Playtesting: Fetch The Engines, Chapter One

Okay - I’ve spent long enough opining on other people’s worlds. It’s time to reveal my own.

Fetch The Engines is a story in five chapters, which (like the serial novels of yesteryear) I’m planning to release one chapter at a time. At the moment, Chapter One is playable, together with a short prologue. A few of my friends have successfully completed it, so I believe it’s ready for wider testing and feedback.

>> Click this link to play <<

A couple of notes and cautions:

[ul][li]My hope here is to create something that will appeal to non-gamers, as well as those who frequent this forum. So please excuse the hand-holding, particularly in the prologue.[/li][li]Again for that reason, the style in Chapter One is intentionally quite literary. It’ll get more game-like in Chapter Two.[/li][/ul]I welcome any and all comments. There are a few things I’m particularly concerned about, and if you make it to the end of Chapter One, the survey will ask you about those. But if you don’t feel motivated to play to the end - or if you get stuck - then you won’t see the survey; in that case I’d hugely appreciate a post here.

I have some in-game trinkets (for use in Chapter Two) ready as a thank-you for particularly insightful comments.

That’s it, I think. Enjoy!


1. Edited to remove 30 December deadline, following World Of The Season rule changes
2. Edited because monetization is now on - see post later in thread
3. Edited out obsolete information as I move towards a proper release - see further posts later in thread
edited by Morton on 12/29/2012
edited by Morton on 1/1/2013
edited by Morton on 1/20/2013

I’ve made a few tweaks today based on early feedback (many thanks to those who’ve messaged me - I hope I’ve also replied individually). One thing’s worth commenting on here, because if you’ve already played past the prologue you won’t see the fix:

In Chapter One, as you explore Edinburgh, you’ll visit different areas. Each area presents different opportunities, so the cards you draw from your Opportunity deck will be different ones. To make the most of all the city has to offer, remember to draw cards in every place you travel to.

I’d completely missed the fact this wasn’t “obvious” - but it isn’t, of course. For new players, the very first card drawn will now explain it.

If you’re stuck (or got bored because you weren’t making progress), I’d love to hear from you! The opening chapter is supposed to require a little bit of thought, but not to be “difficult”. Which is a very hard thing to pitch right.


I know it looks very much like I’m talking to myself here, but I genuinely am getting lots of helpful input by PM and through the “contact the creator” option. I seem to have set things up in a way which discourages actual discussion in the forums, which is a shame. Lesson learned for next time.

Anyway - for obvious reasons, I was working to a 31 December deadline, and had therefore said I was going to turn off the special playtesting options tomorrow. But things have changed, so I’ll leave them on a bit longer. I’ve edited the original post to reflect that.

Thanks to those who’ve already played through the chapter. Once again - if you’ve got stuck or lost interest, I’d very much appreciate a quick post or message to say why.


I took a quick dip in your game and it found it well-written. Before too long I fell victim to IJWTC-itis (I Just Want To Click-itis) and started skimming I do like how your story progression happens over a dinner scene (I have a very similar segment in my game). I will give it another try when I’m ready to read a bit more with some fresh eyes.

Yep. That’s going to be the big problem, at least for people who are used to Fallen London - which has very brief snippets of writing, but lots and lots and lots of them.

Part of the reason I’ve set it out like a book, with a foreword and chapters and so on, is to try to set a slightly different expectation about how it’s meant to be read. (Which in turn comes from an attempt to appeal to a slightly different audience.) But that’s a gamble, and it might prove that it’s just not suited to the platform. Time will tell.

Thanks for the comment - it’s a very interesting one,


Not to distract you from SN, but have you looked at Varytale? I am very interested in that platform as well for more long-form text-y works. Actually now that you mention - you story did feel very CYOA, at least the part I played through.

I looked at Varytale a little while ago, although not to anything like the same level of detail as I’ve looked at StoryNexus. It’s beautifully-executed but, to be honest, I didn’t quite connect with the paradigm. The StoryNexus metaphor using decks of cards just feels more natural to me, though it’s possible that I’m biased in its favour because of the shining example of Fallen London.

In any case, what I want to produce is unambiguously a game, not a novel. I’m just using some of the trappings of a novel in the hope of bridging the gap to people who think of “games” as a lower art form. Infocom, the late lamented purveyors of classic text adventures, famously sold their titles through bookstores - it’s the same idea.

