Happy New Year! A lot of time has passed since my last newsletter. I apologize for the lack of updates, but since the last newsletter in early November, I’ve added roughly 40,000 words to Safe Haven Part 2. I’ll get into that more below. As my due date draws near for finishing Part 2, I am already planning new projects and will discuss those too. Finally, I’ll talk about how you can write games like I do.
This post is dedicated to one topic – Part 2 and its release. For those who do not want to read the entire post, I will tell you the major news first. Part 2 will be delayed again.
I know, you’re tired of hearing this. I know an announcement like this will piss off lots of readers who have patiently waited for a continuation of the story. Well, I have more to add before it is truly ready for release, so I have decided to hold it back until next year. Since I don’t want to keep setting expectations only to fail my readers, all I will say is that, Part 2 is now projected for release in February, 2018.
If you want more details, read on.
Hello everyone! This week I chose a few questions from social media to answer. Instead of giving short responses, I will cover these larger topics in greater detail.
Questions from Social Media
Here are answers to questions from Facebook and Twitter for this week.
Will there be more survivors that can join your group? Asked by Jeremy Nadeau on Facebook
Hello everyone! This week I’m providing my newsletter as a blog post for those of you who prefer to read this on my website. This week, I’ll be sharing info on some upcoming features for ZE: Safe Haven, Part 2. It will be a spoiler-heavy newsletter, so after a general update, I’ll warn you when the spoilers are coming.
Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven was released at the end of October, 2016, and my prediction for releasing Part 2 was summer of 2017. My early plan was to finish 150,000 words of content by August and release the downloadable chapters in September. As July drew to a close, I increased my projection to finishing in October for a November release. My new (and hopefully final) estimate is to finish Part 2 by mid-November and see it live conservatively by the end of the year for under $3.
If you came here to find out when Part 2 is releasing, now you know. If you want to know why, read on.
Zombies rise again at the dawn of Apocalypse! Can you survive the first few days of the zombie outbreak as the dead rise, society collapses, and the living struggle to survive?
“Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven” is a thrilling interactive survival-horror novel by Jim Dattilo, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based–without animation or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.
Customize a character using a variety of professions, backgrounds, special challenges, and skills to survive in a brutal and chaotic city as the Zeta virus spreads. Will you be an honorable soldier, searching through neighborhoods to aid survivors? Or will you be a ruthless bandit who loots and robs others for needed supplies? How about a paranoid hacker, psychopathic con artist, pragmatic scientist, or idealistic teenager? Dozens of options allow you to play the character of your choice.
Set in the “Zombie Exodus” world, the first part of “Safe Haven” focuses on the first few days of a viral outbreak which changes the infected into mindless zombies. Explore the changes to society at the start of the pandemic. Board your house, gather supplies, meet over a dozen other characters, and survive encounters with the living dead and even other survivors. Scavenge numerous locations, craft items, and use a variety of skills to survive the many challenges of the apocalypse.
People who follow my games have been suggesting I blog to provide updates on ZE: Safe Haven’s development, to delve into ChoiceScript tips and tricks, and to discuss my other projects (A Wise Use of Time, Zombie Exodus, the ZE novel). I will try to keep this on a weekly schedule.
ZE: Safe Haven Development
This week was productive with numerous bugs fixed and approximately 5800 new words of content. I have also started hashing out profiles of several new NPCs not yet introduced but coming in chapter 4.
I decided to stop the public playtesting at the next update. To focus on development, it is far more efficient to work with a small team of testers. While I truly appreciate all feedback, handling it can be time-consuming. The number of requests for new features sometimes takes my time away from squashing bugs or fixing continuity errors. My goal is to spend this summer finishing Part 1, and limiting my tester pool will help.
Replayability vs. Game Length
Today, I read a comment I made on the Choice of Games forum from January, 2015:
People felt Part 4 was short because it’s not linear, so I received criticism. From my experience, people want a long playthrough. Replayability is not as important as playthrough.
I remember this comment came at a time when several reviews of my game were calling it too short while other games at the time had far less word count but linear gameplay with more perceived length. Out of frustration, I made this comment. Now, I disagree with it.
I enjoy games with replay value and a chance to explore multiple plots, characters, and playstyles. If I read through a game a second time and find little has changed aside from flavor text and an ending, I wonder why it was made as a choice game. I want to try out multiple types of characters and have the game respond. Can I survive as a pragmatic teenager, a snarky coward, or stoic badass? What will happen if I let Candace die in Part 4 but save Crone at the summer camp? If a game is too linear and gives only the illusion of choice, I can’t feel immersed in the story.
While creating such games can be complicated, ChoiceScript empowers its users to add depth through branching narrative. My suggestion to choice-game developers is to create meaningful stats and change them routinely. My rule is to change 1-3 stats with every choice.
As the reverend leans in his car, the exterminator reaches in his van and pulls out a crowbar. He clenches it in his hands and strides toward the unaware man. From the yard of the house across the street comes movement behind a row of trees. You… *choice #Rush outside to warn the reverend before he's attacked. *set morality %+15 *set impulse %+10 #Rush outside and yell for the exterminator to stop. *set morality %+10 *set honor %+15 #Rush outside and threaten the exterminator to stop. *set morality %+10 *set impulse %+15 #Walk outside to be in position to take advantage of this situation. *set honor %-15 #Call the police. They need to handle this altercation. *set impulse %-15 #Watch and wait. I'll only get involved if it benefits me. *set morality %-10
In the code above, the player is presented with an option for dealing with an imminent fight outside his or her home. Each option modifies a stat or two which helps build the profile of the character. As the game progresses, stats will be changed more and more, and we start to see how different the main character becomes: paranoid loner, impulsive vigilante, heroic cynic, psychopath, and many other profiles.
