps…) are interested in video game development and/or the process of creation in general, I predict you and/or they will get a lot out of these books.


The game

80 Days is a narrative adventure that was released in 2014 and remains, in my opinion, the best-written video game. Others might have it beat on epic scope, or campy weirdness… but in terms of actual prose quality, 80 Days is almost without peer. Which is really just a way of saying Meg Jayanth, the game’s lead writer, is almost without peer.

80 Days screenshot

My first playthrough was revelatory. I can still remember my rising sense of excitement, tapping through the first few cities: “You can MAKE games like this??”

80 Days was produced by the studio called Inkle, and its story was written in Ink, the language/format of their devising that I’m using for Perils of the Overworld. So, my project owes a huge debt to this studio and this game.

It’s available on basically all platforms at this point—iOS, Android, Mac, PC—and I can’t recommend it more highly. It is fun to play, fun to read. Its world is surprising and energizing. More than any other game I’ve ever played, it shows the path forward for this hybrid book/game genre that interests me so much.


The hodgepodge

I wrote a short story, or, a short… fictional… artifact… that takes the form of remarks, circa 2041, from the director of the Smithsonian Museum of American Conspiracy. I’m very happy with how it turned out and proud to have it in the pages of the Atlantic. (Please accept this publication as evidence of my ongoing commitment to the President Dwayne The Rock Johnson Cinematic Universe.)

You might remember my discussion of saccades in a previous edition of this newsletter. Here’s a long and fascinating thread about the utter weirdness of our vision.

The Kindle edition of my novel Sourdough is on sale for $3.99 this month ✌️


Beatrice by Odilon Redon

Beatrice, Odilon Redon, 1897

Okay, now I want to write more, of course, but the point was to do this quickly, so I’ll push myself away from the keyboard.

I have felt absolutely on fire this week, thanks to the combination of an urgent assignment, a story idea that panned out (they don’t always!), and the knowledge that people will get to read it soon, not an indeterminate number of months in the future. Again, I have no desire to be cryptic; I’ll detail this project as soon as I’m permitted.

It is not lost on me that, in this edition, I have referred you to (1) a video game development diary better than this one, and (2) a video game better than the one I’m making. Well. Hmm.

From Oakland,

Robin


This has been an edition of my video game development diary, sent by email every few weeks. You can subscribe: