Interactive Novel Feed

Now in Soft Launch: Kuuhubb's 'Tiles & Tales'

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We're really excited to see the soft launch of a project we've been working on for the past year with Helsinki-based studio Kuuhubb, as it continues our march at the forefront of the visual novel genre. This will be our studio's fifth visual - or "interactive" - novel and the third mobile novel app project we've helped bring to market. 

Here's the official press release:

TORONTO, March 19, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Kuuhubb Inc. (“Kuuhubb” or the “Company”) (TSX- V: KUU), a mobile game development and publishing company targeting the female audience with bespoke mobile experiences, is pleased to announce the successful soft launch of its newest game, “Tiles & Tales”. The new mobile game app will be a unique combination of two very popular genres within the female gaming community; match-3 and visual novels.

Jouni Keränen, CEO of Kuuhubb commented, "Tiles and Tales is our flagship second-generation game and Kuuhubb’s key focus in calendar year 2020. I am extremely proud of our talented development team for all the dedication, hard work and love they have poured into the game. I am confident that this is the beginning of a new long-term franchise and a important growth driver for Kuuhubb in the future”.

A photo accompanying this announcement is available athttps://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/2740ee3d-946b-4384-828b-b0ab168a7475

Match-3, or tile-matching games are a multi-billion-dollar market and are the most popular genre with female gamers by a significant margin, with some titles generating USD 25-50M in monthly revenue. According to HubSpot, 69% of match-3 players are women. The growing match-3 market is estimated to generate over USD 5B annually and of 20 games that have lifetime revenues exceeding USD 1B, five are match-3’s (Disney Tsum Tsum, Candy Crush Saga, Puzzle & Dragons, Gardenscapes and Homescapes) (Source: Sensor Tower). Recent consolidation within the match-3 segment has seen Playtika and Zynga acquire the Helsinki-based Seriously Digital Entertainment Oy and Small Giant Games Oy for ~USD 275M and ~USD 650M, respectively.

Where puzzles and stories meet - a unique combination

Tiles & Tales is the first game in the market to merge match-3 games and interactive visual novels. While the audiences of these two genres have traditionally been considered separate, market research conducted for Kuuhubb  showed considerable overlap among players, making this game ideal for specifically catering to both groups in addition to holding significant cross-over appeal.  The unique match-3 and visual novels combination has the potential to enhance the respective audience sizes and enables fans of one type of gaming to broaden their horizons by introducing them to another popular genre.

Unique gameplay - wide audience appeal

In addition to the unique genre mash-up, Tiles & Tales introduces new game mechanics that set it apart from other match-3 games: throwing pieces to make matches, rather than simply tapping them, shakes up the traditional gameplay in a way that will get even the most experienced puzzle enthusiasts excited.

From solving a murder to enjoying a romantic vacation, a wide variety of genres and art styles ensures that there is something that will appeal to every player. The well-stocked library has plenty more stories and adventures to come. One of the stories available was written by award-winning author Lisa Brunette, who has contributed to other major story-based games such as Choices and Matchington Mansion, among many others. Brunette is also the founder of a leading narrative design studio, Brunette Games.

Tiles & Tales is the latest example of Finland’s game industry innovation and is the first game developed entirely in Kuuhubb’s Helsinki Game Studio using an in-house developed match-3 engine. The Company is focused on the expansion and diversification of its product portfolio through the creation of its second-generation games, and anticipates that the Kuuhubb game engine will significantly reduce the resources and time required to bring new titles to market.

Availability

Tiles & Tales is currently in soft launch and available for both iOS and Android devices in the following countries: Finland, Croatia, the Netherlands, Philippines and Australia. Global commercial launch is anticipated for H2 2020.

