Joannes Truyens

Blog posts by Joannes Truyens

The story world of Neurocracy, such as it is

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Hello again! We are so very pleased with the initial response to the unveiling of Neurocracy, with the premise of browsing a futuristic Wikipedia immediately resonating with people and our nascent Discord community taking its first deep dives into the world of 2049. If you're interested in joining that community and getting early access to Neurocracy, you can do so right here!

In our introductory blog post, we painted the broad strokes of what Neurocracy is and what we hope to achieve with it. In this follow-up post, we'll be taking a closer look at the story world of Neurocracy as it's presented through the various articles available on 2049's version of Wikipedia, which we have dubbed Omnipedia. To do that, let's highlight one of Neurocracy's principal characters: business magnate Xu Shaoyong (with his surname written first in accordance with Chinese naming conventions).

Xu is a principal character for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he is considered to be the most powerful person in the year 2049. Secondly, he and his company are emblematic of three current and developing trends that will intersect in the world of Neurocracy: biosecurity, neurotechnology, and surveillance capitalism. Thirdly and finally, his assassination is the inciting incident of Neurocracy's story and the main mystery you must solve.

Who is Xu Shaoyong?

Establishing a fictional society, especially a sci-fi one, means establishing its vocabulary. There are different ways of embedding this exposition in a story, some clunkier than others, but with Omnipedia as a medium, the story of Neurocracy is essentially told entirely through exposition. Each novel concept specific to the world of 2049, be that a character, organisation, technology, or event, gets its own article on Omnipedia. Xu's article will be one of the very first to be made available, since his life is inextricably linked to many of these concepts and the trends that underlie them.

Initially, most of Omnipedia's internal hyperlinks are limited to hover-only previews that are only a few sentences long, so reading all the way through Xu's article will introduce both the man himself and the vocabulary of Neurocracy. Given its episodic release format, each of these previews has the potential to be expanded into a full article somewhere along the way. The idea is that each article can tell a story of its own while also contributing to an overarching narrative of what has happened, and what is happening, in Neurocracy.

What does Xu Shaoyong represent?

The world of Neurocracy is governed by a techno-totalitarian regime originating in China. This is made possible by Zhupao, a Chinese technology conglomerate (founded by Xu) that has effectively privatised and standardised most all data mining operations under the guise of biosecurity. This high-concept setting is then filtered down to the micro level, with different Omnipedia articles showing the interconnected political, social, cultural, technological, and economic implications of a world where governments suddenly have cheap and streamlined access to all their citizens' data (including their neural states).

Rather than imagining a scenario where artificial intelligence becomes sentient or malevolent in a "man vs. machine" fashion, Neurocracy will extrapolate the impact that technology has on society today. With a running throughline of "data is power," Neurocracy deals with themes of machine learning, data mining, biased algorithms, climate change, the corrosive influence of big tech, China's treatment of minorities and dissent, and the dangers of the proliferation of technology outstripping the development of political and moral expertise.

While near future sci-fi runs a greater risk of being cancelled out as soon as it is written, Neurocracy avoids this pitfall by introducing a fictional pandemic caused by an infection known as Cariappa-Muren disease. The global fallout of this pandemic acts as a "reset button," with references to events between the present day and the spread of the pandemic kept largely vague and non-committal, and the time between the pandemic and the year 2049 used to redress the global balance.

However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be included in the worldbuilding of Neurocracy because it's frighteningly difficult to ignore (though many will try). Since Cariappa-Muren disease was written as a pandemic that elevates the overlap between the surveillance state and biosecurity to a global level, some of the initial steps of this progression will be attributed to COVID-19 instead. Neurocracy then goes ahead and mixes in consumer-grade neurotechnology for the hell of it.

Why does Xu Shaoyong get murdered?

Neurocracy conveys a linear story across its successive episodes, but that story only exists between the lines of the various Omnipedia articles. That's why Neurocracy is a murder mystery, with you having to figure out who killed Xu Shaoyong and why. It's up to you to dive into the rabbit hole of Omnipedia, explore the intricacies of the world of 2049, find clues, draw connections, and in so doing tell yourself the story of Neurocracy.

Xu's article offers plenty of reasons why someone might want him dead, and each one is an avenue of exploration into the world of 2049. This leads to subplots and lesser mysteries that then play out in their own articles, which appear on Omnipedia and receive updates as additional episodes are released. While you don't play a specific role or character in Neurocracy, you are conducting an investigation. If we inspire you to reach for pen and paper to make notes or fashion a conspiracy board with red string, we'll know we've done our jobs.

We are making Neurocracy, and you can too

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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

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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

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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.

Iron Finish

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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.

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