Into the woods with ConQuest

Into the woods with ConQuest

When I learned about Silverstring’s ConQuest project, I was inspired to explore it as a new medium for creating cool experiences. With the Silverstring Team’s help, we put together a very successful experiment, an interactive story and scavenger hunt themed after one of our favourite retro videogames! I learned a great deal about writing for mobile storytelling, and had a wonderful time building props and costumes. One of my friends remarked to me afterwards, “I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never experienced anything like it.” Success!...

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Silverstring's views on VR

For the first half of this year, Silverstring was highly involved in VR. We were hired by Radial Games to help design and produce a prototype for an unannounced multiplayer VR title, and so for the last year or so we've been playing with VR, attending meet-ups, seeing talks at VRDC, and designing for VR. We're by no means pivoting our whole business to virtual reality, but it is a fascinating new realm we've been playing in, and the last year has brought about a lot of experimentation and interesting design discoveries.

And so, here are several of our views on VR -- how to design for it, what we've seen work and not, and where it might be going.

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Anna has joined the party!

Hello dear friends and followers! While 2016 has sucked for a lot of reasons, it has been a great year for Silverstring so far. We're working on some amazing projects with other creators, and our newest venture, ConQuest, had a very successful beta test this spring -- we're excited to see where it takes us.

This success so far has also allowed us to do something we've dreamed of since founding Silverstring -- hire someone!

And so I'd like to introduce you to Anna Bradley, the newest member of the Silverstring team. With expertise in communications, business, interactive technology, and art and animation, she's been the perfect fit for us as we continue to grow. She's an independent creator in her own right, a student, a feminist, and an all-around awesome person (which is, of course, the most important criteria for working with us!).

She's been with us for a few months and we hope she'll stay for many more. She'll be helping us with our social media, press outreach, application writing, project producing, design, concept art, and more. (We're a small team of many hats, after all!)

Please go say hi to her on Twitter at @PleasantSloth and make her feel welcome to our community!

Alt, Queer and Underground: Silverstring helps bring altgames to Vancouver scene

Alt, Queer and Underground: Silverstring helps bring altgames to Vancouver scene

There’s an open door in a brick wall. No one is around, but everywhere else in the district is factories barred by chain link fences, so the door must be the entrance to the Altgames Arcade. In the shadows of the concrete stairwell hang placards lit by rainbow LEDs. “The space you are in modifies and influences your behavior,” Claris Cyarron, the curator, warns you. “Architecture can be both empowerment and oppression, while queerness has no choice but to resist.” On the third floor you emerge into a space that looks just like a balmy 70s bungalow, complete with palms, billowing flower print curtains, wood paneling, and a tiled floor. The colourful guests fiddle with a dozen screens nested in piles of wires, navigating strange spaces in neon low poly brilliance.

This past Pride weekend in Vancouver, Silverstring Media’s own Claris Cyarron curated a collection of cutting-edge altgames by diverse creators. The bustling queer-themed showcase highlighted the groundbreaking artistic experimentation that defines the altgame genre.

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Bringing a new project to the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival - the Launch of ConQuest

Bringing a new project to the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival - the Launch of ConQuest

It's been a while since we've posted any news here, which has mostly been a result of having our heads down working hard on multiple big projects. Well, one of those is about to launch.

"ConQuest" is a concept we've been working on for a couple years, a way to use location-based technology and our unique design skills as a writer and architect to develop live story/game experiences at events like conventions and conferences.

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Looking back and looking forward - 2015 to 2016

It sometimes feels like not a lot gets done some years, but when Claris and I looked back at 2015 we realized just how much we'd actually accomplished.

