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There's a point towards the end of a project when it feels like it will never end: when the bug list is three pages long, but every time you fix one, you find two more. There are times when it seems like every line of logic, every piece of art, every element of timing, is capable of going awry if you play the game in just the right wrong way.
And then suddenly, without any fanfare, everything drops into place. When you step back and realise, it's finished. There's always scope for a final snip here and there, of course, but the running is over. Panicking over having too little time transforms into the fear of having too much - there must be something to do, but what is it?
The final pieces!
80 Days has hit that point. It works. All the features we talked about when laying out the concepts last year are in - even those like the real-time clock or the peer-to-peer sharing of routes in progress that we took out halfway through development because we didn't think they'd be possible. The last cog has gone in, and suddenly, the mechanism turns.
It's a moment when testing becomes playing. When instead of teleporting to the bit you need to test, you let the sun slowly rise over the Sacré-Cœur in Paris, listening to the bells chiming in the distance, considering your options.
Pulling back, you browse the globe watching other players - beta-testers, and your own past selves - as they race from train to steamer, bribe their way into a Bozek car, or sink in their damaged submersible to the bottom of the Indian Ocean...
The world, turns out, is big
80 Days was intended to be a side-project; something we did while also working on Sorcery! 3. That didn't happen - this game grew and grew until it encompassed first every working hour, and then every waking one.
Simple ideas - go anywhere, discover routes from the people you meet, buy and sell as you travel to keep yourself funded - turned out to have a hundred interconnections and special cases.
What if you run out of funds in the jungle and can't afford to hire an elephant onwards? What if you fall desperately ill in a town with no hotels and no doctors? What if you jump off the Trans-Siberian Express, head down into Afghanistan by train, catch the hydrofoil to Astrakhan, the train back to Moscow and re-board the Trans-Siberian to the west of where you get on, what then..?
Sorcery! 2 was our biggest game, four or five times larger than the first Sorcery! part, and hundreds of times more complex in its branching and interlocking paths. 80 Days is a quantum leap in complexity again. It is almost certainly the most intricate branching narrative ever made: even more so, because those branches don't only arise from what choices you make, but also from when you choose to make them.
And then there was the balancing. There are a hundred and fifty cities connected by well over four hundred journeys in and out; each with its own costs, risks and timings. There are over two hundred items you can buy and sell in different markets around the world. But the target - eighty days - is set in stone.
Too hard, and the game would be gruelling. Too easy, and the game won't present the challenge that'll make you replay. How do you even begin to balance a game with over half a million words of content, in which no two beta-testers have yet ever taken the same path?
Luckily, Verne helped us out with that one. When our lead writer, Meg Jayanth, started building the world she plotted out the route that Phileas Fogg and valet Passepartout take in the original novel. The adventures along the way are different, spinning out from the original material in unusual and interesting ways - but the timing we kept roughly the same. That was a journey that we knew would take 80 days. Then we just had to make sure all the others balanced against that central spine.
We've played the game pretty hard now. My personal best is 65 days, we've seen a 49 out there in the wild, as well as a few 90 and 100 day play-throughs. What's the quickest time possible, though? We have no idea. Maybe you'll find out for us.
Launching this month!
So when does the game set sail? Right now, we're holding our breath for Apple to review the game. Once that's done, we'll be able to announce our launch date, later this month. If you join our mailing list we'll email you the day its out (and not before, and not after unless we do a major update.)
We've been working hard to get 80 Days ready for release, doing the final polish to the art, fixing all the little bugs in the interface, entirely rewriting a few major game systems that we're realised could be a bit better and adding even more cool extra routes, side-alleys, characters and secrets into the text...
...but along the way, we found the time - and the courage! - to send a preview off to some of our favourite reviewers and websites. We've been biting our nails to see what they think but first posts have now gone live.
In our last blog-post we posted a video, demonstrating 80 Days. If you watched it, you'll know that we've dropped in one little feature which we think will make the game into something truly special.
The game is a race around the world, and to ensure it feels like a race we've added a multiplayer twist.
We've written a bit about 80 Days on this blog, but sometimes it's hard to really explain what something is, and it's easier just to show it. So here it is in action!
This guest post is by Meg Jayanth, author of the script for 80 Days.
Verne was one of the pioneers of science-fiction: his novels mixed wild invention with careful, plausible explanations. His stories imagined the future - but to the modern reader, his visions can be marred by the prejudices and assumptions of the past.
We wanted to take Verne's sense of exhilaration and optimism about the future, and expand upon his perspective. We wanted to build a world that isn't comfortably settled into Victorian values, but is as slippery, changing, and as challenging to a contemporary reader as Verne's works were to his own.
Steampunk is often written as a modern fantasy of an imagined past. We wanted to create something a bit different: a historical fantasy of an imagined future. We call our style Victorian Futurism.
80 Days is steampunk whose heart doesn't pump (only) Thames-water: a world shaped by indigenous retrofuturisms in Africa and Asia and the Americas, which resist and disrupt the conventional narrative of history.
We wanted to write steampunk where the automaton armies of the Zulu Federation turn away the depredations of European colonists scrambling for Africa - where the technology that built the British Raj is being used to dismantle its foundations - where the Panama Canal is dug using Haitian ingenuity, tipping the balance of power away from the United States - and where the stories usually told in the margins spill over into the text, and half of them belong to unexceptional women.
