This Is Who Is A Good Boy

We finally present another extract from Jorrum Dooga’s long-delayed Book of Likely Facts:

For centuries now, humans have been asking dogs one question: who’s a good boy? Over and over they interrogate this bizarre conundrum, the answer remaining elusive. Until now.

Dog scientists working at Oneiropolis University have successfully used the Colossal Woof-Woof Collider to discover the solution to this mysterious puzzle. Who’s a good boy? We finally know: an 18th-century dog called Fishnose, born on a ship crossing the Atlantic and raised in a small village on the Namibian coast, who is now thought to reside in Billion Toad City. Cat scientists from Gatopolis have provided data that confirms this finding, although they claim that “good” is an overrated and probably pseudoscientific concept and that dogs are smelly.

Although this breakthrough has been hailed around the world, it is by no means the end of the investigation. An even more mysterious question remains, after all. We may know the answer – but why was anyone asking the question in the first place?

Fascinating, isn’t it? We hope to feature more extracts from this marvellous book soon, and we also hope that Jorrum will finally understand the meaning of the word “soon” – which is, as we found out, missing from his Fractional Dictionary of Possible S-Words.

Brief Outage

This fox smells of something reddish.

Hi there,

Please excuse a brief pause in the updates while we deal with an infestation of Melancholic Mould. It started in the fridge, you see, in a pair of lemons, but now it’s spread all over the place and just moans and moans and won’t shut up. It’s irritating and depressing and we’re working on having it moved to a more appropriate environment.

(Otherwise things are fine, don’t worry.)

Apologies,

Julian the Announcement Fox

Review: The Satyr’s Rod (Mesolithic Dionysus)

Album: The Satyr’s Rod

Band: Mesolithic Dionysus

Publisher: Silenus Records

flowers

Let me tell ya, there ain’t nothing wrong with a dumb rock’n’roll band. They ain’t all got to be dumb, but damn, sometimes there’s nothing quite so glorious as a band that’s simply there to rock your socks off. And that’s definitely the case with Mesolithic Dionysus, a band that’s all about sex, wine, and ecstatic dancing.

I only just discovered them recently, though they’ve been around for years. I’d been investigating the dirty dealings of Lord Urizen’s underlings in the Land of Plenty, and man was I depressed. I needed something to lift my spirit, put some energy back into my hooves, when my friend George (who used to be Janis Joplin’s dog and is now a sort of huge fire-breathing donkey-spider) recommended I try listening to The Satyr’s Rod. He was really surprised when I told him I hadn’t heard of it and immediately sent me an LP. Personally I prefer high-quality digital files, but George insists LPs just have that special sound.

Anyway, I get the album, and the cover is, well, a satyr’s rod. On the back there’s a picture of the band: a naked maenad on bass guitar, a hairy goat on drums, a long-haired caveman screaming into a microphone. Is this gonna cheer me up? Is this going to make me feel like the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket?

The song titles almost look scratched rather than written:

  1. The Satyr’s Rod
  2. I Love Figs
  3. Drunk Love Song
  4. Hold the Thyrsus
  5. Satyr on Satyr
  6. Nymph on Nymph
  7. Everybody on Everybody
  8. Party Time, Eleutherios!

I put in the LP. The moment the guitar kicks in, I’m in love. This is rock’n’roll, pure, glorious, stupid, absolutely damn real. This is demotic poetry, revelation discovered in passion instead of piety. It’s music for moving bodies, for grinding thighs, for lips and hands and sweat and moans all calling out to the Sublime, screaming we are here! and we will not go away!

Sure enough, George was right. The album didn’t teach me how to overcome the odds or change the system, but who cares? Who says that’s the point of music, anyway? Who says it’s gotta have any point? But it made me happy. It made me get out of the newsroom and hook up with a nice mare who felt like dancing, and the night was full of glory, and I remembered why the hell I was a reporter in the first place: to help create a world that’s got more space for satyrs and maenads and goats and a whole lot less space for bankers.

Now I gotta get back to work, those scandals won’t investigate themselves. Take care and see ya soon.

– Jimmy Caballus

 

The Sea Will Claim Everything – now on Steam! And more!

This fox smells of something reddish.

Being a fox, I don’t really understand some aspects of human culture yet. Sometimes you call portals to other dimensions “games”, and you also have a thing called… money? That you exchange for goods, if I understand correctly? The mushrooms keep telling me about it but I’m not sure I believe everything they say.

Anyway, the magical portal known as The Sea Will Claim Everything is now available via your world’s strange steam-powered technology! My friend Jonas has written a whole thing about it, though it’s written in that weird PR-speak he sometimes uses for his job, where he pretends to be a writer.

The Sea Will Claim Everything is now on Steam.

The Council of Crows is now on Steam Greenlight.