The year started out a little quietly; we were still in recovery mode after being targeted by members of GamerGate who thought our tiny game studio controlled Gawker Media, created DIGRA (to be a marxist training camp), and worked with DARPA. But we started to surface from underneath that landslide with a refocused mission to support great critical writing in gaming and new media. Both Claris and I have had a long-standing passion for sharp critical writing on digital media, and seeing great critics under threat, both cultural and economic, was heart breaking. Though we lacked the SJW illuminati powers GamerGate claimed we had, we wanted to help out as we could. In February, we announced the formation of our non-profit arm, the Silverstring Association for Critical Discourse, the primary activity of which so far is the support of games history publication Memory Insufficient, the product of which can be seen in its new website and format. Great long-form articles have been published there ever since!

Through the rest of the year, we worked hard on a couple of big new projects that we're really excited about, but which are still in development -- meanwhile, though, we released several smaller projects over the year.

We started releasing Volume 2 of our experimental musical project "The Edge," created by Silverstring composer Devin Vibert -- you can read his thoughts about it here. The next video will be coming on Monday, so subscribe now!

In May, Lucas created Morning Rituals for the Interactive Fiction Fund, a comedy/horror Twine game about a possessed coffee machine. It's now available for free at our itch.io page and had a great review on Offworld.

Also in May, Claris wrote about her favourite painter, Mark Rothko, and how his work has helped her better understand the abstract architectures that are possible in games. This piece is an excellent read and ended up on Critical Distance’s This-Year-In-Videogame-Blogging digest for 2015.

In August, we released the Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz, the first part in a 3-part project that we're currently developing. The VDDIQ examines our relationship with media, fandom, and so-called virality, and is the introduction to our larger project about the horrors of social media, and how we consume media -- and it consumes us. Find out more at dustydead.com, and see some of the great responses we got to VDDIQ here. We also promised that part two would be coming by the end of the year -- and though we didn't make a big fuss about it, it's out there! Have you found it?

Then in September, we released the final piece of one of our first projects, Azrael's Stop. Tales of the Stop is an anthology of short stories that take place in and around the main story of Azrael's Stop, the bar where people come to die. Both Azrael's Stop and Tales are available as ebooks from various places [you can get a bundled discount price at our store] along with the full soundtrack that accompanies them.

Meanwhile, Claris travelled to Fantastic Fest, in Austin and QGcon, in Berkeley -- where she spoke about VDDIQ.

The end of the year was a little quieter publicly, but we've been working hard on a bunch of new projects -- both some awesome new opportunities with clients and some original projects including the third part of our "digital triptych" Book of the Dead.

2016 is already shaping up to be our busiest yet. We're looking forward to being able to start telling you all of the great things we’ve got on the go in the next few months!

In the meantime, if you want to help support us, buy our stuff! Tell your friends, write reviews, sign up for our newsletter, and hang out with us on Twitter :) If you are working on a project that could use our help, reach out; we’re always available for hire as consultants. We hope the new year brings you joy and art and new things to learn.

Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz Coverage

Since releasing our latest game, Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz, we've received some great press from people who really got what we were going for with the project. Below are some of our favourite pieces -- and don't forget, this is only part one of a larger project still to come!

The Dusty Dead: A Narrative Personality Quiz, by Eve Golden Woods on Women Write About Comics

Both the Bas-Lag novels and The Dusty Dead awaken the imagination to action almost as a defensive response. In the face of this wave of names and words and worlds you can’t possibly know, you focus on one and begin to map its internal coordinates. You imagine, perhaps, the translucent chitinous exoskeleton of Ghoran-Garen, opalescent against the yellow-green sky. It smells not of rot or mold but of sweet dust. Tapping it creates a ringing sound, like wind chimes or whispered chanting—though this is unwise, given the many children of the giant who come rushing to the sound to look for prey. You find a nook that someone used before, where they have left prayer-beads and a small statue of an unknown saint, and hunch in to wait out the rain, your diamond-edged sword across your knees.

