Getting into the reader’s mind

December 16, 2016 at 10:34 pm (Advanced/Publication, All Steampunk Fiction, I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction, Steampunk, Steampunk Series)

NB There are structural spoilers ahead for “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and more mid-level spoilers in the comments.

Regular readers will know that I live and breathe “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, a serial interactive story produced by Tin Man Games. (It’s a massive story app available on Android or itunes, with new sections every week and the ability to choose where the protagonist goes and what they do.)

Although the app is called “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, it contains two stories (so far!)

I was hired as a co-writer on the original story, and I have literally one section left to write. After FIFTEEN MONTHS and SIXTY updates, the story is ending. It’s an amazing feeling for everyone involved. Do buy the app as a Christmas gift from you to you. It’s a lot of fun.

But that’s utterly not what I’m writing about. The second story in the app, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my own project, set in the magical steampunk world of my novel and various other stories.

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Here’s one of the unique things about the entire “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” app: every four weeks there is a super-significant choice, usually a choice of which location to go to next. The reader gets to pick where they go… and then a dial appears to tell them what percentage of readers chose to go to the same place.

The writers can also see what all our readers are choosing.

So. Confession time.

Each super-choice is meant to be equally appealing, but at the end of Arc 1 it became clear to me that almost all of my readers had chosen one particular path. (I’m going to go back and edit the Arc 1 text to make the other choices more appealing.)

Arc 3 has just ended, and I was dying to find out what choices people made there. In Arc 3, the player chooses their animal form. They can shift into their animal form at various times during the rest of the story, and it’s often useful (or just fun and awesome). Certain animals have certain skills (did you know rats have an absolutely amazing sense of smell? Research, baby!)

There are five possible animal forms, but the reader was given a choice of only two animals, based on two of their previous choices. For example, if they had chosen to avoid physical conflict as much as possible, and to stay in the forest rather than seeking out people, they might be a deer. If you email me privately to ask for more detail, I’ll tell you more.

The five animal choices were: Sparrow, Otter, Deer, Greyhound, or Rat.

The statistics were always going to be skewed due to the Arc 1 choice, but here are the results:

Greyhound: 53%

Sparrow: 19%

Rat: 18%

Deer: 9%

Otter: 1%

All I really wanted to say was that if you’re an otter, you have read quite a different story to everyone else. Congratulations.

21 Comments

  1. aeramillenia said,

    Hello! This is kind of late and I’m not really good at explaining myself but I still wanted to mention it: in ‘And their souls were eaten’,occasionally the continuity between arcs are kinda weird. Like how I tried my best to be friendly to Nox and they seem to come to a sort of understanding,and the player has talked to Evelyn already,but next arc its as if we didn’t and suddenly lashes out at Nox,calling her a monster for killing Evelyn when she mentioned she could see her and that was kind of awkward….
    Another one was where after Barrow,I just chose to go straight to the tower and all of a sudden we ask to see the keeper of the crows/ravens,like why would we do that? In another route we kind of assumed one of the birds was a shape shifter so that made sense,but nothing like that here. I think most continuity errors happen after going to Barrow? I just keep going there cos otherwise I end up killing an innocent and I don’t want that…. I replayed this so many times ahaha….
    I wanted to know if the player is supposed to be male? Because for some reason,even though it isn’t exactly explicitly mentioned,I just get that feeling. And if its ok to get an answer,I want to know who exactly are the available love interests? Because when I get interested in a character I end up killing them,or they like someone else,or something…. I’m guessing Mary is one( she’s one of the reasons I feel strongly the player is a male,somehow) but I wanted a male LI….
    Sorry for this wall of text,I’m just curious.
    Oh and I read ‘And the sun went out’ and it is definitely one of my most favorite stories! It was so well written,the gender neutral gimmick was executed very well and the romance was very sweet and satisfying! Good work on that! I always prefer choosing female,so being gender neutral works well for me too!

    • Felicity Banks said,

      Wow, great comments thank you! It’s possible but VERY difficult to avoid killing an innocent in the non-Barrow strands (but having that soul with you will be useful later if you do kill someone). The male love interest is the shape-shifter, although neither love interest is around much until… well…. later 🙂 The PC is meant to be either male or female. I’m going to go back and alter some continuity things from early on, so thanks for your input (although my first priority is always getting the next update out!)
      Did that answer everything? I’m always happy to talk to readers, especially those who replay it!

