Failbetter Workshop: It’s Complicated; IF Meetup

Between a cold hitting all three of us in the household in quick succession, the baby having a plethora of teeth coming through, and a deluge of heartbreaking things happening in the world (let’s euphemistically call them “current events”) it hasn’t been an easy couple of weeks. In the middle of it all was a day of respite.

Failbetter Games (Fallen London, The Last Court, Sunless Sea) regularly hold workshops, both for their writers and for visitors to come and see the process, and join in if they wish. Last Tuesday was It’s Complicated: Writing Relationships in Interactive Fiction, which is so much My Kind Of Thing that it’s not even funny. When the tickets came on sale, I dithered in a cycle of money?-childcare?-travel?-how? but Fay encouraged me to go for it, saying we could sort something out. I’m really glad I did.

Olivia Wood (Failbetter’s editor) has talked about romance and sex in videogames for Videobrains hilariously and sensibly, so I knew I was in for a treat. She gave another talk about the issues that face writers when portraying friendships and romances: how to make characters feel real while still having a point plotwise, how to avoid a situation where an otherwise strongminded character agrees limply with whatever the PC decides they should do, how to balance showing a relationship changing and growing with avoiding interminably slowing the pace.

There aren’t easy answers to these and the other issues we discussed – if there were, decent relationships would be far more common in videogames – but talking about them was inspiring and invigorating.

We looked at several pieces of work from Fallen London and Sunless Sea, plus a piece from Harry Tuffs’ House of Many Doors: a diverse selection of NPC-focused plots, scenes and conversations. It was great to have insight into the writing and editing process, and hear from the writers where they had run into problems.

There was a delicious sushi lunch and a chat with the other attendees and the Failbetter folks, which was lovely. The Failbetter office is a converted Victorian chapel with a heavy wrought-iron gargoyle doorknocker, vastly high ceilings and a spiral staircase; it feels very appropriate for the strange, Gothic games they make. The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly, as was everyone there. It must be weird having interlopers all up in your workspace, but everyone was gracious and I felt at ease. Especially nice for me: I’m a social creature, but pick up awkwardness and start getting self-conscious easily.

Over the afternoon the other attendees and I chilled out, chatted, and walked. I hadn’t been to Greenwich since I was tiny but the tube journey there was surreal: a combination of bright, beautiful Regency pompousness with gentrified Mirror’s-Edge skyscraping dystopia. A rainstorm sent us scurrying back to the offices where we hung out and I fiddled around with writing until it was time for the IF Meetup Group.

We had three presentations: Tory Hoke of sub-Q (a project especially close to my heart), Derek Moody of Whodunnit Manor, and Nathan Penlington of Choose Your Own Documentary. Choose Your Own Documentary was particularly exciting as it was completely new to me and was fascinating – it made me wish I’d known about the show when it was on! Emily Short has done a rundown on the talks here.

My friends Mary and Grant kindly had me to stay with them and their marvellous giant ginger cat, and early the next morning it was time to head for home. The sunshine was perfect, warm and bright but not overheated, and even the rush-hour-packed tube didn’t dampen my spirits too much.

It was a break for meeting new people, discussing fictional friendships and romances, hearing people’s stories, and seeing friends: just right. Talking about nerdy writerly things that make my brain fizz helps bolster me for dealing with the world, and with life, when both are making me wilt.

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