Of course, this is only a fragment. Only a dream. I find it fascinating though, that I have seen other people who played the game composing their own mini-narratives over Twitter, happily pulling meaning from this gulf of language. That is always the first instinct we have. I think that’s only strengthened by the fact that the you of the central narrative in The Dusty Dead is a total unknown.
— Eve Golden Woods
...it’s a small thing but I dig it. The questions are baffling and filled with sprawling sci-fi saga tripe and lorebombs – who’s Old Jiricite or the Mother of Ravens? – and yet! The sci-fi guff is standard enough to be relatable so, like Glitchhikers, it asking makes you take the question inside to try to make sense of the options (which seem broadly to be along lines like seeking oblivion, power, or to hack the planet), and drags part of you out into them. Every identity quiz does, really, but the mystifying background encourages more contemplation – and other identity quizzes rarely end with showing you a gnarly skeleton.
— Alice O'Connor
It’s unnerving and it’s meant to be. So much of what we do on the internet is automatic that we don’t often think of the data and information we are putting out into the world; everything is designed to look friendly, tailored to your own needs. Very rarely do we consciously consider who – or what – might be watching. Waiting.
— Alice Percy
In a rather interesting twist, despite the franchise not existing, if you let yourself be drawn in, you find that you spend some time choosing your answers appropriately, much the same as a member of a fandom certainly would. It speaks to the power of viral marketing that the questions still feel important regardless.
— John Bridgman
This is probably Dusty Dead’s greatest strength – where typical identity quizzes lead takers in the obvious directions of characters they know and love, this one has no frame of reference. In turn, I saw more of myself in the results I got than I would have in any other personality test. This feels like the game’s very indirect way of saying that’s all we get from personality tests – reflections of ourselves.
— Dakota Corley

You can check out Book of the Dead at dustydead.com and download the Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz now at http://silverstring.itch.io/

Death and how we live with it

How do you go on living when the ones you love have died? That's the question that Azrael's Stop has one simple answer to: stories. This novella and multi-media project from Silverstring Media explores how our stories give our lives -- and our deaths -- meaning to others, and how friends can help us through the darkest times. The final part of the project, the anthology Tales of the Stop, releases on September 24th.

Originally an experimental Twitter fiction project from writer/producer Lucas J.W. Johnson, Azrael's Stop was published as a YA fantasy ebook in 2013, along with a full original soundtrack -- which includes three songs referenced in the story. Silverstring Media then put out a call for submissions of short stories for its follow-up anthology, which includes original stories from 10 authors that help fill out and complete the saga begun in Azrael's Stop.

"We have always used stories to help us understand our world and our own lives," says Lucas J.W. Johnson, who wrote and produced Azrael's Stop and edited Tales of the Stop. "Stories teach us empathy, and show us experiences outside our own. In Azrael's Stop, I explored how stories could help us, but I wanted to take that theme further: by inviting other writers to tell stories in my world, with my characters, I wanted to open our readers up to even more."

No myth is just a myth. No song is just a song. No story just a story. Telling it gives it meaning. Hearing it gives it meaning. Gives it power. There is great power in story, in music. There is truth in even the most blatant fiction. You find the meaning you need.
— Nael, Azrael's Stop Chapter 3

The anthology includes not only traditional short stories, but a one-act play and an interactive fiction game. "Azrael's Stop was originally built on the idea of experimentation, of mixing media forms to help tell the story," Johnson says. "In the original novella, this survives mostly in the music that accompanies it, though I originally envisioned interactive games, comics, and more. So I wanted to invite writers of more than just short stories to contribute to Tales, to continue to embrace that idea, that different types of media can tell different types of stories."

Accompanying the September 24th release of Tales of the Stop is the publication of a second edition of Azrael's Stop with a new foreword by Johnson.

Both books are now available in .pdf, .epub, and .mobi form at http://silverstringmedia.com/store, where the digital album is also sold. The full project is available as a discounted bundle for only $13.99, and each piece is also available at the following places:

Azrael’s Stop: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo
Tales of the Stop: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo
Azrael’s Stop Official Soundtrack: iTunes | CDBaby | Amazon

You can get more information at http://azraelsstop.com
For more press information, go to http://press.silverstringmedia.com/sheet.php?p=Azrael%27s%20Stop

Review copies available upon request.

