The Last Gas Station – Release One!

Phew, well I thought I’d never get there but… I’VE DONE IT!! I’ve actually made a fully playable and (hopefully) shiny release of my new episode The Last Gas Station, and it’s available NOW! Plus there’s a fantastic music pack (14 tracks) from the story for download, too.

I’m calling this “release one” …but wait: what does that even mean?

Well, because I’m sure I’ll make the episode even cooler the better I get as a storyteller and games designer (and take in what readers say and suggest about it all), I think I should avoid calling this episode “complete” for now?

This doesn’t mean the story ends on a cliff-hanger, or that it crashes halfway through where I haven’t finished it yet or anything. It does mean there will be free episode updates in the future, like improved interactivity, better graphics, story tweaks and extra cool game play-type-stuff that’ll generally make the episode more awesome. :)

You can find out more about The Last Gas Station here! It’s been an epic journey for me to get to this stage. I really hope you enjoy it too.



The Smaller Details

My previous episode-venturing has involved navigation using “chapters” or “scenes” in the story that can be returned to once they’ve been read/experienced. This has been a really important thing: being able to go back and re-read story sections is like being able to turn back the pages of a book. But because The Last Gas Station makes quite a big leap in terms of technology – and the approach I’ve decided to take when telling my story this time – I’ve changed the way this works a little.

Behold: the TITLE SCREEN – press to enlarge. :)

The Title Screen!

Yep, I’ve done away with all the “this story uses text, image and sound” stuff and replaced it with “scene selection”. Each scene shows a padlock beside it if you haven’t fully dived into it yet. The title screen has music and floats gently around the desert showing you different views of the gas station. It’s rather nice. :)

I’ve also been working on other details too: plonking some clouds into the desert sky using a skybox, dotted some nice green cacti around the landscape, and even added an animal that slowly wanders past the gas station window at one point (if you’re lucky enough to spot it).

Oh and because I’m surrounded by the city on the distant horizon, I thought it would be supercool to make the occasional aircraft or helicopter make an appearance.

Now these little additions aren’t essential to the story, but they do really ramp up the atmosphere and add fun depth to the episode (I hope)!


Live edits and narrative corrections

One of the many things I’m finding really cool about developing this episode is the way in which I can “pause” the whole thing, make changes, and then “un-pause” it again and carry on. This is all down to me choosing to make the story in Unity, a really powerful (and free!) piece of software.

Being able to live edit and tweak the story as I actually make it is quite weird, but also amazingly useful and helpful.

Let’s say I’m making a sequence where I reply to Dad about how I’m doing with my college assignment – and I spot a spelling mistake (oops) or want to change a few words around to help the language flow better. All I have to do is press “pause”, go back into the Unity editor and tweak the text, then “un-pause” again and boom – there you go, done!

I’ve also been playing around with allowing readers to see my “thoughts” as I reply to various emails and text messages on my gadget as the story unfolds. It’s really curious because sometimes I “delete” what I’ve written and write something else, but you can actually see me do this on screen.

We all do it, right? Start typing an email, a text, or a Facebook post, but then change our minds and delete words, sometimes sentences, and start again. As a storytelling technique, I’m finding this fascinating. My doubts, worries and impulses have a new way of showing through.

The Last Gas Station – Teaser

Hey. So, I finally got my screen capture software working and made this teaser video for my forthcoming episode. Hope you like it. :)


Narrative possibilities

I’ve been playing with the idea of spatial narratives (heh, that sounds posh!) – elements of thoughts/dialogue that are tied to zones, objects and happenings in 3D space. I’m really interested in the idea of each reader/player having a slightly different experience each time they play Episode 6.

I don’t mean like, making endless branching narrative possibilities or anything – I don’t think my head could cope with that – but having varied, perhaps even random or mood-related responses to the reader/player’s actions as they play the role of – well, me, as they go through the story.

Here are a couple of ideas I’ve been exploring:

alt-1 alt-2

1. Random responses. Basically, this method triggers a random but very similar response to something that might be happening or has been discovered. Here, I’m reflecting on arriving in the subway. It doesn’t matter which one of these responses appears on screen, they’re not absolutely “key” narratives as such, but they do add a slightly different “flavour” to each gameplay/story session. Let’s call it “seasoning”. 😉

2. Incremental responses. Rather than being random, these kinds of responses count “how many times they’ve been triggered” and display my thoughts accordingly. For instance, let’s say I decide to pick up an old crate that I find lying around in the subway. My first response might be, “OK, a crate. Weird. What can I do with this?”. The second time I pick it up, my response might be different. “Yep. It’s that crate again. Don’t all video games have crates?” And so on. Eventually, I might get sick of repeatedly doing something and display a sarcastic/tired comment. Or, offer a clue as to what the object is meant to be actually used for.

3. Game state dependent responses. These sorts of thoughts and reactions depend on what’s happening in the game as a whole. Is there any urgency or pressure on me/the reader/player to do anything? If so, I might be more moody/snappy than I would be if the pressure’s off and I have plenty of time. My response to just standing about being idle might be, “Er… shall we get moving then?”. If the story has become time-pressured or dramatic, this might switch to: “OMG I NEED TO MOVE! NOW!”.

