This Girl Codes Curiosity Academy

Recently, I was really excited to be asked to participate in the Curiosity Academy project run as part of Junction Arts This Girl Codes project.

This Girl Codes is based around a “series of taster sessions, pop-up heritage STEAM labs in historic houses, castles and caves as well as festivals, trips and events during school holidays.

Bad plants!

I was asked to run a Bitsy game session around the theme of Creswell Crags, and the witch marks they’d found there a few years ago. Since submitting a Bitsy game to Creswell Crags Winter Folklore Festival in 2020, I’d wanted to follow up and do something more with them. So, it was great to be asked to participate in this programme of events. Similar to a session I ran at Feral Vector, I thought it would be a nice idea to get everyone to collaborate on a game, and it worked so well. I really wanted to see what story and characters they would come up with themselves, and the end result was a lot of fun. The participants created their own characters, game narrative and settings based on the folklore and history of Creswell Crags. And after that (proving that Bitsy is really easy to get to grips with), one of the participants was inspired to make her own game, and I helped finish it off. I wasn’t able to travel to Creswell Crags, so I did this all virtually with the support of the project co-ordinator and artist, Amy and Cora.

You can play the game, Mother Grundy’s Protection, on the This Girl Codes site. It’s “based around the myth of Mother Grundy, rescuing a local boy from poisoning, with the help of herbs, animal guardians and tree spirits.”

You can also read more about how the game was created in this blog post.

Looking at the rest of the activities during the Curiosity Academy, I was very inspired by the focus on the overlap between physical and digital art made by local communities, and also the making process itself. Also tied in with the strong folklore and nature theme, it was a project that was right up my street and I loved being involved in it.

Off the back of this, projects created as part of this programme of events are on display in the interactive exhibition, Sweep Away The Silence, at Creswell Crags until 5th October (closed Monday 19th September). It includes “light paintings, spell poems, audio recordings, incredible artefacts found within the caves and much more.

Get down there if you can. 🙂

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I’m in the Queer Games Bundle

Last year, The Queer Games Bundle ran during June for Pride Month. It’s back again for Pride in June 2022.

As the organisers behind it say, “This is an initiative to collaboratively support as many queer indie/micro/art devs and makers as possible.” and to “celebrate the diversity of their games!

The bundle includes over 500 games, zines, and creative projects, made by over 400 queer artists, and is available to buy for $60 or a Pay What You Can Edition between 1st June 1 and 6th July, 2022.

My most recent 3D retro style game, Sister Spring, Brother Winter, is included as part of the bundle as well.

It’s a great initiative, and I’m really pleased to be a small part of it. And it’s been great to see how well-received the bundle has been – nearly 3,000 people have bought either the $60 or Pay What You Can Edition already.

You can find out more about the Queer Games Bundle here, and buy it here.

Take a look at @akaxiri’s great trailer below featuring some of the games in the bundle. 🙂

New game: a 3D interactive folktale

Every year, when winter is almost at its peak, a house grows in a clearing in the old wood. Fuelled by the frost and sun, the tangle of branches sprouting from its roof glisten in the cold air. And every year, a spirit of the wood grows within it too. A creature whose responsibility it is to ensure that the guardian of winter is able to rest well for the following seasons, and that his sister has all she needs for her period of guardianship over the coming spring.

I’ve released another free to play browser game on itch.io, called Sister Spring, Brother Winter. It’s a 3D interactive winter folktale about the changing of the seasons – collect pieces of the fallen sun to help Sister Spring wake the world.

It features a 3D style that gives a nod to the ZX-Spectrum of the early 1980s, including games such as Jepac and Atic Atac.

I used 3D Bitsy to create it – I just find it so fun and easy to create little narrative games using this game making tool. 3D Bitsy is made by aloelazoe, which is built on Adam Le Doux’s Bitsy.

You can play it at https://ashg.itch.io/sister-spring-brother-winter

Creative Positives in 2020

Despite the past year being a difficult time for me in terms of finding a stable job, I’m pleased with how much I’ve achieved creatively.

Music

The thing I’m happiest about creatively are the music streams across my Replay in Neon, Ice Line Drift, and Midnight Detective Club music projects. I released my first music tracks on Spotify, iTunes, etc back in Autumn 2019, and it was a nice Christmas present to hit 100,000 plays on Christmas Day 2020. Both The Midnight Detective Club and Ice Line Drift had almost 49,000 plays each, and Replay in Neon had 2,500. It’s something I never expected would happen, and after 30+ years of music making it was a huge surprise. I am grateful to everyone who listened to, enjoyed, shared and helped promote my music.