Download Tiles & Tales:  https://linktr.ee/tilesandtales
Tiles and Tales on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/tilesntales/
Tiles and Tales on Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/tilesandtales/

About Kuuhubb
Kuuhubb is a publicly listed mobile game development and publishing company, targeting the female audience with bespoke mobile experiences. Our Mission is to become a top player in the female mobile game space. We believe in empowering women by creating games and apps that will have our female audience relax, express and entertain themselves every day. Through our games and partnerships with select developers, we explore new lifestyle trends that can be converted into games and apps which will bring value to our users, employees, and shareholders. Headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, Kuuhubb has a global presence with a strong focus on U.S. and Asian markets.

Cautionary Note Concerning Forward-Looking Information

This press release contains forward-looking information. All statements, other than statements of historical fact, that address activities, events or developments that the Company believes, expects or anticipates will or may occur in the future (including, without limitation, statements relating to future revenue and development, growth of the Company’s business and the closing of the Proposed Financing) are forward-looking information. This forward-looking information reflects the current expectations or beliefs of the Company based on information currently available to the Company. Forward-looking information is subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that may cause the actual results of the Company to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking information, and even if such actual results are realized or substantially realized, there can be no assurance that they will have the expected consequences to, or effects on the Company. Factors that could cause actual results or events to differ materially from current expectations include, among other things, risks related to the growth strategy of the Company, the possibility that results from the Company’s growth plans will not be consistent with the Company's expectations, failure to execute the definitive documentation in respect of, or complete, the Proposed Financing, the need to satisfy conditions precedent with respect to the Proposed Financing, the possibility that the completion of the Proposed Financing may be delayed or that the terms of the Proposed Financing may change, the early stage of the Company's development, competition from companies in a number of industries, the ability of the Company to manage expansion and integrate acquisitions into its business, future business development of the Company and the other risks disclosed under the heading "Risk Factors" in the Company's annual information form dated November 7, 2018 filed on SEDAR at www.sedar.com. Forward-looking information speaks only as of the date on which it is provided and, except as may be required by applicable securities laws, the Company disclaims any intent or obligation to update any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or results or otherwise. Although the Company believes that the assumptions inherent in the forward-looking information are reasonable, forward- looking information is not a guarantee of future performance and accordingly undue reliance should not be put on such information due to the inherent uncertainty therein.

Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.

For further information, please contact:

Kuuhubb Inc.
Jouni Keränen - CEO
jouni@kuuhubb.com
Office: +358 40 590 0919

Bill Mitoulas
Investor Relations
bill@kuuhubb.com
Office:  +1 (416) 479-9547


We Grew Three Sizes This Year! A Brunette Games 2019 Recap

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The Brunette Games crew, from L to R: Anthony Valterra, Lisa Brunette, and Dexter Woltman.

At this time last year, I'd taken my first steps toward going beyond the solo act by engaging with a few project-based contractors, but I soon discovered that wasn't enough. There was opportunity to build Brunette Games into the dream team I'd always envisioned: A collaborative cabal of casual game scribes delivering the best narrative in the business.

Brunette Games has now tripled in size, with three full-time staff members:

  • Anthony Valterra, an industry vet who steered flagship brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill for Wizards of the Coast. His publishing company also released the only roleplaying game guide governing the romantic lives of D&D characters, The Book of Erotic Fantasy. His thirty-year career in brand and grant management makes him ideal in his role as business director, and we've been grateful to get his seasoned perspective and writing chops on unannounced projects for Jam City, Daily Magic Productions, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, and Super Gaming. He's also contributed to our work on a new game app set to release in 2020, Tiles & Tales for Helsinki-based Kuuhubb, and Jam City's 2019 game Vineyard Valley. Some of you already know he's my husband in real life, too, making Brunette Games truly a family business.
  • Dexter Woltman, who, though new to the industry, is cut from the same cloth as the rest of us. As one of my original contractors, he's now put in a year with Brunette Games, and sometimes we think he gets us better than we get ourselves. Dexter is lead writer/designer on the top-performing Redemption Games title Sweet Escapes, and in his spare time, he's also written his first interactive novel for an unannounced new mobile app and designed and written for a new franchise title to release in 2020. A superb team player, he's also contributed to our work on numerous games for clients Kuuhubb, Jam City, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, Super Gaming, Storm8, Belka Games, and Cherrypick Games, just to name a few!
  • Lisa Brunette, intrepid owner and leader of Brunette Games. My focus this past year has been on taking the skills I honed on industry-dominating titles Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, and Choices, plus the five years I spent at the narrative helm at Big Fish, and transferring them to my team so that we have a group expertise not dependent on any one of us. Our collaborative process ensures clients an above-average narrative product, and I'm confident we'll see many more hit games in the coming year as a result.

