The marching of metal feet

It’s been a long journey to publication (although laughably short compared to, say, STORMHUNTER) but ATTACK OF THE CLOCKWORK ARMY will be released very soon.

I am, naturally, delirious with excitement.

This is it! The steampunk Australia story I’ve been working on since before Louisette existed.

[The novel HEART OF BRASS is chronologically first in-world, but although I promise it will be available someday it’s still at least a year away from release. You can play with or without spoilers depending on what name you choose – the last name “Muchamore” means you are playing a character from the print book.]

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The pictures above are strangely relevant. There is a particularly steampunk (and literally magical) hot air balloon in all three of the steampunk Australia stories I’ve written so far (the third is AFTER THE FLAG FELL). I used “research” as an excuse to go in a hot air balloon ride with my partner Chris years ago, and he loved it so much we later gave his parents a voucher for the balloon flight pictured above.

With the exception of a fanfic short story I wrote for friends some time ago, ATTACK OF THE CLOCKWORK ARMY is the first interactive story I’ve ever written. I set out to use the coding system of ChoiceScript (more on that system later!) to represent the emotional journey of a character in a novel.

A lot of interactive fiction features a protagonist who begins as a blank slate. This implies either a lack of agency or an inevitable “Mary Sue/Marty Stu” (boringly perfect, superpowered main character) but in fact the opposite is true.

I think of the reader as a co-writer. Would the protagonist be better played as a male or a female? What romantic relationship is the most interesting? Is the protagonist especially brave, skilled, clever, or kind – because it’s impossible to be all of the above at the same time? Is their family more important, or their patriotism?

Probably my favourite aspect of CLOCKWORK ARMY – other than the story and characters, which of course I’m in love with – is the fact that the protagonist has to choose a “fatal flaw” that has an effect on their abilities, experiences, and relationships. It is possible to overcome any of the fatal flaws, but it’s not easy to figure out how (each fatal flaw can be overcome in a completely different way). As far as I can tell with my noob knowledge, I’m the first person to do this in interactive fiction.

Unlike old-style Choose Your Own Adventure books, Choice of Games (the publisher, and the creators of the ChoiceScript program that I use) uses what they call “delayed branching”. Instead of numerous wildly different stories (most ending in startling death), the protagonist WILL make their way towards the same climax every time… but they will have a variety of different experiences there depending on their choices, personality, and skills (most of which are expressed through statistics, which you can click a button to check on, especially if you suspect a choice requires a particular ability).

So in the first chapter or two, you mostly get “free” abilities. As the game progresses, your choices are much more likely to involve success or failure depending on whether you’ve built up the right skill set to succeed in one way or another (eg if your swordfighting is rubbish but your chess-playing is masterful, then you really should choose the chess option to challenge your baddie). I like to have trickier choices at the end, where two abilities interact to decide whether your decision ends well or… not.

It’s possible to die in CLOCKWORK ARMY (in fact there are six different ways, I think) but it’s really quite difficult. So if you died, congratulations?

I find as a reader that I can ignore the statistics if I want, and simply make choices depending on my mood. I often play as a “nice” person, and the best interactive fiction I’ve read goes ahead and gives me a “nice” ending (say, befriending your enemies instead of killing them all).

A lot of interactive fiction is more about giving an experience (such as the experience of being mentally ill or transgender) rather than telling an action-packed adventure story. Not mine though – at least not yet. I just write adventures, like I always have.

If you like the idea of a steampunk romp set in Australia, you’ll love ATTACK OF THE CLOCKWORK ARMY.

Also, you can read it on your phone. You can even fight against the Australian independence movement if you like – just don’t tell the author. She might sic a pack of iron-fanged dingoes on you.

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