More generally, I don’t think there’s a fundamental reason why StoryNexus won’t work with slightly longer-form material (where the word “slightly” is key: most of the result texts in Fetch The Engines are two paragraphs long, which is twice as much as Fallen London but still not “long” in absolute terms). All of the basic mechanics, including the limit on actions and the random draw of cards, can still work fine. The difficult thing is managing the grind so that the reader doesn’t get into the habit of skipping text - which is why the survey at the end of Chapter One fusses quite a lot about how grindy the whole thing seemed.

The prologue is on rails because it’s a tightly-controlled tutorial (and also because it’s a shameless expository dump, but let’s focus on the first reason). Once you get into Chapter One proper, you’ll find it’s much more what you expect from a StoryNexus world. And Chapter Two, which I’m working on now, is more game-like again… with a plot-driven excuse for the change of gear.


Playtesting just a little (it’s after dinner, barely). Some thoughts:

  • Very, very smooth. Well done. The tutorial comments a very clear. (Chiarascuro has similarly clear, but less full, tutorial comments.)

  • I can see this being used by teachers/museums (without the Facebook/twitter login) as a teaching tool. I think I noticed that 'cause I recently went to a conference on Museum with a session on student curating: the students (7th-8th graders … about 13-14 years old) in one of the case studies had been looking at fire response in a Massachusetts city and considering GID overlays of wealth/poverty and distance from fire responders and water supplies (and using that to develop a local history museum exhibit). Anyway, a choice-driven story/game like this would be an interesting, immersive (albeit slow) way to learn about events/people/technological and practice changes-- a nice addition or deepening to a curriculum for kids who’d finished more typical learning tasks.

  • Telling the player/reader that this is more like a serial novel than a click-game is important. The reading matters.

No critiques so far though. Will post 'em if I get 'em.

Whoa. How are you doing that time thing? Is it with delayed qualities, somehow? I think it’s working really well for me, because the pace of the writing feels really relaxed and I’m enjoying taking my time reading it, but time is marching on. It’s giving me a “spending time with the family” vibe. And. Hunger. (But I love games that allow/force you to eat.)

Also. I failed a card and then succeeded it, but there was no feedback. I assume that’s intentional. How are you doing that? (There are a few things I’d like to “put under the hood” with my world.) (Don’t tell me if it’s your secret. I’m not sure how much I can put under the hood, anyway, really.)

My - not-criticism-but-question - would be. Are you happy with how much you’re revealing about what the protagonist is feeling? Obviously, it’s a fairly defined protag, and I get that, but I like Miss McLeod, so far. Heheh. I just wondered a couple of times if rewording a few things might make the player come to their own conclusions about how the protag feels about stuff. But, it might just be getting used to a more fixed protag.

I’ll come back to play more. I really like that I’m getting a picture of what’s going on, fairly well, I think, due to good writing.


[quote=Kir Talmage]Playtesting just a little (it’s after dinner, barely). Some thoughts:

  • Very, very smooth. Well done. The tutorial comments a very clear. (Chiarascuro has similarly clear, but less full, tutorial comments.)

  • I can see this being used by teachers/museums (without the Facebook/twitter login) as a teaching tool. […][/quote]
    Thank you.

We’re thinking along the same lines. This is an educational game, albeit one which teaches you about a very specific facet of history. That’s really just a side-effect of my fastidious desire to tell the story in a historically accurate way, but it has struck me that there’s some potential to explore there.

I have in my back pocket another (completely separate) idea, for a link-up with a particular museum, which could lead somewhere interesting. Or I could fall flat on my face. Once again, time will tell.

Thanks again

It’s more intricate than it is clever. There’s a single quality, “The Time Is”, which has a succession of QLDs to mark out the quarter hours. Every branch is set to increase the quality by one, which keeps the clock ticking. I too like the effect… but the real reason it’s there is to count how many cards you’ve played, so it knows when to give you new ones.

During dinner, it stops the clock and starts announcing the courses instead. That’s for an excruciatingly boring reason to do with what you see when you mouse-over the cards. If I were to do it again, I don’t think I’d bother with that detail.

Would that be “Your cousin has arrived”? I’m afraid that’s completely faked, for tutorial purposes. You will always “fail” the first time and “succeed” the second. When you “fail”, the maid gives you a glass, and possession of the glass swaps the card for a remarkably similar-looking one which is set up to “succeed”.

It’s not actually testing any qualities, so you don’t see the usual messages you get when you perform a test.

That’s a very fair question, and it’s something I’m aware I may not have got quite right. There’s an aspect of it I’m completely happy with, and another aspect I’m less sure about.

The thing to remember is that James Braidwood was a real person. And as the “note from the author” says, I’m acutely aware of my responsibilities to him. So I’ve made a deliberate decision that I’ll draw the character with a firm hand.