In addition to the core three, we've got two others on the Bru Crew, both voice-over actors. Cammie Middleton records voiceover work for TV, film, and games out of her L.A. studio, while also playing lead roles in both film and stage productions, including appearances in the Golden Key award-winning "Rochester 1996," to rave reviews. Andy Mack is a longtime video-game voice actor whose work has been showcased at E3, Gamescon, GameInformer, and elsewhere and includes 2019's The Amazing Fantastics and Postal 4. They've both recorded for an unannounced Jam City title to release in 2020.

It's been a whirlwind year of success, but not without its struggle. As a small business owner, I can tell you that running a business from scratch is one of the hardest things I've ever done... from providing employee benefits such as health care to grappling with decisions like liability insurance to handling the complexity of a remote client network spanning the globe. Whether it's working over the July 4th holiday on a rush job (which we did) or getting up for 6 am calls with clients in an opposite time zone (which we do regularly), you have to be willing to go the extra mile. I'm proud to say everyone on this team is, and we have the game credits to prove it. That makes the struggle so worth it!

In 2019, Brunette Games worked with a total of 12 different clients to release three new games and produce new content for three existing games. We've also been working on 10 other games still in development. 

Here's a list of our 2019 new releases:

  • Lily's Garden, for Tactile Entertainment - narrative design, concept origination and character consulting, intro storyboard
  • Sweet Escapes, for Redemption Games - intro storyboard, narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Vineyard Valley, for Jam City - general consulting

We delivered new content for the following games:

  • Survivors: The Quest, for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes, also for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting, editing
  • Sweet Escapes - narrative design, scriptwriting

And finally, we're working with the following clients on unannounced projects in various stages of development:

  • Graphite Lab
  • Daily Magic Productions
  • Storm8
  • Belka Games
  • Jam City
  • Tuyoo
  • Super Gaming
  • G5 Entertainment
  • Kuuhubb
  • Cherrypick Games

Looking ahead, we're excited about the opportunities for us in 2020 both close to home and far away. Our projects gel best when we can kick off the teamwork in person, which we were able to do this year right here in St. Louis with Graphite Lab, in Helsinki with Kuuhubb, and in L.A. with Jam City. Not every client has the budget for an onsite, but we look forward to seeing you at the Game Developers Conference in March and perhaps at other venues later on.

We wish you a prosperous 2020 filled with creativity, imagination, and great game stories!


The Brunette Games Writers' Room

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One of the distinguishing features of working with Brunette Games is that you're not trusting your precious game story to some isolated, solitary freelancer but rather a team of highly trained professionals who work together to deliver narrative design and writing that consistently out-performs other games on the market.

Two of us on the team came to game design from backgrounds in traditional publishing. The convention in book publishing and journalism is for all writing to go through a series of checks and balances before it's ever put out to the public for consumption. The process looks like this:

  1. The writer, sometimes working in a team with other writers and editors, outlines the concept for the work.
  2. A developmental editor provides feedback to the writer on the overall theme, setting, story arc, characters, and the structure of the work.
  3. The writer goes through the draft stage, writing and then revising, with the feedback of the developmental editor.
  4. Once the writing content is pretty well locked down, it still gets two more passes. The first is from a copyeditor, who tinkers with sentence structure and might punch up lines for more humor or drama or both.
  5. Finally, the work gets a final proofreading pass to clear away any typos or errors in grammar and style.

Game writing has not traditionally received anywhere near this much scrutiny, and that's part of why the writing in games has often had a bad rap. The other reason is that game text has often been written by game designers, artists, programmers, and others who usually have zero training as writers.

