The inkle blog

Finding an art director

In all of our past games the art direction has been primarily my (Joe’s) responsibility. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, and although I love art and I have artistic opinions, I’ve often been stretched a bit thin, especially on Heaven’s Vault.

One thing we decided very early on is that our highland game has to be absolutely gorgeous, so on this project, it was time to find some outside help - someone who could help us define a beautiful, consistent look for the game.

We were keen on a painterly aesthetic, to give the sense that you’re playing inside a rich, lush landscape painting.

Our first choice was Paul Scott Canavan. He’s an exceptionally talented illustrator and art director. Oh, and he's Scottish.

Just take a look at some of the gorgeous work from his website:

So, we dropped him an email. Just a few minutes later, and we had an enthusiastic yes! He loved the concept and was really eager to work with us to make it a reality.

Paul isn't just a brilliant illustrator; he's been doing a great job of deconstructing the game's art style, breaking it down so that we can work together to build it back up in-game out of the fundamental pieces.

By the way, the key art at the top of this page is his - and it’s the overall look we’re aiming for on this project. We can't wait to show more of what we've been working on together!

Character Concepting - Part 1

We started designing the look of our protagonist back in the summer of 2019, while working on Pendragon.

Here are some of Annie's lovely early sketches:

For a long time, we had settled with the following design. In fact, we've had her in-game for a while, with some early prototype animations:

We've been doing some new work on the character design since then. Watch this space for Part 2!

Update: Part 2 is now here

The story so far

Welcome to this brand new little update blog for our as yet untitled game that's set in the Scottish Highlands. (Okay, we have a proper name for it, we're just not ready to say what it is yet!)

First, let's get up to speed. What kind of game is it that we're making?

In some ways it's very similar to our previous games - it's about travel, it's replayable, and has a strong branching narrative.

In other ways, it's very different. This game has a side-on perspective and has 2d platforming elements, which is very much uncharted territory for us!

Something else that's very different: we're planning to be more open with the development process than we ever have in the past. We're going to try and post regular updates. So please hold us to account if we haven't posted in a while!

That's it for now! Watch this space for more...

The Pendragon Tales!

Two weeks ago, we announced a writing competition for our upcoming narrative strategy game, Pendragon. As you gather the knights of the Round Table to cross England, they will sit beside the campfire and tell stories.

We opened a call for submissions of tales - courtly romances, ghost stories, adventures. We hoped we'd get some good ones - and we received over four hundred, amazing tales.

We've read them all. Several of them we've read twice. And now we're very happy to announce our selection - 23 tales from 23 writers (plus a couple by us). Some are professional game writers for Fallen London, Choice Of Games, Zombies, Run! and Over the Alps; one was a writer on Deus Ex; some have written independent games before; some are journalists; and for some this is their first writing sale.

We have an engineer, an archaeologist, a biochemist, a theatrical set-dresser and a theatre director. The oldest writer is sixty-two, the youngest is seventeen. One story is by a group of professional storytellers, Troubadour Tales, who regularly perform at heritage sites in the UK.

We have contributions from all around the world: Israel, Romania and Argentina, as well as Canada, the US and the UK. One submission was written by a non-English speaker using translation software.

Each on the list wasn't just good, but excellent. Each left us with more than we started with. Some are genuinely startling. Some are scary, some silly, and some are more profound than you might expect. We loved them all (and ended up with more than twice we intended.)

The Stories!

Here's the full list:

  • Death and the King, by Adrian Bourceanu
  • Avethorpe Grove, by Robin Todd
  • The Bramble, by Carl Muckenhoupt
  • Bitter Fruit, by Chris Kerr
  • The Shoemaker and the Thief, by Callico Harrison
  • Woe, by Christopher Pitt
  • The Town by the Lake, by Emma Kate Campbell
  • Three Jealous Daughters, by Enkei, Owner-of-all-Hearts
  • Playing The Maiden Fair, by Florence Smith Nicholls
  • To Be A Dragon, by George Lockett
  • Rust in Peace, by Harry Tuffs
  • The Dame Ragnelle, by ila
  • The Merchant's Tale, by Jasmine Osler
  • Sir Baudwin and the Chalice, by David E. Sky
  • Wilfred and the Serpent, by Mary Goodden
  • The King's Advisor, by Maya Hecht and Udi Becker
  • The Man Who Couldn't Fart, by Michael Kelly
  • The Faerie King's Bride, by OD Jones
  • The Parchment, by Peter Dudasko
  • The Spear Rhongomiant, by Rebecca Zahabi
  • About Names, by Rodrigo Agosta
  • Bethan and Sir Thew, by Samuel Partridge
  • The Waymaker's Grave, by Shelly Jones
  • The Knight of Pies, by Thomas Martin
  • The Lost Soul, by Troubadour Tales

A dying king cheats Death, and yet Death wins. A knight defends his name well beyond the bitter end. A tale of a bloodthirsty hound goes wrong. A giant's plan to save his soul is befouled.

