The Endless Wars: The Descent

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Commence the Interactive Story Phone App ... NOW!

I talked before about making an interactive story app for Windows Phone. Well, now it's happening.

I finally dove headlong into educating myself more on C# yesterday, and emerged with a functional proof-of-concept. I built a very basic app that allowed me, in my Windows Phone Emulator, to tap a button that took me to another page, both of which had custom content on them.

From there, I did a few more hours of self-education and testing, just to see if I had the right feel for the actual building process, as well as to refine it, and then it was time to start thinking about the story itself, and how best to use the interactive process to tell it.

After that, I had to step outside for a smoke and think for a bit ... I've written novels, screenplays, short stories, poems, essays, love letters, lyrics, and I even dabbled a bit with interactive fiction back in college, in a class that combined .html with interactive fiction. Great class (tip o' the hat to Deb Lewis, who taught the course.)

One of the ideas I had in my head was my favorite part of any Bioware game, which is the dialogue and choices. Both branch, but only a little.

The thing about a branching story, though, is that the author has to reconcile each of those branches.

What I've usually seen done is a very cheesedick approach, in which the branches all reconcile to one or two main stories, or some just result in death (which, actually, if logically implemented, is valid), and ultimately, it's just unsatisfying.

However, the amount of writing it takes for a branching story is a staggering prospect. Just do the math.

And, I haven't even talked about the creative problems with it. Any good novelist can tell you that they have a 'feel' for the best possible thread through their story. Deviations from that thread feel wrong. Now, give the reader control, while remembering that Jersey Shore, Fox News, and Dancing With the Stars all pull down great ratings. There are a lot of stupid fucking people out there, and it's hard to even conceive of writing for them. Writing scripts for the previously mentioned programs has gotta be hell for the soul (and yes, they're scripted. Just look at how well things come together and how there's always a camera where there needs to be one.)

So, I think I'm going to have a 'right' main story that one can follow loosely, with groupings of events, in which that group of events can be completed in any order, with each one slightly varied by the order in which you approach them.

What I really want to do, though, is create a very twisted environment to which the reader will want to return and in which the reader will want to explore. I want to make a lot of dialogues and exploration optional, so that people can customize the experience for themselves. I want to create characters that readers will want to come back and get to know better, not just in this volume, but in future stories that take place in this small, weird, little Missouri town, known as Epitaph.

One of the last things that I did last night was use Visio to create a map of the town, so that I could start creating the lore of the town in my head, and it was the perfect idea, because I realize, as I was laying out the town, that there's a small area of the town in which the roads just stop, and in which no one lives. It used to be there, and now it's not. Also, there seems to be a trail of sorts, in which other roads are damaged, and it seems to lead to the woods just beyond the town ...

I've also got a story that's a combination of familiar folk tales and a friend's bitch of an ex-wife. It's going to be great.

The big thing I'm going for here, though, is environment and characters. Typically, plot and characters always come first for me, but I really wanted to use this as a chance to really build 'storytelling via the environment,' by which I can let the world and the look it looks, smells, and feels tell a lot of the story for me.

Also, as a means of keeping all the branches organized, I'll be using a Visio for that, as well, since it's one of the greatest applications ever for damn near everything.

Lastly, I wanted to gush a bit about how easy building a Windows Phone 7 App via Visual Studio 2010 is. I am, by no means, the world's most proficient programmer, by any stretch of the imagination, but the tools that Microsoft provides for developing WP7 apps are fantastic, as are the tutorials they provide. If you've never programmed before, this is a great entry point. I've got a year of C, a year of Java, and some Python and C# here and there, and I walked into this and just built an app after a few hours of tutorials and playing with it. I didn't even start at the baby levels of tutorials, either. Those really are built for folks that have NEVER programmed, so get on it! Get a Windows Phone and start making that app that you've always wished existed.

Ultimately, I'm trying to reshape the way stories are told in the modern world. No one's really doing it right anymore, and I'd like to take a shot at it.

What do you think? How would you like to see stories told now? Who does it really well? Who sucks at it the most?


Chickenfoot - Future is the Past
Chris Shiflett & The Dead Peasants - Death March
Gregg Allman - Reconsider Baby
Serj Tankian - Beethoven's Cunt (live)
Eddie Vedder - Once in a While
Them Crooked Vultures - New Fang
Eddie Vedder - Sleeping By Myself
Them Crooked Vultures - Bandoliers


  1. I'd be interested in something like this. This year I'm on pace to get 15+ books under my belt, although Dance with Dragons is taking up a large chunk of my time. I'm reading that book at the pace of an old man paddling in a canoe through an ancient swamp.. veeerrrryyyy slooowwww, Deliberately of course... G.Mar's writing is the kind of thing that you just want to wrap yourself in and lay with it for a long time..

    I like the environment approach. Some of my favorite writers let the world create and hold the story and it only makes sense as I know 0 people that have escaped being shaped by the places they lived in. A good description of a town or street can be as exciting as a conversation.

    Obviously it depends on your style of writing but I would have many outlines going for an endeavor like this.. It's kind of epic really...
    I don't have a windows phone but if you ever feel like porting something over to the android market place......?????

  2. @Zuma Fire - Sorry for the slow response. Having a jobby job is a blessing, but it takes a lot of my time. I bought and downloaded Dance With Dragons to my Nook Color, but I'm still slogging through the third book. I guess GRRM didn't get the memo about how everything is supposed to be 'bite-sized' and retarded now. The man is one of the best living writers, fo realz. Environment is a slippery slope. Like I said, it's a great way to let the story tell itself, but too much of it can induce Anne Rice levels of tedium, and stop the story dead in its tracks. Outlines are SOOO 20th Century. Visio FTW. I am considering porting the story/game to Android at some point, but they really don't make it easy. Visual Studio has a real clean, GUI-friendly interface, whereas Java IDEs like Eclipse and Netbeans are racing to catch up (of course, they're free, while Visual Studio Ultimate is several thousand dollars).

    Thanks for the comment!