At Brunette Games, we apply the standards of traditional publishing to our game projects. Whether one of us writes a scene or we draft the scene as co-writers, the text also receives several rounds of feedback and review. What goes to the client is a highly polished product. No one's text gets to the client without review.

Borrowing heavily from TV and film, we work as a "writers' room." We discuss and try out characterizations, scenarios, and dialogue, tapping the team brain. We conduct what's known in Hollywood as a "table read," each of us taking a character and reading out the script aloud to listen, critique, make adjustments, and finely hone the text.

We're also experienced specialists in both writing as a professional skill and specifically game writing and design as that unique practice combining the right-brain creativity of fictional world creation and the left-brain activity of integrating that world with the primary mission of gameplay.

When Lisa Brunette entered the game industry more than a decade ago, she brought an editorial acumen honed as a journalist, published fiction writer, and professor of writing to all the games she's touched. But she also approached every game as a player first, crafting her stories in service to the game. She believes this is why she's had so many successful games to her credit, and that same spirit is why the Brunette Games team continues to rack up successes.


PixelPop Festival 2019: A Community for Gaming

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I’m Dexter Woltman, a Game Writer / Designer here at Brunette Games. On the weekend of September 13th and 14th, I had the pleasure of representing our narrative design company at PixelPop Festival. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s an official description of the event:

PixelPop Festival is a game conference and expo in St. Louis, Missouri, that celebrates unique games and the many people who make them possible.

PixelPop Festival features independent tabletop, digital, and experimental games produced by local and national game creators. Two full days of diverse conference sessions from industry professionals are curated to equip you with creative tools and resources to make remarkable work that makes a difference.

There are two main components to PixelPop. The first is the expo hall, where dozens of designers show off their creative visions in gaming, whether that be video gaming or tabletop gaming. The second is a series of talks coming from industry veterans that cover a wide range of game design topics.

This was my first time attending PixelPop. Aside from stories of past years, I didn’t know what to expect. I put on my Brunette Games shirt, filled a pack with notebooks, and went in with an open mind. The first thing I saw when I entered the expo hall was an overarching sense of community. Not only were there dozens of faces I recognized from classes and industry appearances, but everyone was actively engaged with one another. They were talking, laughing, and, most importantly, playing games together.

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An image of the PixelPop expo hall.

The community of PixelPop was filled with visitors from various cities across the country, like Chicago. Many local St. Louis developers also attended. As for the presenters themselves, some were part of companies with personal IPs to showcase, and others were independent developers demonstrating their design skills. Everyone was there to be part of something and engage in a supportive atmosphere.

As for the expo hall itself, it was a large room to accompany the dozens of stations and tables inside. Oddly enough, I noticed a strange lack of prominent lighting in certain areas. As the day went on, I realized this dim lighting lead to an explorative atmosphere where the games shined.

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Gamers playing a chicken-themed dice game called Dice Fight.

In the hall, imagination flourished in small-scale indies. While some presenters told a story with their games, others displayed gimmicks. Both concepts were equally as entertaining. I went from playing a game where you slap a fish controller in a dual fighting game to a narrative tale focused on the discovery of Earth’s roundness. 

Coming from a narrative design company myself, I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind each game I played. I asked the developers what their inspiration was for their games, as well as the messages they’re trying to convey. One particularly adorable dog shelter management game, To the Rescue, had a darker, more hidden message. It called attention to the ongoing issue of kennel euthanizations, something players in the management game could do when their kennels got overfilled. Of course, this mechanic was optional, especially for younger audiences.

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To the Rescue is adorable and honest.

Beyond that were a plethora of narrative-based games. I spent over an hour playing a fun tabletop roleplaying game called Thalassophobia. The game was described by its creators as Dungeons and Dragons meets The Thing. My friends and I were each given occupations and were tasked with investigating reports of missing patients at a nearby hospital. I received the role of doctor. Coming from a narrative background, I constantly strived to push motivation onto my character. The end result was an obnoxious doctor who heals critical injuries with band-aids and who probably but definitely doesn’t have a real doctor’s license.