There are tales of ghosts, fairies and shaggy dogs, mixed with cautionary tales, Celtic and Arthurian retellings, and a song.

When you play Pendragon, the stories you encounter will depend on who's in your party to do the telling, and other things - where have they camped? How is the journey faring? A cheerful tale might follow a victory; a sad tale might follow a defeat.

Some will no doubt be harder to find than others... but we can't wait for you to discover them all, when Pendragon launches later this year.

inklewriter lives again!

We're hugely delighted to announce that inklewriter, our free, write-as-you-go tool for sketching interactive fiction, is BACK - stable, free to use, and now open-source!

Read the interactive press release!

(For existing users: this is a new version with a new database. You'll need a new account; and you'll need to import any story data from the previous version manually. Details on how to do that are below.)

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So what's new?

After over a year in shutdown mode, inklewriter has been given a new lease of life by an amazing team of open-source developers. Inklewriter is now stable on modern browsers - and it's also open-source, and of course, still free to use.

(Note, if you're interested in ink, our scripting language for IF, please check here!)

The new version is at inklewriter.com, and this is now the main branch of inklewriter. (But we'll keep the old version around for a while, to ensure you have time to copy across your story data.)

What is inklewriter?

Inklewriter is a write-as-you-play tool for creating and sharing branching stories. It aims to provide a way for anyone to start writing an interactive story, with no set-up and no barrier to getting started.

It's not as powerful as ink, our scripting language for game development - but it's fast to use, unfussy, and intuitively laid out.

It's been used by writers, game developers, schools and universities since its launch in 2012.

So what's happening?

inklewriter began as a free web project when inkle was first founded. But with web-technology always changing, it became impossible for us to maintain it.

Enter the open-source community, who have produced a full port of inklewriter to modern web-tech.

This means inklewriter is now fully stable once more, and better yet, it's going to be maintained in the foreseeable future.

The new version is available now. If you've never tried inklewriter before, you can start now. Otherwise, read on...

I had an account. What happens to my stories?

The new version of inklewriter will start afresh. That means you'll need to make a new account to start writing.

Old stories will have to be imported out of the old database and into the new one, but the process should be fast and easy. You can start importing now:

  • Head to the legacy version of inklewriter (which we'll be keeping around for the time being)
  • Log in, open the story you want to import, and click the share button.
  • Type ".json" onto the end of the URL that it gives you, paste it into the address bar and press enter to get your data.
  • Example: http://oldinklewriter.inklestudios.com/stories/musgraveritual.json
  • Open in another tab the new version of inklewriter at inklewriter.com.
  • You'll need to first register a new account on the new version to import your story
  • Once logged in, click on the import link.
  • Copy the JSON data from your story, and paste it into the text area of the import box, and click Import.
  • Next click on the "open" link: your story should be here, ready to open.

We imported our Sherlock Holmes example, "The Musgrave Ritual"... and it took about ten seconds.

I've found a bug. Where can I get help?

The project is hosted on GitHub here. You can report issues - and collaborate on future development - there.

Logins and privacy

Logins to inklewriter are email addresses; these are stored in a secure database, and are never viwed / shared / sold.

If you require a higher level of privacy, however, as inklewriter is now open-source you'll be able to host your own inklewriter service, if you wish.

That said, please do not use a high-value password for your inklewriter account. Security on the internet can never be fully guaranteed.

Thank you!

We're really excited for this; inklewriter was an early experiment for us in making responsive interactive fiction accessible to anyone, without the need to be confusing.

We've frequently used inklewriter ourselves for quick prototypes and sketches, and we're over the moon that it's getting a new lease of life in the open source community.

Credits

We're enormously grateful to the team behind the project:

  • Maxence, entrepreneur and Ruby dev.

  • Alban, free software activist and linux aficionado.

... and you can contact them directly.

Happy inklewriting!

Announcing... ink Jam!

Interested in ink? Been meaning to have a go at learning it, but never had the motivation? Or are you a skilled inkist, looking to show off your skills?