4. Branching responses. What happens narratively might also completely depend in places on what the reader/player has decided to do in my shoes. These are the Big Decisions and require the entire episode to wander off down different “story paths” – possibly even have different outcomes. Did I take the left hand corridor or the right hand one? You never just know: the entire story might change, depending on that one single choice!


Games designer?

It’s funny how things evolve. I’ve been working on Episode 6 now for quite a long time (although in game development terms, maybe not all that long; some games take many years to make even with HUGE teams of talented people working on them with big budgets!!) and although I’ve come close to feeling like it’s ready to release, I’ve only recently just started to feel properly happy with it, and happy with where I’m heading – myself – as a games designer.

But wait. Am I a games designer? I’m not sure. My work isn’t just game-like… It’s also very story-like. I love telling stories. So… what should I call myself? Any ideas?

Anyway, I’m slowly getting my head around all of this. Game engines. Graphics. Audio. Interactivity. Stories. And best of all…. I’m doing it my way. :)

Early subway

This is where I first started out – my first draft of the underground subway that features strongly in Episode 6.

I’m learning fast. A year ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what a polygon was. Now? I’m using some really cool techniques that I never thought I’d be able to even remotely get my head around! In short: Episode 6 is coming on great.

Please drop me your details and I’ll let you know when it’s ready for beta testing!


Exploring 3D Sound

As well as making atmospheric graphics, I love creating and working with sound and music.

Graphics come more naturally to me as I tend to think of myself primarily as a visual artist (yep, too much time spent sketching Brad!), but audio can make an incredible – perhaps sometimes overlooked – difference to a digital story. Imagine a computer game with no sound. It would be like a silent movie!

With Episode 6, I’m still using music just as much as I have done in previous episodes, but this time I’m also incorporating atmospheric audio directly into my… how do I describe them? My “game worlds”. Wow. That sounds so cool. :)

This doesn’t mean just mean using sound effects necessarily: I’m using ambient soundtracks in a three dimensional way as well.

For instance: let’s say I end up wandering off into a very creepy area of my underground subway. Maybe this triggers an appropriately eerie soundtrack. And then, maybe that soundtrack fades away when I find my way out…

See what you think to the little 3D environment demo below which I created in Coppercube (a fantastic software program for making 3D apps and games). Can you find the source of the crackling audio? Press/click and drag the screen to pan around, and use the arrow keys to move through the dark corridors. Note: You need a WebGL enabled browser to see this! (My recommendation: Google Chrome.)

In Episode 6, soundtracks blend in with any other sounds I have going on, such as subway announcements, distant tube trains, my own echoing footsteps as I walk around. The result is wonderfully immersive.


Scripts and Logic

I’m a pretty good coder (yep) but one of the coolest things I’ve discovered whilst making The Last Gas Station is “visual scripting”. This is like coding and requires a knowledge of programming logic (there’s no getting out of that one!) – but, for the most part, it’s much faster, and you don’t actually have to type anything. :)

Visual scripting isn’t built into Unity directly, it’s something you have to “plug in”. I’m using a tool called Playmaker which is fantastic, and already being used by some really great games companies to create cool projects.

Because visual scripting involves linking code together in chunks, it’s also great for telling interactive stories.


For instance, I can ask the reader/player for a response to a situation – say, whether or not to answer the phone when my boyfriend calls – and then adjust the story accordingly depending what the reader/player chooses to do.


Environments and Atmosphere

canalchaseTo tell the story of The Last Gas Station, I’ve developed two different environments using a free game engine called Unity: an underground subway and a remote desert. (Actually, there’s more than that, but these two are the main ones).

Both are entirely made in 3D graphics which is a big leap for me, although making Hometown 2’s Canal Chase was a good primer, and I’m surprised by how easy I’m finding it the more I play around.

These environments are also very different in tone: one is very claustrophobic and dark (in fact it reminds me of the end of Episode 4 : Hometown), the other is bright and warm.

I built my previous episodes mainly out of photographs, video clips, audio tracks and text. This time, I’m trying to make a first-person exploration style computer game, where you can literally be “in my shoes” as the story unfolds.

OMG it’s hard work – I could so do with my own full-time game development team (maybe one day) – but also very exciting, and I love the fact that I can take my photos, videos, sound effects and writing, and put them all “inside” my game world.

Here’s the best bit: although my episode isn’t far off being completed now, I’ve barely written a single line of code. :) NO WAY. How is this possible?



Alice Field checking in

Hey. Thanks for visiting my blog! I’m currently making The Last Gas Station (episode six, no less) of my digital narrative series Inanimate Alice. This blog documents how I’m building the work. I hope you find it interesting.

I’m nineteen years old, I have a boyfriend and I work at a remote gas station just outside the city. I’m up against the clock to deliver my latest college assignment before the deadline, but as usual things aren’t exactly going to plan. I’m running soooo late. I’m trying to make this episode in the style of a 3D computer game where you can explore and interact with things as the story unfolds.

Want news about the Episode’s beta release in December? Cool. Just enter your details on my website’s homepage. You can also follow my Twitter feed here: @inanimatealice:)