I also can’t forget to mention the roleplaying game, Starry Messengers, where I could only communicate with other players through handwritten letters. The setting may have placed me centuries ago, but I still found ways to put modern-day memes in all my letters. There was also the occult choice game, Hills & Hollows, that features tarot cards as a decision device. I’m proud to say I’m one of the lucky few who discovered a hidden ending and somehow summoned the Devil. Last but not least, I found a texting game called We should talk, where I texted my in-game girlfriend from a bar. Again, I discovered a rare ending that definitely got me broken up with.

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The poster for Hills & Hallows.

Throughout these many narrative-focused games, others also relied on the amusement of gimmicks. I probably spent too much time at Hellcouch, a game where an actual couch is a controller. A previous professor of mine and an active member of the St. Louis Game Developer Co-Op, Rob Santos, also presented two incredibly fun games. One featured an Infinity Gauntlet as a controller and put players in the shoes of Thanos. The game was a parody of the recent blockbuster hit, Avengers: Endgame. An endless runner, players used Infinity Stones to avoid being caught by Ant-Man before the superhero flies up Thanos’ personal “endgame.” Santos also showed a mouse cursor battle royal. There were computer mice scattered around the table, and players scrambled to find an active cursor to move around and shoot others with.

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Santos' Infinity Gauntlet and mouse battle royal games side-by-side.

 

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Hellcouch is a game you control with standing and sitting.

Beyond the expo hall and games was an impressive line-up of industry talks. While I didn’t attend every talk of the festival, I did pay special attention to the ones with a narrative focus. The first I attended was a talk about visual novels. They spoke of the various ways to go about writing a visual novel and how to deal with branching choices. As someone who recently worked on an interactive novel with many, many choices, I was particularly interested in their organizational methods.

There was also a talk on depicting mental health in games. This can be a sensitive topic, and I admit struggling with it in my own game writing. The talk focused on ways to approach mental health respectfully and realistically. The largest takeaway for me was that writers must consider mental health as part of the character, rather than merely a status ailment.

Lastly, I attended a talk on procedurally generated storytelling in the real world. It was all about how designers can use sounds and images in the real world to influence the story of a game. Not only was this a very intriguing subject, but it opened my eyes to various ways in-game environments can convey stories beyond just typical dialogue and cutscenes.

Oh, also there was a mini talk about Bad Tetris. Someone intentionally made an aggravating version of Tetris that moves a character around based on regular Tetris block movements. The comments the developer received for sharing the game online were just as funny as the game’s actual existence.

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Bad Tetris, "It made me frustrated but like in a good way."

Throughout all these games and talks, PixelPop taught me that no one has to forge the gaming industry alone. This festival builds a community. It’s about finding reliance and mutual interest in ideas and mechanics. It’s for people trying to bring awareness to their creativity. It was an honor to be part of the festival, and I hope Brunette Games is even more involved next year.


An Interview with 'Lifeline' Series Writer Dave Justus

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Dave Justus is author of the first and many other games in the Lifeline series from Big Fish—including the eponymous original; Lifeline 2: Bloodline; Lifeline: Silent Night; and Lifeline: Halfway To Infinity—which have enjoyed nearly 7 million worldwide downloads to date. He is also the co-writer, with Lilah Sturges, of the comic books Everafter: From The Pages Of FablesPublic RelationsFables: The Wolf Among Us; and more.
 
Lifeline games are games, but they're also novels. Part of the growing "interactive fiction" genre, the games are entirely text-based, with the reader making choices throughout. It goes like this: A stranded astronaut contacts you, asking for help in the form of a person to talk to as well as ask for advice. Sort of like if "The Martian" were a game instead of a movie, and you got to talk to Mark Watney the entire time he's stranded on Mars. 
 
Lisa: How did you get involved in writing the Lifeline series? Did you have any background in the game industry? What was the genesis for the first game?
 