A good example is that the real James Braidwood believed in God - not just in the sense that everyone at the time believed in God, but in a way which was truly meaningful to him. So, in the game, your character believes in God. As a player, of course, you’re free to interpret that how you like - maybe you share his faith, or maybe you think it gives him an inner strength which brings out his own resilience - but you can’t intervene and make the character skip church on Sunday.

That much, I’m completely happy with. But it’s very possible that I’ve let this attitude leach out into places it shouldn’t be, and broken the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”. So if you see particular examples, please do point them out… I won’t necessarily change them, but I definitely do want to think about them.

(By the way, I hate Miss MacLeod. She’s supposed to be demonstrating that actions have consequences, but she doesn’t do that very well, and she’s completely unconnected to the rest of the plot. I had just about decided to live with her - but then a playtester commented on it too, and now I feel an irresistible urge to replace her.)

Thanks for the comments! Hope you enjoy the remainder of the chapter.


Also. I now understand your avatar.

Your clock is hardcore. (I did some pointlessly tricky stuff in mine - but yours comes off really well.)

There was a thing that a Failbetter someone wrote somewhere on the 2nd person narrative and how putting “you” in the active position in the sentence helps with that “show don’t tell” thing, too. Can’t find it. Like, “you” are doing things, rather than things are happening to “you.” I’ll keep playing later and message you if I find more examples. There were a few in the intro.

My protagonist is pretty well fixed, too, so I get some of the issues around that. For example, I noticed wine was served but it didn’t say whether you drank it. That’s probably good. Getting “jugsoaked” is a big part of my game, but you don’t necessarily ever have to do it - nor lie - which is absolutely central to mine. It’s kind of allowing for that ambiguity, and player choice that influences it, even if the player is choosing to act “out of character.” (Not that I’m saying my game nails it, because it definitely doesn’t. I’ve just been giving it thought.)

But, no. Going to church sounds essential. Looking forward to seeing how that all turns out. I think your writing is pretty tight.

Here it is:

It’s an interesting point. I would back myself with a substantial bet to turn out 100 pages of instructions without a single use of the passive voice, because I trained myself to do that years ago. But he’s absolutely right: it does feel seductive, in this context, and I think I’ve slipped up once or twice. I shall go on patrol shortly.

Edited to make bombastic claim marginally less outrageous, just in case anyone decides to take me up on the wager :-)
edited by Morton on 12/30/2012

A quick announcement: I’m going to turn monetization on tomorrow, so the (few) options which are currently free to play won’t be free for much longer.

The reason for this is potentially interesting, or of use to other creators, so I’ll quickly run through it…

Chapter One is essentially a scavenger hunt, and the only thing you can currently buy for Nex is a clue about where to look next. Pretty much everyone who’s got to the end of Chapter One and completed the survey says that they did “buy” a clue - though of course that doesn’t cost anything at the moment, because monetization is off.

You might think this is good news. However, I’m under no illusions. 90%+ of people won’t even consider spending any Nex, so if they get stuck and can’t proceed without buying a clue, then they’re lost for ever. Plus, giving out clues can’t possibly work as a serious way to monetize - the information contained in the clues would be posted on the web within days (and I couldn’t prevent it, because mere information isn’t protectable by copyright).

The only reason for adding a Nex cost was to provide a disincentive to reading the clues straight away, to encourage you to explore first. And by making them free for playtesters, I’ve rather stupidly broken the cardinal rule - that playtesters ought to experience the game like real players will.

So, that was a mistake, which I’m correcting now. But I did promise “fair warning”, so I’ll wait until tomorrow. Note that even once I’ve turned on monetization, playtesters will still get free action refreshes for the time being.

At risk of being a bit broken-recordish… if you have got stuck or lost interest because you weren’t making progress, then I am very, very keen to hear from you.

And while I’m writing, huge thanks to everyone who’s found typos (I hope I’ve responded individually as well). As a wise tiger once said: it’s people like you who help me maintain my standards, and I am properly grateful.


Update: The deed is done.
edited by Morton on 1/1/2013

I’ve changed my avatar. I was getting a bit freaked out by having Mr Braidwood stare so sternly out of the screen at me. The real me is positively cuddly, as you can see.

And, I’ve started a blog! I’m finding the process of creating a world almost as interesting as the world itself… and I wanted to write about it, so I’ve gone right ahead. The first post talks about how I chose my three major qualities, and the power of a well-chosen word. Do feel free to profoundly disagree with it :-)

I’ve just released a batch of tweaks to Chapter One of Fetch The Engines, based on the first round of playtester feedback.

