IF: “So, About Last Night…”

Some time back, I decided to venture into writing interactive fiction. I initially began with Twine, as it’s the most famous web based IF tool, but ended up truly finding my feet with Ink. Ink is a fascinating engine/scripting tool made by Inkle Studios and used as a back end for many of their games, albeit with Unity-based front-ends as the games are graphical.

However, when I began to experiment with it, I found it a marvellous tool for creative free-standing web based IF, and their systems were so easy to use (as a writer and a programmer) that it quickly became second nature to me, and I found myself very productive using their native editor, Inky.

So, this was where I wrote “So, About Last Night…” is what I imagine you’re thinking. But no. I began other projects first. Sprawling ones. Both are still being made but… at a certain point, I had this image in my head: the whole ‘bitten by a vampire’ trope, the ‘hangover’-ness of the process… and how hunting down the vamp who may have turned you at a party would make for a great story.

The game is available now for free on itch.io – if you like the game, tips are appreciate there or on my ko-fi.

Note: there won’t be any explicit spoilers for the game in this.

The Story

The rest kind of hit me at once. I grabbed my notebook, scrabbled down notes and ideas, characters and where I wanted it to end. The setting felt important, too. For the last little while I’d been writing vampire fiction set in, well… my own version of vampire lore. I’d all but finished a novel, a novella, and the beginnings of some other projects too. So doing a short interactive novella set in that universe as the first thing I released on it just made sense.

It’d be light, fun and a good excuse to write one of my favourite experiences: meeting drunken randoms on a blow-out night. (Something I’ve not truly done since about 2019, in The Beforetimes.)

So I set the story in 1996, in Los Angeles – one of my favourite places and times, and began plotting out where the main character could go, which things would be optional, etc.

That’s where the specific design got interesting.

The Design

Writing branching / interactive fiction can be done in a ton of ways. When I think of them, I often think of Telltale games. While far from the first people to do them, the combination of old-school adventure style plus choices & dialogue as the focus really made them stand out in the gaming cultural consciousness and even continue to exist today in meme form. (“[Charactername] will remember that.”)

But there was a reason Telltale stuff rarely truly appealed to me I think: it’s personal, of course, but I always had difficulty making big decisions. I’d stare for entirely too long at the choices.

Do I want to save Billy or Bob from the zombies?

Something I wanted to try and do with So About Last Night was use choice primarily as a way to make the player/reader feel a bit more involved in the story – but not stump them with big morally complex questions.

Beyond that, I also wanted to ensure that not just the relatively large logistical choices have consequences (do you call Brad’s place to find out what you need to know, or drive over there directly? There’s no right or wrong answer here – each give different experiences) but so do the small ones. For instance, early on you are given the choice to take a cigarette from someone who offers. Your character, Lacey, is an ex-smoker. Your choice determines if this night results in a lapse for her, or if she largely continues to avoid smoking the rest of the game.

My mantra when making the game was this: “Many small choices, all remembered”. Hopefully, that’ll result in different play-throughs of the same story feeling just a little different and certainly more personalised.

I also wanted to avoid the very video game trope of good/evil choices. The trope (only slightly embellished from a real event in the original Knights of the Old Republic) was that, upon meeting a beggar on the street, you had two choices: to give the beggar alms, or murder him and his entire family.

Violence, when it takes place in this game, is almost always either inevitable, or the result of numerous small decisions that take you down that path.

Does all this work? I’m not sure. It’s not the first interactive fiction I’ve finished – but it will be the first one I’ve released publicly, rather than just a private thing for experimentation.

And finally… About Vampires

There’s very specific but also intentionally generic aspects to the vampire rules & lore in this game.

It’s far from winged – I’ve been writing stories about these kinds of vampires, with their specific quirks, strengths, weaknesses and social integrations for years now. This will simply be the first story set in the world I’ve released beyond test readers.

It seems like an appropriate one. It’s a personal story, with no real connection to any of the greater world around – just one girl, a party, and a life-changing mistake.

I look forward to releasing more stories soon – including another novella, this one non-interactive, which I will probably release within a month or so.