Dave: I came to Lifeline in a sort of roundabout way. The original game was being developed by Three Minute Games, a tiny three-man skunkworks within Big Fish. They'd had some minor successes, but they'd come up with the concept for Lifeline and wanted its release to coincide with the release of the Apple Watch. They offered the job to my friend Daryl Gregory -- who is one of the best writers I've ever read, and I thought as much before I ever met him -- but he was too booked to do it, so he very kindly suggested me for the position. Three Minute took a chance on me (I'd barely been published at that point), and gave me tremendous freedom under a very tight deadline. They knew they wanted about three days of gameplay, a sci-fi story with a nongendered protagonist in a "choose your own adventure" style, and they needed it in five weeks. Beyond that, I was free to do whatever I wanted... which was both amazing and daunting.
 
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I had no background in games whatsoever, but I honestly think, in this case, that worked to my advantage. I'd been an avid NES gamer in my childhood, had spent plenty of time with Infocom games like Hitchhiker's Guide (whose DNA you can certainly see in Lifeline), and had played several Playstation games growing up, but the last one I'd really sunk any amount of time into was Tomb Raider 2, back in college. Once I graduated, I had very little "mad money," and I chose to apply that to comics (which I've been collecting since I was eight) rather than video games. But in the case of Lifeline, I think it worked out very well, because I wrote the game purely as a conversation. I wasn't thinking in terms of "power-ups" or acquiring weapons or typical video game structures; rather, I wanted it to feel as much as possible like the Player was receiving texts from a real human being. And the feedback we've gotten has largely indicated that that's exactly what people feel when they're playing: They're not controlling a sprite, they're talking to an actual person.
 
Lisa: How much text is in these games? As much as a typical novel, say 80,000 words, at least? Or far fewer? Also, you say they wanted three days of play, but I note there are breaks when Taylor is busy. What's the breakout between "idle" time and actual play? How did you figure out how long the breaks should be? What's the longest? The shortest?
 
Dave: The first Lifeline game is a little over 50,000 words -- more in the range of a novella, or possibly a YA novel. Because of the way I ended up structuring the game (in that I didn't really know what I was doing and wanted to give people the most bang for their buck), a Player who makes it to the end of the game alive will actually have seen the bulk of the game's text. Hopefully no passages that contradict any others, obviously... but I wanted to put as much info as possible on the screen.
 
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Lifeline 2: Bloodline had almost twice as many words. It was very freeing for me, because I felt like I could go into so much more depth on Arika's character, her world, and her quests... but it was a lot to ask of the team on the other end, specifically in terms of translation to other languages. For subsequent games, we've looked for a happy medium in terms of word count: not so much that it causes panic attacks at the Big Fish offices, but enough that the authors can stretch their legs a bit and the Players can, we hope, feel satisfied with the end result.
 
The "idle" time was essential to Three Minute's concept of a real-time conversation; it takes time for the characters to walk to a new location, or to eat a meal, or to rest for a bit. The first "long" break in the original Lifeline comes when Taylor sleeps on the first night -- the Player must give Taylor some information that creates a life-or-death scenario overnight, and we wanted Players to be tense, anxious to see whether their advice had been Taylor's doom or salvation. I believe that the longest break is six hours (for a character to sleep); delays can be as short as a couple of seconds, if we want to employ them to help with the timing of a joke or something. I originally feared that the breaks would be a turn-off to Players, that no one would want to wait an hour while Taylor walked around a crater. And indeed, after one death, the games give you the option to switch off the "real-time" mode and play with no delays whatsoever. But what we found was that, overwhelmingly, the majority of Players chose to switch back to "real-time" after trying "fast" mode. The preference for the delays is considerable.
 
Lisa: Let me return to what you said about wanting players to feel as if they're talking to an actual person instead of "controlling a sprite," and how your lack of game-industry experience felt like an advantage to you. This might rankle seasoned game writers and narrative designers, since we're quite serious about our craft and its tradition beyond power-ups and what's "typical." Have you since become part of the game-writing community, instead of a sort of self-described outsider? Or do you still see yourself that way? I'm asking because text adventures in particular have a history and set of best practices that predate what we think of as video games today.
 