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Either way, if you want a chance to take ink for a spin, we've got a great opportunity coming up. In collaboration with The Pixel Hunt, the studio behind the multi-award-winning Bury Me, My Love, we're launching ink Jam - a 3 day game jam for games made in ink.

About ink

ink is a scripting language for interactive fiction that's designed to be used by humans. Using a simple but powerful mark-up based approach, it's easy to create a branching flow that responds and shifts based on everything the player chooses. It's quick to test, redraft and restructure. But ink is also powerful, with significant features that allow for complex state-tracking world-modelling. It comes with an IDE, javascript output, and Unity integration.

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It's totally free, and being used by studios all over the world to create all kinds of interactive experiences, from a news-game about Uber drivers created by British newspaper the Financial Times, an E3 favourite (https://www.neocabgame.com/) and an IGF finalist (http://wherethewatertasteslikewine.com/), through to a sailing qualitification course, Air New Zealand's chatbot, a game entirely written in emoji, a procedural ASCII dungeon crawler, and a celebrated globe-trotting adventure to name but a few.

How to get involved

The jam is being hosted on itch.io over the weekend of August 31st to September 3rd. Entries can be submitted via the itch jam page, and we'll be judging the results for creativity and technical wizardy.

Once the jam starts we'll be announcing a theme to help get your ideas going. Until then, if you need any inspiration, check out one of the many games written and released using ink, or visit our Patreon tips page for some of the stranger and more powerful things ink can do!

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Happy New Year!

Welcome to the first post of 2018, which is going to be a huge year for us. The reason is, of course, this:

The summit is in sight...

Heaven's Vault has now been in development for over two years; and when it comes out it will be squarely three. That's as long as it took to make the entire Sorcery! series (if you take out the year we spent on 80 Days.) The result? We're thrilled - and terrified - to be nearing the end.

It's too soon to preview or dissect the game, but when we compare what we have to what we hoped we'd have, we're pretty excited. The game is an original story; with lots of incredible interactive dialogue; with interesting and rich characters; and it is beautiful.

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It's that beauty that's taken so long to capture: Heaven's Vault is our first truly 3D game, and we've had to find our way around designing, creating, and lighting the varied moons of the Nebula. There are farming villages, rocky deserts, forests, ruined castles, forgotten mines, market-places and cold palaces.

To help us bring all this to life we hired two ex-Guerilla artists last year, Laura Dilloway and Piran Tremithick, who are our lead environment and lead technical artists respectively. Between them they've defined everything from the way the clouds move, to the edges of the stones underfoot and the grain on every piece of wood...

... now we must climb!

All that's left now is the climb, and it's going to be long. There's a lot of world still to realise, and to help us with that we've started the new year with a new hire - the excellent Sarah Hefford, a level designer turned artist with a flair for texturing, props and colour.

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Sarah's an experienced game artist who's worked on several triple-A titles: mostly recent Killzone: Mercenary and RIGS, both of which were developed at Guerilla's now-defunct Cambridge studio; so she's been diving straight in and getting assets straight into the game.

She also marks the point where the art department officially outnumber the rest of us, five to three.

The most recent steps...

Our most recent target has been aimed at getting "coverage" - the game can now more or less be played from beginning to end, in very rough form. It means we can see how the story all hangs together and if we need to make changes, we still can - but it also means it's not ready to be shown.

Still: there are a few screenshots out there on the Heaven's Vault page, and we'll be releasing more soon (we promise!) alongside news about our launch platforms.

... it's going to be quite a view!

That's where Heaven's Vault stands right now. We hope you're excited for the game, and are looking forward to seeing what an inkle adventure game can be. We're hoping Heaven's Vault will do for Broken Sword what Sorcery! did for, well, Sorcery!

To stay up-to-date, do follow us on Twitter, subscribe on YouTube for our latest trailers and to our dev-blog if you're more technically-minded. You can also hear our very own Joseph Humfrey discussing inkle's design and storytelling philosophy on the Art & Craft podcast.

Welcome to Heaven's Vault!

Last weekend was the return of Adventure X, London's indie adventure game festival, which has been going from strength to strength over the last five years.

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While there, we checked out a lot of great games (including two ink titles, the excellent iPhone game Bury Me, My Love and gorgeous Kickstarter-in-progress Du Lac and Fey) - and we presented a talk detailing the journey so far of Heaven's Vault from concept to design.