If you haven’t tried it yet:
Now’s the time! It’s new & improved. Cobblestones! Heroism! Mutton-chops! Flames! A forgotten real-life hero, and a city to be saved!
>> Play Fetch The Engines <<

If you’re in the middle of Chapter One:
I really, really hope I haven’t broken anything. But there’s a chance you might be left with unplayable cards in your hand. If that’s happened, send me a message and I’ll find a way to fix it for you.

If you’ve already finished Chapter One:
Don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything - except for the following additional dream about a wall. This is a very minor spoiler, so I’ll do that dark-text-you-need-to-highlight thing…
[color=#000033]You dream again of the towering wall; immeasurable and impregnable, it casts the whole world in its shadow. The brickwork glows, and the smoke swirls. You hear the crackle of flames.[/color]
[color=rgb(0, 0, 51)]A voice shouts behind you, and you tip your head backwards. Above you, the red-hot masonry slowly starts to bulge.[/color]

A note about actions:
Rather daringly, I’ve now set the action bank size to 50. The plan was always that you could play 50 actions in one day; now you can do that in one session, if you want to. Playtesters (people who follow the link above) still get free action refreshes, but I’ll be turning that off this weekend. Hurry hurry!

Feedback please!
I’ve turned off the surveys which used to appear after the Prologue and Chapter One, because I think I’ve got as much out of them as I’m going to get. But I’m still very keen to hear feedback! Please post here, or message me directly, or use the “Contact Creator” link within the world. Whatever works for you. I am especially keen to hear from you if you find yourself flipping cards or grinding any particular quality, to an extent that it affects your enjoyment of the game. I have a small in-game reward (useful during the forthcoming Chapter Two) standing by as a thank-you for comments.

And finally…
I’ve written a (long) blog post outlining the changes I’ve made. This will mainly be of interest to other StoryNexus creators… I made a few “interesting” mistakes in the initial design of my world, and I’ve written about them in the hope of helping others avoid them.
>> Blog post for StoryNexus creators <<

That’s it! Enjoy.


Edited to change link - you don’t need an access code any more
edited by Morton on 1/20/2013

All good points about the kinds of things new creators learn. God knows we crashed through everything you listed in Zero Summer. Including the “remove Qualities we probably don’t need anymore” mistake. At least you didn’t drip players into an Area with no cards and no escape! :)

Oh, don’t worry, I did that too. Fortunately, there were about two live characters in the world at the time.

So, come on then… what are your own top lessons learned? If there are particularly common ones, then perhaps they’d merit inclusion in the “official” wiki. We can build up a genuinely powerful resource if we work together :-)


We-ell, of the things you didn’t mention:

  • Don’t go overboard with Areas and Settings. It’s really easy to drop players into black holes. Especially given SN doesn’t copy Area/Setting changes when you copy cards, and especially given it’s easy to overlook the Area/Setting change boxes. The only upside: it’s easy-ish to diagnose when it goes wrong. Although incredibly frustrating to fix on the player side. Inevitably it requires a debug card. Which are time-consuming and messy.

  • Don’t worry too much about quality parsimony. On the one hand, the goal is to give out as few qualities as possible to get the functionality you need. On the other hand, the temptation is to be REALLY conservative and have your qualities doing double- or triple-duty. And that’s when they tend to go to ****. If you over-economize on qualities, you run the risk of 1.) increasing your debut time/frustration and 2.) breaking your game in new and interesting ways. Quality redundancy is a way to introduce slack into your system, which in moderation is a good thing.

  • It’s going to break. Whatever it is, it’s going to break. Test beforehand with a small group to eliminate major bugs. Prepare for minor bugs on open release day. (Can you tell what I’ve been up to this evening?)

I’m not entirely convinced by quality parsimony either. Because:

[ul][li]Established orthodoxy (outside of StoryNexus) would be that re-using global variables is an excellent way to introduce a vast range of entertaining bugs.[/li][li]It leads to those quirks where you can build up (say) Dramatic Tension by doing one thing and then, miraculously, pull it out of the hat to solve a completely different problem somewhere else. Which to my mind, is going beyond abstraction and into the illusion-shatteringly weird.[/li][/ul]But, well, Fallen London has 4,000 storylets and I’ve got 100. So maybe they’ve learnt something I haven’t yet, or maybe things are just different at that scale.

In other news: another blog post! I’m liking the sound of my own voice this week. People kept asking me why I’d chosen to use StoryNexus, so look, I wrote it down: Why I chose StoryNexus | Fetch The Engines