We think all this will make our game better, richer, funnier, wilder. We tried to write steampunk which addresses race and class and empire, that goes beyond bustled-and-corseted nostalgia. To build a hungry, radical, fantastical world. Writing historically shouldn't be an excuse to fetishise outmoded ideas, but to invent better ones.
The year is 1872.
Welcome to the future.
Only eighty days, now that the section between Rothal and Allahabad, on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, has been opened...
At the start of Around the World in Eighty Days, a newspaper report about the completion of a new railway line is the trigger that sends Phileas Fogg on his race to circumnavigate the globe.
And at the time that Verne was writing, there was only one way the trip could be made in such a short time: through the newly-opened Suez Canal, across the heart of India, and then across America by railway.
But for our version of 80 Days, we wanted the player to be able to go anywhere, visit any city on the globe, and build their own route. Which meant we couldn't set the game in 1872. Or at least, not the 1872 that Verne knew.
So instead, we've created an 1872 Verne might have dreamed of...
Trains, Balloons... Airships, Hydrofoils... Gyrocopters, Steam-cars...
Perhaps you will begin your journey on the newly-built Orient Express, travelling in style from Paris to Istanbul. From there, you could change to a Roziere hot-air balloon for the three-day journey to Beirut, where steam-ships travel to Alexandria, airships ply routes into Mesopotamia, and an ingenious steam-car powered by the heat of the sun runs the old road to Baghdad through the ruins of an ancient Sumerian city...
Or perhaps you'd rather travel north, taking the hydrofoil from Amsterdam to the city of Kristiania - now Oslo - before heading into Russia, where the Trans-Siberian Express crosses the Steppes at super-high speed, powered by magnetic induction?
Or why not travel down through Africa, swapping Ottoman Gheyik airships for the mighty copper-and-tin balloons which can cross the Indian Ocean in a few days...?
There are hundreds of ways to travel, and hundreds of thousands of ways around our world.
Will you make it back to London in time? Care to bet?
Two weeks ago we posted an annoucement of our next game, 80 Days, where we described it as "part interactive fiction, part globe-based board-game". (We also said it was a real-time, location-based game, but that was nonsense.)
So what does exactly do we mean?
An adventure begins
inkle exists to experiment with ways to create rich, immersive stories which place the player right in the action, whatever and wherever it may be: where every movement, every line of dialogue and every choice are made by you, and remembered for the rest of the game.
Now, in 80 Days, we want to blend those two approaches and in Verne's classic tale of gentlemanly adventure we've found the perfect inspiration. 80 Days will take you on an adventure around the entire world, starting on Tuesday 1st October, 1872 and ending - if you play your cards right - eighty days later.
But unlike in Verne's novel, where you go on this journey is up to you.
An entire globe of content
At time of writing we're up to nearly two hundred different cities to visit and explore, covering Europe, Russia, India, Africa, South America, the Pacific Islands... and the network of journeys between them is a crazed spiders'-web of steam-boats, balloons, trains, yachts, camel-trains, elephants, carts and carriages...
And every day of every journey forms part of the story, with risks to take, people to meet, situations to overcome - and consequences, both good and bad. Crossing the date-line will be the least of your troubles!
It's all been meticulously researched: our author, Meg Jayanth, has a folder with hundreds of web-links, images, documents and transcripts. From first-hand accounts of the Trans-Siberian express to the religions of the Ottoman Empire via the slave-trade and the colonial opium trade, we want our journey to be authentic - more so even perhaps than Verne's original work.
One more last thing
With all that said, there's one thing we haven't yet told you about the world of 80 Days. We'll be revealing more soon, but for now -- the clues are all here...
In January we posted this teaser:
Now it's time to reveal our hand.
It's finally here! You can now start your adventure in search of the Crown of Kings in the acclaimed first part of Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, available for Android devices and Kindle Fire.
Find out more on the main Sorcery! page, or get started straight away!
An epic adventure
Sorcery! is an epic adventure in four parts - a journey where every decision is yours to make, and every danger is yours to face. Along with a simple but compelling combat system and a gamut of weird and wonderful spells to cast, the game features thousands of choices - and every one you make is remembered. Will you be kind and honourable, or cruel and selfish? Will you starve, or feast? Will you uncover the secrets of The Shamutanti Hills?
Adapted from the million-selling series by Steve Jackson, part of the Fighting Fantasy series co-created with Ian Livingstone, Sorcery! is an interactive story the like of which could never have existed on paper. Using inklewriter technology the story rewrites itself in real-time around your actions, so every play-through is different.
Part 2 of the adventure has already been released for Apple devices and will be out on Android within a few months, and we're aiming to release the last two parts of the story simultaneously on both platforms later in the year.
The dream of building games simultaneously for iOS and Android always seemed like a goal just outside of our reach. Unfortunately, writing code for Android requires learning an entirely different set of tools than for iOS, and with a core team of just two, we wanted to play to our strengths. All our apps so far have been built in native iOS code.
Therefore, the decision to port Sorcery! to Android was a question of who? and how?