      Felicity

      • aeramillenia said,

        Thank you for replying! I did guess they’d be useful but the scene with Nox mercilessly killing them in front of your eyes really pains me. I’m that type of person who puts too much emotion into what she reads ahaha…
        Oh,I’m glad to hear Kamenwati is the LI,his appearance was brief but he really interests me! Can’t wait for him to have a prominent role!
        At first I thought Charlie would be one and then THAT happened… kind of scarred me :’)
        Later I thought Mr.Eiffel,then he immediately gets smitten with someone else….I was fooled so many times lol
        Nice to know this one is gender neutral too,though it still gives me a ‘male-ish’ feeling,most of their mannerisms seem like that of a man,but I suppose thats what happens when you live in the wild too long!
        Good luck with your work,and life in general! I’ll always be waiting for updates. Also,are there any plans to start ANOTHER story when this one is nearly over? I’m a little curious,but no need to answer if its a bother!

      • Felicity Banks said,

        The death scenes were painful to write, so I’m glad they were painful to read too… a story needs some darkness to let a reader know the stakes. (I also get super emotional with reading – I never read anything too scary for just that reason.) I actually had a completely different male love interest but I found Kamenwati too fascinating (I’m a little embarrassed that we accidentally ended up with two stories in a row with a white female and an Egyptian male love interest…oh well!)
        “I suppose that’s what happens when you live in the wild too long” LOL!
        I know the company plans to start two more stories this year, and they’re talking to writers at the moment. It’s unlikely I’ll be involved directly in either (simply because I need to write two other big stories this year for other companies, including the second book in my steampunk trilogy) but I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

        Felicity

    • Felicity Banks said,

      would you like me to look up the ways to NOT kill an innocent for you, so you can play those strands? It’s still a violent scene, but the innocent is okay afterwards if you have certain very specific things happen in previous arcs.

      • aeramillenia said,

        Oh no,its fine! It seems like it’d be pretty hard to figure all that out anyways(but I’m guessing it has something to do with how you treat Nox?) I’ll just steel my resolve and have one of their souls eaten,since as you said they’ll be useful in the future! But thank you very much for the offer! You should just concentrate on your stories for now ^^
        And oh,I hadn’t noticed that the love interests had similarities from the first one! So Kamenwati is Egyptian too… Well,for me its still varied enough that I didn’t notice,but variety is always good!
        As always,good luck with your work!

      • Felicity Banks said,

        I think I’ll make Kamenwati Indian instead as I work through the book in another big edit. I don’t know if I specified he was Egyptian, but I do know the name is also common in India, which was part of the Commonwealth then.
        (I do remember that taking Barnaby to the Soul School is helpful, which means staying in Hallowvale a bit longer to have that option).

      • aeramillenia said,

        I don’t think you’ve mentioned him being Egyptian either. But hey,that’s great! I’m Indian too actually! I thought you meant American Indian,before you mentioned the country itself. This is a topic that always confuses me ^^;;
        But anyways,I’m even more invested now,even if his heritage doesn’t have much impact on the story.
        To be honest though,not very familiar with the name,even tried asking my mom XD
        As for Barnaby,hmm….seems like all the choices I made in my very first run were the best as of yet,from all that you’ve mentioned. Kinda feels like all that replaying seemed pointless,but I don’t regret it!I think I got an otter then,which could be useful in specific situation as I don’t know any other soul animal that could be as useful in water?
        Anyways,sorry if I misunderstood anything,but it’d be nice to have Kamenwati be Indian!

      • Felicity Banks said,

        Awesome!! (It makes sense that you’d assume American Indian, since most of the readers are American. It’s not a common name anywhere, but it means “Dark Rebel” which I thought was cool for a raven shape-shifter, plus it’s distinctive enough to be memorable. I use online baby name books) And I’m impressed you got to be an otter – that’s the rarest, if I remember correctly. And yes, it is the only animal that’s good in the water (which hasn’t been an issue. . . yet).

        Felicity

      • Felicity Banks said,

        I just glanced on the map I have of all the storylines, and to avoid killing people you need to have (a) chosen to fight Nox (rather than trap or escape), (b) eaten Adam’s soul (he’s an ally), and if you’re at the Soul School you need Barnaby there too.

  2. Mads said,

    I’ve read through the beginning of the game a few times, but have only ever received the greyhound/rat option as my choices. I’m desperate to read everything there is to this story, and since you’ve mentioned it to be so different, could you perhaps point me in the direction of the otter choice? Not necessarily give it away, but…something. Anything?
    In any case, I’m feeling inspired to write again because of this, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart ❤

    • Felicity Banks said,

      Each character is based on two choices. The otter must NOT eat Adam’s soul (flee into the forest instead), and must avoid fighting Nox as long as possible. Also… otters rule!

      • Kwolf said,

        Hi! I’m interested in getting the otter, after reading that it has a different story. Although I tried not eating Adam and fleeing for the bear… But I keep getting deer and sparrow… Is it only 2 choices that determine the animal? Because I am kind of stumped x.x Help please.
        By the way I love your stories!^-^

      • Felicity Banks said,

        oh! You also need to flee into the forest as much as possible in arc 1.