The archaeology of an archaeological game

That talk is now up on YouTube so you can see it for yourself - no spoilers, some screenshots, and a lot of detail behind our thinking. What's good about adventure games? Why aren't archaeology stories ever about archaeology? Does The Last Express have any flaws? Why don't English people wear swords? When's the darned game going to ship?

Find out the answers to all that and more right here, and let us know what you think in the comments.

inklewriter update

We announced on Twitter recently that inklewriter is now entering a status of "permanent beta". We wanted to clarify here what that means for users, and for the stories you've made using the system.

A little history

Inklewriter was one of our first releases - a neat idea for a simple-to-use, web-based drafting environment for choice-based stories. Our original intention was to use it to run an annual competition for stories from new writers (which we did, with our Future Voices app, but we never ran a follow-up).

Since going live, we've had hundreds of thousands of stories created by hundreds of thousands of users; we've won awards from school and library associations; and hopefully we've helped kickstart a few interactive writers careers. We've used inklewriter internally for sketching out plotlines and prototypes, and for obtaining writing samples from potential new writers (including 80 Days' Meg Jayanth). It was used by bestselling author Kelly Armstrong to write content for the Cainsville Files app we made with Penguin, and by Stoic Studios for the in-game dialogues in the Banner Saga games.

So what's happening?

Inklewriter is mostly stable, but has never been entirely stable - and with browers changing all the time, it's real work to fix the issues that arise. Inklewriter is, and always has been, entirely free, and with our games getting ever bigger and more ambitious, we simply don't have the time to investigate and resolve inklewriter issues.

Unofficially, we've moved away from developing inklewriter for a long time. Our decision to publically shelve it has been prompted by an increasing frequency of persistent bug-reports: in particular two large, known issues that we will not be fixing.

The known issues

The first issue is that shared stories can no longer be read over unsecured connections: that means that "https" links work, but "http" links don't. In practice that also means you can't read stories unless you're logged into inklewriter, so stories can no longer be easily shared.

The second issue we've seen is writers losing stories due to save errors. This seems to be due to drops in the network connection, possibly when too many connections come in from the same source (such as a school classroom). The issue is unpredictable, and we don't know of any work-arounds that ensure work is never lost. Obviously, if this happens to you, it's pretty bad.

The server is staying online, for now

Inklewriter will remain online for the next year. You'll still be able to make accounts, write stories, and read them. However, as browser requirements change, some features might disappear or break, under strange conditions, with very little notice. So you should probably think twice before creating anything permanent using inklewriter.

Does this affect ink and inky?

No. Ink is a completely different technology stack - it's something we've used on every project we've made, and we still use it every day. In fact, part of moving away from inklewriter is to encourage people to shift over to ink: it's more powerful, more useful, and it's stable and going to be supported for some time to come.

Can I rescue my story?

Yes. If you visit the share link of your story, you can use your browser's "Save Page As" (in the File menu) to save off a copy of the playable web page - with all the story data included. That page is entirely standalone, and so will be playable by anyone (avoiding the https issue mentioned above) - and it'll continue to be playable even if inklewriter does eventually go offline. You can also easily edit and alter the layout and presentation of the page, if you know your way around HTML and CSS.

Can I rescue my data?

Yes. You can capture the raw .json file that stores your story, but to use it elsewhere you'll need to write code to parse and run it. (The format is pretty straight-forward, however.)

Any other questions?

If you've got a question about this, please drop us a line via the comments below, and we'll do our best to get back to you.

Finally, apologies if this is disappointing to you! Speaking personally, we love the inklewriter flow and wish we could keep it spritely and alive.

80 Days at the British Library

One of the most exciting connections we've made since the release of 80 Days is with the British Library in London, who - despite being busy archiving every published book in the UK ever - have found the time to run the occasional workshop exploring interactive fiction.

The most recent event for us was Off the Page; a day of talks on the subject. As part of that, Meg Jayanth and I sat down to chat about our experiences writing the game. The conversation wheels around, from mechanical camels to hidden secrets, to diversity and avoiding misplaced nostalgia - much as the game does.

They've also just finished a week long course for writers, which hopefully will be repeated.

And on into the future...

We've even had a few serious discussions on how to archive 80 Days for posterity. The British Library already routinely archives all published books, but archiving digital material - especially for transient, ever-changing platforms like the iPad - is particularly difficult.

It's unlikely any version of the game locked in a cupboard now will work in 300 years time. But - and we've been asked this - would a researcher be able to rebuild the game from its script and data files?