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'Lifeline' Fan Art
 
Dave: Please believe me when I say that the last thing I intended here was to cause offense. When I say "typical" structures, I only meant the things that I, personally, thought of as aspects common to NES and arcade games, based on my own history with them. As I mentioned, I'd also played many text games back on my old Apple IIe, and I was primarily drawing from my (admittedly fairly hazy) memories of those while trying to construct Lifeline.
 
I would definitely still consider myself an outsider when it comes to game writing. I'm in Texas -- nowhere near Big Fish or Three Minute, out on the West Coast -- and I don't wind up getting to attend all the expos and conventions with them. I would be very interested if you could point me to resources for the best practices that you mention -- I perpetually feel like I sort of stumbled into success with Lifeline, and I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, "We know you're just faking it. It's time for you to leave." That day is going to suck.
 
Lisa: Great answer ;). I'll send you some links later on so you can join the game-writing party! Next question: Older players or those younger who've discovered the series anew might compare Lifeline to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were first popular in the 80s (I was a huge fan). Were those an inspiration for you?
 
Dave: They absolutely were. I was a voracious reader as a child -- the sort who would read the back of cereal boxes, just because they had words on them. My parents and grandparents, much to their credit, always indulged this behavior, so I had shelves and shelves of books, including probably two dozen or so Choose Your Own Adventure titles. The one that stands out in my mind, to this day, is Inside UFO 54-40, credited to Edward Packard -- it was a terrifying science fiction story, bleak to the point of nihilism, in which all paths led to defeat, and the best ending could never actually be reached. And it blew my tiny mind. It was the bridge between kids' books and adult literature for me. Once that book had broken me, I could not have cared less about Beezus and Ramona; I was ready for the Overlook Hotel and moon monoliths and Nadsat.
 
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More 'Lifeline' Fan Art
 
Lisa: I first came across your work back when I was with Big Fish, as manager of the narrative design team. How did the relationship between Big Fish and 3-Minute Games come about, in as much as you can share with readers?
 
Dave: I'm probably not the best person to answer this one. My understanding is that Three Minute were operating as a skunkworks under the auspices of Big Fish, coming up with all sorts of games like Feed Your Monster and Poll Party. Basically, they were testing different styles of games, different pay structures, seeing which combinations worked best. They had the idea for Lifeline -- from its style to its pay structure to its length, everything came from them. They had done the work in order to make the determination that this was the best admixture of elements... and they got it very, very right. How much I contributed to that, it's hard to say; they had laid the groundwork for me so well, all I had to do was step in and not completely fall on my face. I'm grateful every day that they set me up to succeed, and I'm happy that I was able to deliver something that achieved what they were hoping for.
 
Lisa: Let's talk about the structure for a Lifeline game. Branching choices can quickly lead to a very complex structure unless you create small branches that loop back to a main narrative, and/or employ the use of stats to track choices. How do you plot out the varying narratives in Lifeline
 
Dave: The "complex structure" that you mention is something I ran into very quickly when I was working on the first Lifeline. Even when you only provide binary choices -- which, so far, is all we've done -- those branches can quickly grow out of control as each one doubles, then doubles again, until from a single node you've created a mountain. I had to train myself to weave the elements back together, to keep things from ballooning out of control. When I took on the original assignment, I thought, "Oh, this will be just like writing a short story." But it's not; it's like writing thousands of very, very short stories, of a few sentences each. It took me a painfully long time to make that distinction, but once I did, I was able to realize where I'd gone wrong, and start to plot out "nodes" where the threads were drawn back together. That made my work so, so much easier.
 
