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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15 Comments

  1. Ithaka of the Clouds! A brilliant title that good sir.

  2. Thanks! Strongly inspired by the Cavafy poem.

  3. Isi

     /  August 12, 2011

    Your games deserve to be more popular. That’s not even a question for me. And though my usual corners of the internet are small ones, I do love sharing my favorite games, and you can bet The Book of Living Magic is getting a proper mention.

  4. Thyll

     /  August 12, 2011

    Well, I tried it, and at first thought it was a little eh. But I gave it a chance and soon it was funny, immersive, and most importantly fun. So good job dude, takes a minute or two to draw you in, but does an excellent job keeping your attention. Fantastic world by the way.

  5. Sarah

     /  August 13, 2011

    I played it this morning, Jonas. Thought it was absolutely lovely, and gosh, you put a lot of effort into the descriptions (every eyeball, every book… wow! I clicked on everything I could). Very well written, and very clever. Really enjoyed it, and kudos to Verena for the adorable graphics and to the ever-awesome Helen for the great music. I thought everything really came together nicely.
    Also, your interpretation of Baba Yaga was AWESOME.
    I’ve posted the link to the game on my Twitter. 😉

  6. @Isi, Thyll: Thanks! 🙂

    @Sarah: I was hoping someone would mention Baba Yaga! That was great fun.

  7. drew

     /  August 14, 2011

    i crossed the lake then went back to the map without doing anything on the other side of the lake. now i can’t cross again.

    🙁

  8. drew

     /  August 14, 2011

    oh, nvmd, spoke to soon. i see a new location on the map.

  9. James Patton

     /  August 15, 2011

    I played this yesterday and I was just overwhelmed with all the love and care you put into making it. The backgrounds are just gorgeous and the game’s aesthetic perfectly complements them; it really does feel like looking at the world through the eyes of a bright young child. The descriptions, as Sarah pointed out, are so abundant that I had to click on everything, because everything made me smile.

    Also, I think I detected some nods to H.P. Lovecraft and Quest for Glory IV? Which, by the way, are two of my favourite things on the whole planet.

    I will make some constructive criticism, however, otherwise my post wouldn’t be very useful. From a design standpoint the game was generally excellent but I had a few niggles. The fact there was a “Talk” button during conversations was nice from an aesthetic point of view since it complemented the “Bye” button, but having to click “Talk” every time I wanted to say something instead of simply clicking the conversation topic felt a bit unintuitive. Also, the way items are used in the game seemed too easy. While some item “puzzles” were so obvious that it didn’t matter (if I fetch an item for a character then it makes sense that I can give it to them just by clicking on them), it didn’t work so well for more complex puzzles. Sometimes I accidentally used an item simply by exploring the world through mouse-clicks; I used the stick accidentally before I fully understood the puzzle, and I solved the potato puzzle by accident. It’s probably better to go down this route than the other extreme (ie. making puzzles utterly incomprehensible and ridiculous, as many adventure games have indeed done,) but I feel there must be a middle ground somewhere.

    What really amazed and delighted me, though, was the constant sense of optimism, kindness and joy which the game exudes. Everyone was pleasant and kind; everyone had character; everyone was willing to help, and many characters who seemed bad were simply misunderstood. Perhaps the greatest sensation of joy I felt while playing was the moment when I solved the robot puzzle. (I don’t want to spoil anyone’s play experience so I won’t go into details.) But the solution to the robot’s problems involved such a selfless and generous act, and led to such absolute happiness, that I was sincerely touched. I felt as though I wanted to do such things for other people in my own life.

    No doubt many people will dismiss the game as childish or silly, but I think there are far too many gritty, “realistic”, hardcore manly bleak etc. etc. games out there – or, at least, that many games are given a veneer of grittiness (which is really unfounded) simply because it’s currently fashionable. And while there are hundreds of cookie-cutter shooters out there with no soul and no real integrity, I know that this game is absolutely sincere at every single moment.

    So, bravo! I say, well done. You have made something beautiful. I’m not sure how many people will buy your Lands of Dream commercial game, but here at least is one guaranteed sale on day one.

  10. Also, I think I detected some nods to H.P. Lovecraft and Quest for Glory IV?

    Absolutely!

    The fact there was a “Talk” button during conversations was nice from an aesthetic point of view since it complemented the “Bye” button, but having to click “Talk” every time I wanted to say something instead of simply clicking the conversation topic felt a bit unintuitive.