When you freeze time, no one can see you, hear you, or stop you, except, perhaps, a handful of mysterious time controllers like yourself. Every second you steal puts more stress on your body and mind.
Will you bring justice to the mobsters who run rampant in your city? Will you steal from them to provide for those in need? Will you share your power with friends and family? Will you destroy your own powers, or will your powers destroy you first?
As part of my project to write a Zombie Exodus novel based on the game, I am hosting live play-by-play sessions. During these events, anyone can play the game along with me on Facebook and Twitter, and everyone can vote for each choice I make. I record those choices and use them in developing the Zombie Exodus novel.
To make this next event more accessible, please vote in the survey below for when you would be available.
What date & time would you attend?
So far, players have created Abigail Miller, a female carpenter, who spends her free time at the gym and the shooting range. She carries a backpack and multi-tool, spoke to Jason, and found a revolver in her neighbor’s apartment. She met Mike in the maintenance office and humanely ended his life after he became infected. On the ground floor, she helped Candace and Mindy kill a zombie, and they in turn helped her get past the police officers at the building entrance.
Abigail drove the river road and bypassed military blockades, killed some bandits who were robbing motorists, and avoided a zombiefied park ranger. She met a little girl in a playground, who she tried to help, but the girl disappeared. Finally, Abigail met up with her sister Emma and her sister’s friend, Heather.
Next, we need to figure out how Abigail, Emma, and Heather are getting out of the city.
In early Spring, 2015, Choice of Games will publish my choice game/text adventure, A Wise Use of Time. In it, you play an insurance executive who awakes one morning to find yourself possessed of the ability to command the flow of time. How did this happen, and what are you going to do with your new-found powers?
People have asked, “why would a zombie fiction writer switch genres for his second game?” To answer that, I need you to understand a bit about my history and goals.
I wrote Zombie Exodus for several reasons but mainly to gain writing experience, to get people interested in my writing, and to learn about publishing. I wrote A Wise Use of Time (WUoT) to gain credibility. I like WUoT but rather write ZE:Safe Haven. If you want to know more about the last three years of my game-developing life, read on; otherwise, go play a game.
About fifteen years ago, I wanted to become a writer. I started working for a company called The Mining Co, which became About.com. I was their guide to Computer Simulation Games and did fairly well at it. In the early days of blogging, I had 50,000 unique visitors per month. But About.com changed ownership and changed the money-making model, and I lost 75% of my income. I quit and took a job in clinical research.
Five years ago, I wanted to be a writer again. As a new, amateur writer, I found it difficult to get short stories published or gain followers, both of what you need for your writing resume. In May, 2011, I read Choice of Vampires, found out about Choice of Games (CoG), and started work on what would become Zombie Exodus.
CoG published ZE on their amateur label as a free app with advertising. Eventually for reasons outside the scope of this post, they changed the app to have paid downloadable content. ZE did well and gained me exposure and followers.
In January 2014, I proposed a sequel to CoG, Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven (ZE:SH) to be published as an official title. Details of the differences between official CoG and Hosted Games titles are here, but basically with an official title, you gain more support from CoG, more marketing and exposure, and more money. Indirectly, you gain credibility as a writer.
For me to keep writing, to write more, and to support myself full-time with writing, I need credibility.
CoG passed on my proposal for ZE:SH. They didn’t want to make yet another zombie game (they have Choice of Zombies). That was the reason they stated. I thought they made a mistake in passing, but they have big picture ideas about the genres and types of games they want on their official label. I respect their decision as they have more knowledge about the publishing world, their readership, and their coverage of different genres. They said ZE:SH can be a Hosted Games app, but I still wanted to publish an official CoG game.
In April, 2014, CoG accepted a proposal for WUoT for their official label. I handed in roughly one to two chapters per month and a first draft on 12/26/2014. At that time, the game consisted of 197,000 words of code. I have a 2nd draft due in the 2nd week of January. From there, it enters a closed beta for a few weeks, and then will be sent to a copyeditor for several weeks. WUoT should be out in early Spring 2015.
I am very excited for the release of A Wise Use of Time. I used everything I learned in writing ZE to develop it. Also, I used feedback from my followers to tweak the game to make it as entertaining as possible. I made choices matter, gave a variety of choices, enhanced replayability, and created some interesting characters. Romantic interests affect plot. Character customization affects plot. You can be gay, straight, female, male, moral, immoral, greedy, or altruistic. It’s not a zombie game, but I anticipate that my ZE followers will enjoy it.
For me to continue writing, I need people to enjoy my work and show my publisher they enjoy my work. When WUoT is released, please buy it. Number of purchases is the main metric used to measure whether a publishing company takes you seriously or not. I wish it was another way. Believe it or not, I don’t care much about the money; I want to show CoG and other publishers that people will download a game by Jim Dattilo. If that happens, I can work on bigger projects and devote more of my time and energy to doing what I love—writing stories that people enjoy.