We are making Neurocracy, and you can too

Hello! Welcome to Playthroughline, a narrative design team composed of writer Joannes Truyens (that's me) and web developer Matei Stanca (that's them). We've previously used this blog for musings on narrative design in videogames and a series of movie scripts that poke fun at them, but now we are focused on something new. We are currently developing Neurocracy, an anthology of sci-fi stories told entirely through a futuristic Wikipedia. That's the elevator pitch, and what follows is the stuck-in-an-elevator pitch.

In generous terms, Neurocracy is an interactive narrative experience that combines elements from alternate reality games (or ARGs), hypertext fiction, and epistolary novels. It depicts a near-future society (set in the year 2049) in which a Chinese biosecurity network has come online and grown to encompass the entire world, elevating China to the status of global superpower. Neurocracy uses the medium of a fictional web-based encyclopedia known as Omnipedia that exists within the world of 2049 and closely resembles present-day Wikipedia in style and layout.

Instead of telling a linear story, Neurocracy invites you to piece together what has happened, and what is happening, solely from the information available on Omnipedia. To do this, you navigate a set of hyperlinked articles that detail various characters, organisations, technologies, and events relevant to the story and themes of Neurocracy. Most of these articles are in orbit around a high-profile assassination that throws the world of 2049 into disarray, leaving it to you to solve the many mysteries that follow. As additional articles are released in weekly episodes (with each episode representing a snapshot of a single in-universe day), more information becomes available, providing clues as to which articles provide other clues and/or could be seen in a new light.

You will be able to experience Neurocracy on your own, but if you are so inclined, you can join forces with others to truly bring it to life! That's where its interactivity lies: instead of a choose-your-own-adventure story that offers different outcomes based on your choices, Neurocracy is more of a choose-your-own-interpretation story. When browsing Omnipedia, you never really learn what transpires between characters, what their true actions or motivations are, or who did what with/to whom. However, this can be deduced by drawing connections between various hints and allusions peppered throughout the articles. The events of Neurocracy may be strictly linear, but there is plenty of ambiguity in between the lines.

We aim to foster a community that comes together to compare notes, debate interpretations, and ultimately tell the story of Neurocracy to itself and others. If you want to help build that community and get exclusive access to Neurocracy's first episodes as they are finalised, please do join our Discord server! You'll get a head start on speculating about Neurocracy's story, take part in challenges that will put you inside its world, and even have some of your interpretations influence its development!

In three months' time, we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds we need to hire additional writers and designers to enrich the world of Neurocracy with new voices and craft its audiovisual elements. If the campaign is successful, we can wrap up the final stage of development and present Neurocracy to you before the year is out! Until then, we will be using this blog as a platform to tell you more about Neurocracy, so expect a series of deep dives on how it works, what went into it, and more. In addition, you can check out our official website and follow Neurocracy on Twitter for regular announcements.

That's all for now! Stay tuned for further updates as we reveal more of what we've been working on. We're really excited about opening up the world of Neurocracy to you and we hope you'll dive in with us!

Quaking in my reboots

Doom is an integral part of many people's personal gaming histories, but it only briefly waved at me as it passed me by. I was thrown into the world of shooters with a copy of Quake instead. I recently had a chance to play through MachineGames' additional Quake episode, which they released for the game's 20th birthday. MachineGames already breathed new life into another of id Software's venerable gaming properties with Wolfenstein: The New Order, and so proved that they could combine a solid grasp of the original game with a range of fitting new elements. That design philosophy is also apparent in their new episode for Quake, which demonstrates a keen insight into what makes Quake tick and a willingness to play around with it.

So, Wolfenstein has been successfully pulled into modern gaming and Doom followed suit with its celebrated 2016 reboot, but what of Quake? The next entry in the franchise was announced last year, but it's set to be an arena-based multiplayer shooter named Quake Champions. I was left with a feeling of oh-okay because we wouldn't see a return to Quake's singleplayer, and playing MachineGames' episode got me thinking what that kind of reimagining could look like.

Tacoma's immersive simplicity

Tacoma
How many of your phones would unlock if I tried 0451?

