Murmurs from the Lands of Dream

So, The Book of Living Magic is out, and it looks like people are liking it. Some of them are even liking it a lot. You have no idea how relieved I am.

You see, I was rather worried. As I may have mentioned before, when it comes to my work I tend to alternate between supreme arrogance and abject terror. Usually I feel that while I have a great many failings and still a lot of learning to do, I am a good writer, and when it comes to telling stories I do know what I’m doing. And I feel that it’s kind of necessary to believe that – you have to believe that you are the right person to tell this story, or you won’t be able to do it. Art requires confidence.

But with my short stories being rejected by every magazine in the known universe and The Book of Living Magic struggling so much to find a sponsor, I was starting to lose faith. Not precisely in the quality of the work – I wouldn’t be creating these things if I didn’t like them – but certainly in whether there’s anyone out there besides me who would enjoy it. I was starting to doubt whether there was still any space out there for a game like this.

Anna Anthropy has a motto which I think is the wisest thing anyone has ever said about video games: we must make the games we wish to play in the world. My two Lands of Dream games, along with Phenomenon 32, are probably the most pure expressions of that idea that I’ve managed to achieve. I love every single thing about The Book of Living Magic and The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge. I regularly go back and wander about the House at Desert Bridge just for the sake of being there, and I suspect I’ll often return to Oddness Standing as well.

I suppose you could say that these games are also the closest to how I want them to be. Apart from some very minor issues, they’re exactly how they should be. I don’t want the graphics to be smoother, or the scenes to be animated, or anything like that. I love them the way they are. I want games like these to exist in the world. If someone else made games like these, I would love to play them. That’s not to say that I want all games to be like them – you should hear me gushing about the beautiful 3D landscapes of Two Worlds II. I love all sorts of things. But games like The Book of Living Magic are games I’ve always wanted to play. That’s why I make them.

Seeing comments around the web has reminded me that there really is an audience for such games, that people can experience the same sense of joy as I do when I play them. Or even when I make them – as much as game development is often a chore, when I’m in the middle of creating a Lands of Dream game I tend to get so giddy I can barely sit down. It’s good to know that others share these feelings.

There’s also a potential financial question involved, of course (sigh – isn’t there always?). I want to keep making games like these, but if sponsors are so unwilling to take them (Jay is Games went out of its way to make this possible), the only way I can make a living is to sell them directly to players. For that to work, there need to be players interested in this kind of game. Not millions, I don’t expect my narrative-heavy games to sell like Terraria or Minecraft or VVVVVV, but enough to allow me to keep telling stories. The fact that such players seem to exist is a good sign.

Making a full-on commercial game would also allow me to fix the one problem a lot of people mentioned having with The Book of Living Magic: it’s too short. Making games in Flash forces some very harsh limits on you, and while in this case I chose a story I felt would fit into 9MB, there’s so much more I’d like to do. That’s what the Troll Game – or, to actually call it by its name, Ithaka of the Clouds – is all about. That’s the dream: to do something like Desert Bridge or The Book of Living Magic, but on a massive scale. A long and detailed story, a huge world, mad ideas bursting out of every corner… a game that will be quite unforgettable. Still hand-drawn (but bigger), still full of text, still full of that mixture of the deeply silly and the deeply serious that characterizes the Lands of Dream. But frigging huge!

I so want to do this. I will do this. And I think there might just be an audience.

The Book of Living Magic still needs your support, though. It’s not easy to get people to write about games like this one; at first glance, it’s easy to think of it as more of that mass-produced candy-coated nonsense that the casual games market is so full of. (The ever-lovely Gnome’s Lair is of course an exception, and has already produced a review.) So, apart from donating, which is extremely wonderful but not always financially possible, one thing you can do that would be extremely helpful is simply to let people know about this game. Share a link on Facebook or Twitter, and if you have a favourite games website, why not let them know that this game is worth mentioning? I don’t make any money off plays, but I do want the story to find its audience – and besides, getting more attention for this game is way of saying thank you to Jay is Games for choosing to support it.

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