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Digitiser: The Game: Development

Part 6 - 25th September 2018

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I have completed a first draft of the script, which took two weeks. Though some scenes aren't quite there, now I can see how the game goes from start to finish. It goes like this: cut scenes.

Lazy exposition

I dropped out of modern gaming some years back, thanks to Deus Ex. It put my own attempts at making games to shame, so I realised that I should spend more time creating than playing. Then life happened, with a nagging fear that, meanwhile, developers were building even more dispiritingly astounding games on those foundations.

They weren't. I've recently dipped my toes into the 7th generation, starting with Mass Effect, then hastily skipping to its sequel. Both make Deus Ex look like a pile of drab slabs, but play one step backwards, if not also sideways.

My favourite moment in Deus Ex was jumping off a fatally tall building, progressively breaking my fall on fittings such as security lights, to skip the fighting inside. There's not as much freedom in Mass Effect 2, yet it's easier to break. Such as an exciting siege where I misread my cue, running futile circuits while the same NPC died each time I passed them.

Mr. Robot (Biffo)

The ultimate Digitiser game, flawlessly improvising plausible responses to player stupidity, would require an artificial intelligence Mr. Biffo. There would be practical problems, mostly that Mr. Biffo must fully understand his impulses to express them as rules, but also that the fast pattern recognition of AI generally chokes on non sequiturs.

There would also be ethical considerations. Most sewage works are controlled by embedded systems which predate internet insecurity, so total brownaround is inevitable.

In lieu of robot Mr. Biffo, my compromise begins with a script that, come the next revision, will be sent to the fleshy one himself. Once he stops crying, hopefully my words will be bashed into order, thus creating the brief illusion that he is alive inside your Spectrum. In the fun sense, rather than faint muffled screaming.

Narrative junctions

The script is also a compromise, essentially linear, but offering minor choices. It's a blocky choose your own adventure book, with narrative sprawl checked by branches that swiftly rejoin the main track, rather than sudden death. There will also be a sprinkling of variable flags, which can be set to trigger reminders of earlier decisions.

Having considered mini games, although two should make the final cut, I felt that action was the wrong focus. This was partly for technical reasons, but even the best arcade adventure would seem tangential without plenty of written jokes.

Also, I must confess to spending thirty seconds considering mandatory prompts and stick-wiggling in cutscenes. In mitigation, this was mostly because it's funny when taken to extremes, like when Deadly Premonition becomes Deadly Thompson's Decathlon.


There are currently 6,913 words and 40,906 letters in the script. Removing all the names, directions, and rough notes should halve those figures. Then, after compression, the spoken lines should require around 12k of memory, 2k more than I feel comfortable with. Which is good, eventually, because that will force me to cut words, lines, and scenes that don't really need to be there.

Memory limitations have also forced a decision on the controls, which will now be confined to the four coloured buttons of a television remote, with blue acting as reveal. Though keying in page numbers would have been fun, changing scenes at critical or inappropriate moments, it would have opened up a world of possibilities far beyond 48k.

Beside, I'd have to script all those possibilities that most players would never see. Though I don't regret offering multiple outcomes in the tunnels of the Found Footage game, even something that simple required a full cause and effect matrix for debugging.

Management failure

Before continuing to work on this game, I have another one to complete. In short, I have messed up. I can only apologise for my inept scheduling, and be glad that the Digitiser live show has probably slipped to next year.

This other game has little in common with Digitiser, being mostly arty farty with only light touches of nostalgia and surrealism. However, anyone interested in the technical side is welcome to poke around at Bloktoberfest, this year's teletext gathering. Entry is free, and it will be packed with talented pixel artists. I'll be hanging around them in a desperate attempt to learn something.

In summary, next month I'll be frantically working on something else, and preparing for a low res weekend in Wigan. If I can find time for Digitiser, it will be to refine the script, so perhaps I'll drop some story hints and misinformation in the next entry.

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