In the later stages of Fullbright's Tacoma, you have to enter the code 0451, a set of numerals that has become synonymous with a lineage of games labelled as immersive sims (as explained in this video). Such games generally offer a specific set of tools and systems so that their interaction provides emergent, open-ended gameplay – unpredictable results from the combination of predictable variables. Tacoma decidedly does not fit that sandbox gameplay mould, but its inclusion of 0451 is more an homage to the overall legacy of immersive sims rather than a desire to be lifted into their pantheon. There are in fact a few recurring narrative elements inherent to immersive sims that Tacoma unifies and streamlines with a very clever conceit.

Script: Assassin's Creed

Note: The top of the Scripts page mentions that Hollywood still hasn't churned out a successful movie based on a videogame license, and it doesn't look like the recent Assassin's Creed adaptation has turned that tide. That's why Craig is here with a one-two punch: over at The Editing Room, he has gloriously abridged the Assassin's Creed movie, and here on this blog, he has written a new script that does the game a lot more justice.

-- Joannes

With approximately ten thousand Assassin’s Creed games out there, it’s strange for me to remember that I was a bit surprised when Assassin’s Creed II was announced. Assassin’s Creed was a decided disappointment. Everybody (myself included) was dazzled by early footage which showed off the fluid and adaptable “free-running” element of the game, but then when it actually came out, everybody (myself included) was dismayed to find how tedious most of the other elements of the game were.

Script: Watch_Dogs 2

Let’s talk for a minute about guilty pleasures. I have firm ideas of what I do and do not consider a “guilty pleasure.” I like the movie Speed Racer, but don’t consider it a guilty pleasure, because to my sensibilities, it’s a good movie. I understand that this isn’t a popular conception, but who cares – I have a high opinion of the film, I can articulate it when called upon, I am not ashamed of having seen it several times and owning it on Blu-Ray.

Script: Titanfall 2

Back in 2007, the people at Infinity Ward laid the groundwork for all military shooters since with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Now we have Titanfall 2, a game put together by a lot of the same developers. That shared DNA is apparent in how understated both games are in their accomplishments. The main difference is that, in contrast to the first Modern Warfare, Titanfall 2 never ruminates on how war is a terrible thing that only leaves spent lives in its wake. The story helps in that regard by painting a very black-and-white world in which there are only clear good guys and cartoonish bad guys. Nothing deeper is required.

Iron Finish

Iron Fish
Not Marvel's Iron Fist, go away.

My first attempt at actually writing a game instead of making fun of them resulted in Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries, which was released back in 2013. Not a lot of my work ended up in the final product, since the team went in a different direction late in the process. Then, at the end of last year, I was offered another chance to write a game by my former compatriots over at BeefJack. The work ended up ballooning from two months to nearly a year, but that gave me more time to work with some amazing people, not in the least Nina, a close friend I managed to bring in as a writing partner.

Now the game has been released on Steam! If you want to give it a play and then write a scathing satirical script on it, please do. I deserve no less. Below the jump you'll find the latest trailer and a look back at the project.

Script: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

The Deus Ex script was the first I ever wrote for Playthroughline, so I was really looking forward to tackling Mankind Divided, the next entry in the franchise. I won't use this space to dig into the game's misappropriation of social issues for its science fiction allegory, since the script already does that. I do want to look at how a more general failing of its storyline is connected to the first Deus Ex.

Script: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

It's such a rare idea, to actually end a game franchise. Videogames come second only to comic books in their tendency to be perpetual – while movies, books, plays, albums and so forth are more often than not standalone (even in this day and age), and even TV shows are expected to eventually end, it’s exceedingly rare to see a video game created without any chance of a followup, and also very rare for a successful series of games to be deliberately brought to a permanent conclusion.

Script: Half-Life

How did it ever become a conversation? And why, after such a long time, does it persist? You can't have a story – a nine hour story – fronted by a character who doesn't ever speak. That's basic. That's the first rule. I can definitely imagine the meeting where someone boasted it would allow videogame players to more easily identify with their avatar. But I can't imagine why nobody in the same meeting stood up and said “No. That's stupid. That's anti-narrative.”

Pages