Imagine me lifting AHoMD from the shelf, blowing off the dust, rubbing away a spot of dirt with my sleeve. My rheumy eyes swim with fond memories and muted regrets, my hands shake, there’s probably a moment where I gaze into the horizon and you can see the abyss of years yawning behind my stare, etc, etc.
This grand old project has been lying on the shelf for two years, now, but I haven’t been entirely unproductive – I’ve been working hard on some stuff that I’m very proud of.
You may remember that I was an incubee at Failbetter Games, who took me in and gave me funds, advice and shelter while I was working on A House of Many Doors. Well, good news – since AHoMD was released, I’ve done a little writing for their latest game, Sunless Skies. Well, a lot of writing. A middling to large chunk.
Sunless Skies is out now – it actually came out on 31st January. If you’re the sort of person who funded AHoMD, chances are you already knew that and have bought it. If you haven’t bought it yet, though, I urge you to do so. It’s an exceedingly good game and has received rapturous praise from all quarters of the internet. If you enjoyed AHoMD, you’re so squarely in its target demographic that you might as well accept the inevitable.
Here’s what I wrote on Skies:
- a Nightmare (You Are Being Watched)
- a Wreck (the Berrenger)
- two Ambitions: the Song of the Sky and the Martyr-King’s Cup.
- four Ports: the Clockwork Sun, Piranesi, Death’s Door & the White Well.
- the whimsical secrets that can be found beyond Death’s Door.
AHoMD obviously owed a huge creative debt to Sunless Sea, and I feel utterly privileged to have worked on Sea’s sequel. I took my wealth of writing experience from A House of Many Doors and channeled that into Skies, producing some of my best ever stuff: like the stuff in AHoMD, but more honed, and actually edited, and produced with a bit less fevered panic. If you like my writing, Skies is somewhere that you can find plenty more of it.
So what’s happened? And what next?
After AHoMD was released, I had some complicated feelings. These days I’m very proud of what I achieved with AHoMD, but after release, and after 2 months of frenzied bugfixing, I was depressed. And completely exhausted. I’d spent 2 years working far too many hours on AHoMD, totally against Failbetter’s advice, and I was burned out. I didn’t have another game in me, which was bad, and I also let communication with backers fall by the wayside, which was worse. My guilt about the gap in communication became ever-greater with time, feeding into itself and contributing to my grim mindset. Have you ever felt the guilt of not answering an email that badly needed a reply? It was like that but to a thousand people, all of whom I knew I owed a lot. Unfortunately, with one-person projects, there’s no-one to pick up the slack when the one person badly needs a break.
So I did other things. I travelled through Africa for a small while. I got a full-time job in tech, outside the games industry, to support myself after AHoMD sales weren’t what I’d hoped. In my free time I worked on Sunless Skies, which was difficult to balance with my job, but it was joyous work. I wrote a little bit for Fallen London (my Exceptional Story is called The Pursuit of Moths, if you want to seek it out). I also proposed to my wonderful girlfriend Katie – we’re getting married towards the end of this year!
This year, now that Skies is out and in the wild and doing very well for itself, I plan to release at least one big bugfixing update for AHoMD. I’ll need some time to re-familiarize myself with the spaghetti-code and make sure I’m not breaking things more than I fix them.
Other than that, I don’t yet know what I’m going to do next, but I know there’s something on the horizon. It might be a novel. It might be a game. It will be big and weird and new.
This time in 2017 I felt like I’d reached the bottom of the idea mine, and my pickaxe was broken, and the little light on my hat had gone out. Now I feel like I have too many ideas, and too little time, and my only difficulty is deciding between them. Whatever it is, I’ll tell you about it.