Old(ish) Projects: Descent into Wonderland

Dealing with some wannabe gangers.

I feel like the king of half-finished projects: an epic poem (which I’ve written about before), a tabletop roleplaying game system, the notion to write a book of poetry, half-finished (and very old) fantasy novels, the burgeoning idea for a graphic novel recently, the list goes on. Having watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 recently, I think my mind has slid back towards science fiction again, and a very specific old project of mine that has nothing to do with cosmic superheroes: my mod (short for module) for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Shadowrun has been around since the 80’s, building on the idea of a cybernetic dystopian future with the twist that magic is real, and the reawakening of magic causes dormant genes to suddenly manifest in various humans, transforming them into elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, etc. Basically, it’s Dungeons and Dragons meets Johnny Mnemonic (okay, okay, The Matrix, that’s a more well-known comparison), high fantasy mashed into cyberpunk with touches of horror splashed in. It’s gimmicky, but it’s also pretty damn cool. Aside from tabletop roleplaying, there was an old console version of the game for the… Super NES? I could look it up, but I feel too lazy right now.

Much more recently, there has been a series of computer games starting with Shadowrun Returns, and proceeding to Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The games come with a built-in toolset that allows you to modify the game, create your own content, and even effectively create your own version of the game (if you’ve heard of Skyrim mods, it’s the same sort of customization but for Shadowrun: Hong Kong instead). The games have a top-down, tactical control system in combat that is very much like XCOM if you’re familiar with those sorts of games. Unlike XCOM, instead of building a base between missions, you have character interactions, dialogue, world exploration, the whole RPG (roleplaying game) package.

So! The point is, I have been crafting a mod for SR:HK (Shadowrun: Hong Kong). I’ve taken a couple of runs at it so far, but I have been working alone and I seem to lose interest after a few months and burn out on the project. I came back to it once already, then set it down again for a while. Now I’m starting to feel the urge to fire it back up again and start working on it some more. It’s still a long, long way from being done (my estimate on how complete it is ranges from about 2% to 5%, it’s meant to be an entire stand-alone campaign, not just an add-on to the base game), and I probably need help from other people if I plan on getting it done before, say, 10 years roll by. This leads me to conundrums: do I release a horribly-incomplete, buggy mess to the public at large and ask for help in troubleshooting and feedback? Do I keep it safe and secret for an untold time while I try to get it closer to a playable game (not even a polished game, just a playable one)? I don’t know what the right answer is.

Aside from having to learn tiny amounts of programming and using the toolset (which is daunting), the thing that’s bogging me down right now is the tremendous amount of dialogue I have to write. To give the player any feeling of autonomy and choice, there must be multiple options in dialogue, different choices to be made in what to say and how you say it. Think of it like an iceberg: if you did a complete playthrough of the game once, you might encounter, say, 10% to 30% of all of the possible dialogue that exists in the game. So, if one playthrough of the game takes 20,000 words of plot exposition and dialogue (just throwing out a number, not based on anything really), multiply that by 3.5 to 10 times and that’s how much more writing is lurking down all the paths the player didn’t choose in that playthrough. On top of that, it’s not like writing that many words for a novel, it’s a herky-jerky writing method where you keep doubling back to different dialogue trees and putting yourself into a new frame of mind based on different choices.

It’s a labor of love, because you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

I should have started with teasing the plot, shouldn’t I? The name of the mod is “Descent into Wonderland,” and it has a lot of neat themes running through it. I think I described it as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Dredd” meets “Tron” meets “Die Hard,” but don’t worry, I will explain what I mean if that didn’t make any sense. So, first off, there is a strong element of “Alice in Wonderland” inspiration in this mod, but it’s not a retelling of the story by any stretch. More like… elements have been borrowed, and the characters in the game are aware of the references they’re making. Without giving too much away, you end up getting trapped in a skyscraper, and have to fight and think your way out (the “Die Hard” and “Dredd” elements come in). You are a hacker for this game, and sometimes you have to go into the Matrix and either beat up defense programs or solve puzzles (the “Tron” element).

That's a lot of blocker IC, chummer.

On top of all that, you end up dealing with a sort of “retirement community” of old shadowrunners (mercenaries and hackers who work outside the law, sometimes for the highest bidder, other times they have moral causes) who come with outrageous personalities and problems in many cases. I could tell you even more, but I’m probably running past a reasonable word count now. Suffice to say, I am enthusiastic about my project, and I hope I can stick with it this time around. Life may take me in other directions soon, so there’s no telling what might happen. I’d like to think the 450 or so hours I’ve put into this project so far weren’t wasted time, but who knows?

No poem for this entry.

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