    A lot of people have mentioned that, but I feel that it gives a sense of security – it prevents you from accidentally clicking on a dialogue option and advancing the plot when you didn’t want to.

    Also, the way items are used in the game seemed too easy.

    That was a choice related to the medium (Flash). I enjoy the simplicity of it myself, but I certainly wouldn’t want all games to be this simple.

    So, bravo! I say, well done. You have made something beautiful. I’m not sure how many people will buy your Lands of Dream commercial game, but here at least is one guaranteed sale on day one.

    Yay! 🙂

  11. Sorry About This Review Which Does Not Give Honor To The Well-Thought Out Game

     /  August 16, 2011

    Um, I just wanted to let you know that I greatly enjoyed playing “The Book of Living Magic”, and I personally think that the people who don’t like it just haven’t played it in its entirety as I had a lackluster feeling toward it until I found out that I could examine just about everything and that those examinations were typically funny. (The “A New Age of Tolerance” books by Darvos is one of the best examples I can come up with.) From there on out I was hooked on the game. The charecters were so warm and friendly, and the morals sounded like things one would actually learn on their travels. In short when it was over, I wanted more and I hope that you do not give up hope and continue to make more amazing things like “The Book of Living Magic”. I shall most definetly share this with my friends and tell them to pass it on.

  12. James Patton

     /  August 17, 2011

    Just wanted to let you know that I’ve let my little corners of the internet know about tBoLM.

    If you want more exposure/publicity, have you tried contacting indiegames.com and rockpapershotgun, and maybe posting on TIGsource? They’re not guaranteed to take an interest, of course, but I think they’d be most open to it.

    Also, maybe this is a stupid idea but gamasutra.com publishes articles and opinion pieces by game developers on their site. These are mostly from more mainstream developers with big studios but they also print stuff by indies; they recently did a piece on several indie studios, as well as Jonathan Blow’s WIP game. Those are perhaps more mainstream than you are, but they also did a piece ages ago by the creator of The Oil Blue, who’s pretty much working on his own.

    Obviously it’s not an instant solution – you’d need to put a little time (which you may not have) into writing the article, and they might not want it anyway – but perhaps it’s worth considering.

  13. If you want more exposure/publicity, have you tried contacting indiegames.com and rockpapershotgun, and maybe posting on TIGsource? They’re not guaranteed to take an interest, of course, but I think they’d be most open to it.

    Yeah, did that. Jay is Games also wrote to them. Nothing so far.

    Also, maybe this is a stupid idea but gamasutra.com publishes articles and opinion pieces by game developers on their site.

    It’s not stupid, but I don’t think it’s very likely to work. My general feeling is that no matter what I do, most sites see me as an “amateur.” That’s also my biggest fear in terms of Ithaka of the Clouds – not being able to get the word out at all, because the game’s style makes people dismiss it.

  14. James Patton

     /  August 18, 2011

    Hmm, well, those are the only outlets that I know of that might be interested. Perhaps other commenters know of other sites/outlets that might work for you?

    And, yes, I can see why you might be concerned about being seen as an amateur. Your work is by no means amateur — it’s thought-provoking and experimental — but I can see why others might take a glance at your work and dismiss it as being of a lower quality than other, more graphically polished, more “gameplay”-centric games.

    Ironically, whenever I see a game which is graphically mind-blowing and *nothing but* gameplay, like a flourescent shmup, I wish there were more developers like you so my brain actually had something interesting and enriching to play.

    Oh! I just had a thought. A surprisingly large number of indie distribution services have gone up (or been announced) this month:

    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2011/07/28/indiecity-offers-developers-new-distribution-channel.aspx

    http://www.indiegames.com/2011/08/indievania_distribution_site_l.html

    http://gameinterface.net/?p=268161

    I have no idea why all three are launching this month. It must be one heck of a coincidence. :s

    But anyway, when you do release larger, commercial games and need distribution, perhaps you could use one of these? It might get you more publicity. The biggest downside I can see is that they would take a cut of your profits, so perhaps some more research would be needed, but maybe it’s worth looking into.

  15. T.O.

     /  August 21, 2011

    Like someone else mentioned, the very beginning was kind of meh for me. Some of the writing felt a bit forced, but it definitely picked up once I started playing.

    Sadly, it seems less and less people are willing to read anymore. And the question really is…”Why play a text-based game instead of reading a book?” or “Why play a very simple (graphics-wise) game, when there’s so much eye candy out there?”.

    Hopefully, you find some of the answers to these questions and are able to express them to a large enough audience to make your endeavors successful.

    Regardless, I wish you good luck.