I'm not a coder by nature. I use Twine as the basis for these games (and then a lot of proprietary processes happen afterward, most of which are beyond my comprehension), and in that program I do my best to branch and reconnect smoothly. It's a tremendously useful GUI for people like me, people who need their hand held throughout the process. No matter how carefully I've plotted things in advance, every Lifeline game has led me in unexpected directions; the story that wants to be told is, without exception, better and more interesting than the story I lay out at the beginning. I trust those feelings, trust that when Taylor or Arika or whomever pulls the narrative in an unintended direction, that I'm getting a real sense of what the story should be, instead of forcing it down avenues that aren't true to the characters. (This, by the way, is a fantastic way to drive the rest of the development team insane.)
 
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Lisa: What's an example of a node? Also, did those driving the process have a sense of what came before so you weren't all reinventing the wheel? What you're describing here reminds me of the awesome discussion over at Choice of Games, where they do a great job of teaching newbies how to avoid this kind of ballooning while preserving the need for meaningful choices. 
 
Dave: I think of nodes as "have-to" moments in the game. If, say, by the end of a day, Arika has to learn a certain piece of info, encounter a certain prop, have an opportunity to eat, and fight a specific foe, then I have four nodes for that day. If she can't move on without acquiring an object or having a conversation, then I know that, no matter how wildly things balloon, all roads must lead back to a single point. The order in which they're encountered may or may not matter, but generally speaking, these are the crucial passages; the Player's decisions upon hitting these nodes will have a major effect on what follows in the game. 
 
Lisa: How many different endings could players get in a typical Lifeline game? How do you make sure those endings make sense for the previous choices made in the game?
 
Dave: Generally, there are a few deaths along the way. These are paths where the Player has made an egregious mistake, or else has willfully decided not to aid the protagonist. Those are, of course, the "bad" endings -- no one should be proud of killing their hero. Then there are the "good" endings, where the Player has done most things right, and has achieved an ending that is satisfactory, although not the best one could hope for. The hope is that the Player will feel good about these... but will still have a nagging sense that they should return to the game, and work for the best possible ending. And we'll tell you when you've achieved that; we want Players to know when they've gotten all the items, or defeated all the villains, or done the best they can. I write stories with Pyrrhic victories, sometimes -- blame Inside UFO 54-40 -- but there's always a "best" ending, and that's the canon ending that leads to the next game in the series.
 
Lisa: Does this ever backfire? It strikes me as different than most casual gameplay, where player character deaths are generally avoided. Do you lose some players by opting for Pyrrhic victories?
 
Dave: I had that fear at the outset, but to the relief of all of us, the Player reactions to character deaths seem to be a deepening of involvement, not an abandoning of the game. It seems to largely be the case that, if a Player loses Taylor by pushing the character too hard or by supplying incorrect information, there's generally a sense of culpability in the death that makes the Player want to try harder the next time. I've seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of people on social media expressing genuine grief and sadness over character deaths in the Lifeline games. 
 
Halfway-to-infinity
 
Lisa: (This last one's for my stepson, who loved the first game when it went viral at his high school a few years ago.) You set up Taylor as a gender-neutral character, an interesting choice. Can you talk about your reasons for that? My stepson notes that most of his classmates assumed Taylor was either female (most of the women did this) or split evenly between male or female (mostly guys).
 
Dave: The gender-neutrality of Taylor's character came from Three Minute Games, but I thought it was a fantastic idea. At that time, it was easier than I thought it would be to write such a character -- when gender signifiers are removed, you realize how similar a kick-ass male and female protagonist actually are. It's grown increasingly difficult, as Halfway To Infinity introduces a doppelgänger Taylor, to keep the pronouns correct -- but I'm happy to face down that challenge. Seeing so much fan art for the character has made me realize just how much room we've left for interpretation. I don't consider that there's a "right" answer at all. People who know me have told me that they see a lot of me in Taylor... but for every argument for "male," I see another one, just as convincing, for "female." I love that I don't have a definitive answer. I hope that I never do. I hope that I can continue to write a character that resonates with everyone who reads it.
 
You can download the game to your favorite device. See the Big Fish Lifeline page for more info.
 
Note: This post previously appeared on Cat in the Flock.