Interview with George Lockett

2020-02-17 · by Stewart C Baker
tagged Interviews

George Lockett is a London-based writer of fiction and video games. His short fiction has appeared in such places as Fireside Magazine, The Colored Lens, and Making Monsters: A Speculative and Classical Anthology. He has written for and consulted on a variety of other interactive projects, including VR, AR, and narrative video games. George is the author of Growing Pains, one of the winners of our 2019 game jam and featured in our February 2020 issue.

This interview was conducted over email in February of 2020.

George Lockett

Sub-Q Magazine: You wrote this game as part of our 2019 game jam, which had a theme of environment. Can you talk a bit about your process, and how you approached the theme–and the really tight wordcount?

George Lockett: I experimented with a few different ideas for the theme before settling on the one that appealed most: someone tending a garden and, essentially, talking to the plants. Somehow, this led me to ‘an ASCII plant made of words’ from which some advice would emerge depending on the choices the player had made.

Having landed on this core conceit, I worked backwards into the ‘why’. Why is this person in the garden, and why are they tending this plant? The feel I had in my head was one of intimacy and tenderness – something that felt small and human. From there, I landed on the image of someone grappling with a relationship that has recently ended.

Aside from the wordcount, my key constraints were technical. I consider myself reasonably proficient in Ink, and I know enough CSS to do basic styling, but doing anything more advanced with the JavaScript would be like throwing octopuses at a dartboard. I might be able to achieve something with a lot of trial-and-error, but more likely it would just be messy and confusing for everyone involved.

Most of the actual writing and coding was fairly routine. However, there is one key design question that I faced which bears mentioning: finding the right words for the plant.

I wanted the piece to have several endings, reflecting how the player chose to engage with the memories of their relationship. Each storylet the player completed would nurture the plant and cause it to grow another letter. Thus, the plant’s message would appear gradually over the course of the playthrough. I wanted the player to be considering this emergent phrase, trying to guess what the plant was saying, in its slow, botanical way, before the message was complete.

The practical constraint of this was that the different ending messages needed to have the same starting letters – suggesting a range of possible sentiments that wouldn’t become clear until there were enough letters for the phrase to ’emerge’. The theoretical-but-impossible ideal for this would be a set of words that were identical up to the last letter, the appearance of which would dramatically change the meaning. But that doesn’t really work in English. So, I looked for something that would best approximate that.

I experimented. FORG -ive/-et seemed like it might work, but that raised other problems. The plant’s message is meant to be reflective of the player’s decisions. I also didn’t want the plant’s already-grown letters to ‘mutate’ into new letters mid-way through. This meant that FORG would lock the piece’s ending message after only five decision points, with many more to follow before the player reached the end of the game. This meant that the final message could well clash with the player’s own perception of their choices.

I opted to use the same initial word (FORGIVE), and provide significant variation with the word that followed.

sub-Q Magazine: Is there any gardening going on in your life right now, either at your home or in an allotment?

George Lockett: I’m actually not much of a gardener! I am fortunate enough to have my desk situated next to a set of big glass doors onto a garden, but my powers fall more into the domain of squirrel-wrangling.

Our local squirrels are regular visitors, and welcome distractions from writing.

This is Lennie:
a squirrel sits on a table outside a window

She has never given me relationship advice. At least, no good relationship advice.

sub-Q Magazine: You were a contributing writer for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Notice any interesting differences in the experience of writing a large game as part of a team, versus writing a short game like this one by yourself?

George Lockett: There was less of a difference between the two than you might expect! Though I think that’s a quirk of the development of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.

I wrote many of the ‘vignettes’ – the small, (generally) self-contained stories that the player encounters on their journey. There were several constraints provided by the wider project, but Johnnemann Nordhagen – who led the development of the game – gave us a huge amount of creative freedom.

Each of the vignettes had to have a specific ‘mood’ that was discernible to the player (‘funny’, ‘thrilling’, ‘scary’, etc.), and needed to conform to one or more of the game’s topic tags, but within those, we had an extremely broad remit. The vignette writers were given a set of art to draw from, which we’d discuss and divide up based on what we each liked most. Sometimes, a piece of art had a specific reference point behind it – generally a city or a specific urban legend or myth – but most were left to us to run with.

This was fantastic. We were given a sensible scope with a lot of artistic freedom to delve into the different weird things that interested us.

sub-Q Magazine: Do you have anything coming up soon that you’d like our readers to know about?

George Lockett: I’ve not got anything upcoming that I can talk about just yet, but if you like Growing Pains, you can find more of my work – mostly short fiction – on my website.

I’ve got a few more IF pieces in the pipeline that I hope to release in the next few months, so keep an eye on that page or my Twitter account for more about those.

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