New game about the aftermath of social media

Social media and entertainment define us and the times in which we live. Silverstring's latest project Book of the Dead seeks to explore how we consume this content -- and it consumes us. A "digital triptych," Book of the Dead is a 3-part project about a dead and forgotten social network.  Part 1 will release August 4th at http://silverstring.itch.io/dustydead, available for free; a $5 donation also gets you the "90's Toon Channel's Dusty Dead Adventures Theme Song".

Book of the Dead is the second major release from Silverstring Media after last year's critically-acclaimed Glitchhikers. The triptych is about our relationship with content consumption and how internet culture grows, is shared and consumed, creates conflict, and ultimately dies.

The project begins with the Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz. Players answer a series of surreal questions to find out "which character they are" in a popular media franchise, as the quiz itself decays unnervingly around them. Just like the fragile structures that support their contemporary lifestyle. Then they reach the final stop, sharing the content virally to thousands of their closest friends.

But the franchise itself isn't actually real. "Among other things, we wanted to explore the relationship between media and fandom, the ownership fans have, but we couldn't do it with an actual franchise," says Silverstring partner and head writer Lucas J.W. Johnson. "So we constructed this concept of a franchise that doesn't actually exist -- in our world, The Dusty Dead has a long history going back to the 70's, with all the highs and lows that come with that." As the first part of the larger project, Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz will introduce players to that franchise, while also satirizing corporate viral content.

Development of the project has taken some turns, as social media itself was in turmoil. "We started designing the concept for Book of the Dead a year ago," says Silverstring partner and lead designer Claris Cyarron, "and then GamerGate hit. We -- a tiny studio -- were inexplicably pegged as shadowy corporate overlords pulling the strings of all gaming journalism. Even so, we escaped the worst of it. Always a double-edged sword, social media took on a more directly sinister aspect as we watched our friends and colleagues get harassed out of the industry and their homes. Book of the Dead's design had to adapt to reflect this recent history and, for many, new reality."

Silverstring Media has become known for its experimental games, from last year's Glitchhikers to the host of smaller experiments on their site in multiple types of media, and Book of the Dead is no different.

Viral Dusty Dead Identity Quiz will be released on August 4th, with the rest of the project to be announced. You can view the trailer and sign up for the latest news about the project at http://dustydead.com/

Ritual, Addiction, and Coffee-themed Horror

Making our morning cup of coffee is, for many of us, ritualistic; it's a pattern we often choose not to end, whether because we are unwilling or unable to. Morning Rituals, our new text-based horror game, explores what might happen if we don't break free from that--or the consequences of succeeding. It's available to buy now at itch.io for just $1.33.

A 20-minute game built in Twine, complete with some visuals and a 3-song original soundtrack, Morning Rituals is about the our relationship with coffee, work, and life--represented by an unnecessarily complex touch-screen coffee maker possessed by demonic forces. It's an exploration of ritual and addiction, the demands of technology, and the balance of work and life.

"The idea came when Devin, our composer, actually won a touch-screen Keurig as a door prize," says Lucas J.W. Johnson, the creator of Morning Rituals. "We were flabbergasted--why does a coffee maker need a touch screen?--and joked around for a while about the kind of GlaDOS-like personality it must have. And the game concept was born."

Going beyond that original concept, Morning Rituals explores both the ritual-like relationship many of us have with coffee and with making coffee, as well as the physical and social addictions we have to it. Every movement in making a cup of coffee becomes a pattern, a ritual (open lid, dispose of last coffee waste, insert new coffee, close lid, set preferences, brew coffee, drink, repeat), and the game explores how much we are bound to those rituals--and what happens if we try to stop.

The game was originally commissioned by the Interactive Fiction Fund, and released to its backers at the end of May. It's now seeing a wider release through itch.io.

You can get the game at http://silverstring.itch.io/morningrituals