  3. Gam said,

    Oh, hi! (I will try to avoid spoilers, but if you hadn’t played Souls Eaten please avoid my comment)

    Brazilian player/reader here, just passing by to throw my penny!

    First of all, I want to congratulate you and the rest of the team for those amazing work! I finished Sun Out in the past and now Souls Eaten. My endings on both came to be the best one + the female couple. As much as I rather be unique, guess it’s a good thing I managed the good endings twice in a row haha

    I do have some constructive critics about Souls Eaten, though. I sensed the ending ARC kinda bumpy. Things just happens so fast, I got the felling I skipped an entire ARC. I never got to find out what the Mayor was up to and I was there fighting her (can you spoil for me plzzzz? :B) and who would be this Genevive? I mean, we talked with such intimacy and I never heard about her. Also, I never got to know if Barnaby survived.

    And, I don’t know how do you guys work with edits, but maybe turn the beginning of the relationship with Nox more dubious? I mean, following her instructions always gets you right (I know I did). Maybe turning her a little less convincing at the beginning will make people choose not to trust her so blindly and bring different results to the table. I don’t know, maybe the %ratings on Souls Eaten being higher than the ones on Sun Out are because it’s easier to make right decisions.

    All and all, congratulations again! It’s such a incridible app with amazing stories! I’m beggining Heroes Lost right now 😀

  4. Felicity Banks said,

    Thank for telling me where you’re from—it’s always exciting to hear that the story is read all over the world. Mayor Fairy Fay was attempting to create artificial souls (using techniques similar to Dr Frankenstein). She also killed Mr Valiant (in some strands), and his first name was Jack ie he would have become Jack the Ripper, eviscerating people to harvest parts for the creation of artificial souls. Genevieve was an ex-student, now teacher at the Soul School. Her brother was killed during the “welcoming” ceremony (which was designed to nearly kill children in order to activate metals).

    If Barnaby and Ernie go to the tower alone, Barnaby is killed—but if Mary or another fighter goes with them, Barnaby lives.

    I hope to re-edit the whole story one day, but it’s a mammoth project (over 400,000 words, with some extremely complex bits of code). However, I’ll keep your comments in mind when I do.

    Felicity Banks

    • Emily Crowe said,

      “Quote: If Barnaby and Ernie go to the tower alone, Barnaby is killed—but if Mary or another fighter goes with them, Barnaby lives”
      But.. I did that, and sent the officer[forget the name] which nox recommended and Barnaby still died.

      Also, is there a way to make it so King Lady Noel doesn’t turn souless? Or does it happen no matter what you choose during the story?

      • Felicity Banks said,

        Oh dear. I’ll have to look into that.

        Lady King-Noel is doomed, I’m afraid. It was too good a tragedy to make it optional. The character is based on Ada Lovelace, who really was pregnant at the time.

  5. Erin said,

    Hi there!

    I’ve just discovered “And their Souls were Eaten” and my experience with it has been overwhelmingly positive!

    I’ve explored many of the Sparrow routes thoroughly, though I’ve seen all the animal options come up at least once or twice.

    I’ve had a couple of “mixed success” endings and several positive ones, though I consistently seem to miss out on some of the Soul School paths? I can never seem to stay there to find out more on Charles or Genevieve. Ernie tells me about several characters who have died during the last arc that I’ve never met (though I picked up Charles Dickens’ soul once, I feel like there might be more there?). I also can’t seem to help Lady King Noel survive — I’d really like to! It seems a shame to lose such an interesting patron, would you mind pointing me in the right direction if there is one?

    There are some minor consistency bugs in story — mainly whether you have gone through the welcoming ceremony at the Soul School, whether or not you know your mother is alive and whether or not you’re aware of Evie’s state as you befriend Nox — but I feel these are easy to glance over and don’t break immersion too much.

    I think the only thing that struck me as odd was somewhere along the Suffragette path; your character mentions that they are “not a woman” offhandedly — I think while comparing themselves to Bird and Cama, but I don’t remember the turn of phrase exactly. In a game that is otherwise perfectly gender neutral it sort of jumped out, but again, this is a very minor gripe (and I could have misread)!

    Thank you so much for this lovely game experience! I’ll definitely continue to explore routes of my own accord, though I think that a guide would be a wonderful player companion to explore the story to 100%.

    I look forward to playing the other routes and Choices stories in the future!

    • Felicity Banks said,

      Hi Erin, thanks for that! I’m sorry—there’s no way to save Lady King-Noel. Did you know she’s based on Ada Lovelace, who really was pregnant at the time?

      I’ll see what I can do about those errors.

  6. Felicity Banks said,

    I’m still gathering a list of “hard to fix” errors ready for a beginning-to-end edit. Honestly it may never happen, but I’m keeping error reports anyway.

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