Cover art for The Midnight Detective Club song All I Needed to Know

GameS

This year I published 5 new games / interactive digital stories:

I’ve being using Adam Le Doux’s Bitsy to create small narrative games over the past few years. It’s such an easy to use tool that helped me move into creating narrative games in a visual retro-style. The community are super supportive and friendly too, and there are a few people tinkering away in the background creating hacks and new features for it. I was particularly excited when I saw that aloelazoe had created 3D Bitsy. I’ve been trying to find tools/languages I could get on easily with to help me create 3D games, and this was perfect. My first 3D Bitsy was A Little Lost Moomin, a narrative puzzler fan game. Out of all the games I created in 2020 this is the one I’m happiest with overall, and it’s the one that has received the most positive feedback. I also developed a basic interactive story tool for The Narrows, which was based on the program I created for Full English Breakfast Simulator. I’m continuing to work on this tool to turn it into less of an IF link clicker and give it more of an interactive comic feel. Post-Toxic Aquanator was also another win for me, as it was my first Javascript 3D game that I was happy to release.

Screenshot from Siblings of Winter and Spring game

There were so many game jams with interesting themes I’d hoped to get involved in this year. But one thing I think was good for me was actually holding back on the number of them I participated in. I have a habit of creating half-finished games in game jams that just leave me with a game I know has a spark of an idea I want to complete properly, but never do. So, in terms of focus, this was a good thing to do. I also decided to abandon learning Python – trying to do this and develop my Javascript skills at the same time was getting my programming languages in a muddle.

The Midnight Detective Club Project

As I mentioned earlier, I’m very happy with how the music for The Midnight Detective Club project is going, especially working with singer Ellen Louise. I released 5 tracks on streaming services this year, with a few more in the pipeline. In terms of the game itself, I’ve released small chunks that aim to either build a part of the narrative (The Narrows, the songs, virtual exhibition), and am working on other parts (card game, interactive comic, matching game). My current focus is on creating the supernatural detective mystery game within a website that includes interlinked narrative in various forms, including interviews, games, comic, music, videos, Instagram. I’m enjoying working on different pieces of this project and expanding the story world of the band with each new piece created.

Scrapbook image from The Midnight Detective Club game

NOT ON MY OWN

It hasn’t only been solo projects this year. I’ve had fun working with others, or contributing to projects that I wasn’t lead on. For example, I got session singer, Ellen Louise, involved in The Midnight Detective Club project. I know I’ve said it before, but I am really happy that I found someone with a vocal style that works so well with the music, and I love the lyrics and melody she came up with for Where’s the Magic Gone? I also commissioned Jupiter Doomsday to create some fun retro style characters for part of The MDC project. I’m really pleased with how they turned out, and all they need now is the right setting for them in the game.

Thanks to Anne Welsh, I also became an Associate for Beginning Cataloguing, and ran my first online workshop focused on creating a game for library classification, and I’m planning more in the future. I also co-ran a Bitsy workshop for The British Library. I mentored for Pocket Code’s Google Summer of Code project, and enjoyed seeing my mentee’s project coming together into such a fun showcase game. I contributed to Creswell Crag’s online Midwinter Festival of Folklore, with a piece about winter folklore in my digital story, Midwinter Spirits and other games. And I also became a student on Create Place, which is a creative leadership program focused on place-making, and I’m looking forward to finalising my collaborative project for this in 2021.

I know 2020 has been a difficult year all round, but my creative interests have been the mental leveller I personally needed. The pandemic itself helped me to focus on my creative projects. I had game and music making opportunities that kept me going and made me happy whilst dealing with the uncertainty of not having a job. And that creative focus also made me wonder why I’d not taken advantage of some of those creative opportunities before.

Even though a lot of my creative projects were solo efforts, without the support from others I’m not sure how much I would have achieved. This includes those who listened to and shared my music; encouraged me from the side-lines; played and/or gave feedback on my games etc; helped me solve techy game-making problems; and just tolerated what might have seemed like a blitz of endless self-focused creative tweets and Facebook updates. I appreciate it. That support is important to me. Thank you everyone who helped me have a positive creative year.

The Midnight Detective Club New Music Releases

The Midnight Detective Club, What Destiny Has Planned cover art

Next week (11th August) sees the release of two more demo synth pop songs from The Midnight Detective Club on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, Soundcloud, and other music streaming and download sites.  This time, Ellen Louise, singer on the tracks, penned the lyrics for Where’s the Magic Gone? They fit the idea behind the song perfectly.

The intention of the songs included in the game is to develop the story of the band and also the game. They give players hints of the supernatural mystery back in the 1980’s, but they also look to the present setting of the game, and are comments on the characters within it. What Destiny Has Planned focuses on the question of  whether the future is already laid out for us, whether it can be changed and what it has in store for us. Where’s the Magic Gone?  is nostalgic, and draws upon the idea of childhood being full of wonder, fearlessness and imagination, and how that can disappear once you grow up. But it also suggests that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Teen gang themselves are somehow (as a friend put it) “frozen in Aspic”. Teenagers in the 1980’s, but also teenagers now. Or are they adults with a teen mentality? It’s part of the mystery. And if I told you the truth, I’m not sure you would believe me. That would be an understandable reaction, because sometimes I’m not even sure I believe myself. But we will all find out once the mystery of The Midnight Detective Club is solved.

In the mean time, enjoy Where’s the Magic Gone? and What Destiny Has Planned on music streaming and download services, and ponder your past and future selves.

Song links live from 11th August.

The Midnight Detective Club, Where's the Magic Gone? cover art