You can also get The Sea Will Claim Everything via the Humble widget on its Lands of Dream page.

We’ve been working on the Lands of Dream for, what, a decade now? I’m not good at doing the whole “selling yourself” thing, but I’m quite proud of what we’ve created. It’s a world, a strange and interesting and unique world with a life all of its own. It is rich in themes and imagery, deeply interconnected to literature and poetry, and full of shockingly daft jokes. And it’s not just games, it’s also the Oneiropolis Compendium and the children’s book and even the website itself, all part of this huge tapestry of stories.

I think it’s some of my best writing, but none of it would have been possible without my collaborators. Verena Kyratzes not only draws the graphics, she’s also an equal partner in the design process, coming up with all kinds of ingenious ideas. Helen Trevillion created amazing music for the first few games, bringing out the grace and beauty I wanted the Lands of Dream to have despite all the silliness. I didn’t think anyone could have kept the spirit of that music alive, but Chris Christodoulou has done so and gone even further, and his scores elevate everything we do.

We’re all extremely grateful to our kind and patient fans, who have supported us over the years even as we sometimes take ages to finish anything. A habit we are now trying to break by making some changes in our lives.

If you would like to support our games, the best thing you can do right now – apart from buying them, or buying copies for your friends, relatives, and/or enemies – is to write reviews on Steam. What we’re particularly keen on is reviews that explain why you enjoyed The Sea Will Claim Everything. It’s a strange game, after all, and one of our biggest challenges is just getting people to give it a go. Any positive review is hugely appreciated, of course, but what would be particularly brilliant would be reviews that are useful to other players, helping them to make up their minds about whether this is their sort of thing. Thanks!

Folks who’ve already bought the game: see the previous post. We’re working on getting Steam keys to you, although in a few cases it may take a few more days, depending on factors beyond our control. You’ll definitely get them sooner or later!

Some of you may also end up getting more than one key. Do us a favour and give it to a friend who might enjoy the game. Word of mouth is a big deal.

No doubt we are in for a whole bunch of confusion, chaos, and tech support. But we’ll try to do our best. If there’s a problem, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. And most importantly of all, enjoy your time in the Lands of Dream.

Does that make sense to you? Jonas tells me it will, and I trust him, even though he’s big and hairy and reminds me of a fish I once knew.

Enjoy!

Yours truly,

Julian the Announcement Fox

Review: Vicky’s Monstrous Burger Shack

Eatery: Vicky’s Monstrous Burger Shack

Location: Grey Quarter, Upper Gatopolis, Katsouli

PURPLE

TODAY, I SHALL NOT DEVOUR ALL IN MY PATH. I SHALL DEVOUR WITH PRECISION. THE GOAL IS PLEASURE, NOT ANNIHILATION. BEHOLD MY FOOD CRITICISM.

Vicky’s Monstrous Burger Shack is a relatively new eatery in Upper Gatopolis, one of the many disputed capitals of Katsouli, the Land of Cats. Hidden between the trees of a small park opposite Siegfried’s Infinitely Recurring Cinema (where it’s impossible to remember the movie you’ve just seen), not far from the ruins of the infamous Tower-Palace of Lord Greasestain the Obscene, the shack is actually quite easy to miss. It’s an unremarkable building, and those expecting a special ambiance will be disappointed. It is not the shack that is monstrous, but the burgers.

What do I mean by monstrous? The patties are misshapen clumps of deep-fried meat, covered in spicy mustard that will make your nostrils weep, topped with slices of blood-red cheese, prehistoric bacon, and hissing peppers. The burger buns resemble a kind of unholy pita bread; watching them get made, watching the pulsating, undulating dough as it is fried, will give you erotic nightmares from which you will wake up hungry and unsatisfied. The special involves eggs of unknowable origin, demonic jalapeños, and a large portion of regular fries.

As for the owner, most people are terrified of Vicky. Some claim she has a heart of gold, but others say that is to be taken literally. Veterinarians of any kind are not welcome in her establishment; wizards have to leave their wands outside or risk becoming part of the menu. The regulars, and there are many, simply accept this. Arrogant wizards are frequently tasty.

Food critics of a different persuasion may be appalled by Vicky’s Monstrous Burger Shack, but I am the Purple Devourer, and I have no reason to care about their small-minded, unimaginative approach to food. In my opinion, this is a wonderful establishment; it doesn’t all have to be like Valabar’s, you know. You might want to avoid eating there every day, but I highly recommend visiting it if you ever find yourself in Upper Gatopolis.

THUS THE ACT IS ACCOMPLISHED. THE HUNGER SHALL GROW WHEN THE MOON RETURNS.

– The Purple Devourer

Review: The Great Green Book of Mould

Title: The Great Green Book of Mould

Author: Asper Gillus

Publisher: Oneiropolis University Department of Fungal Literature

These books contain Lin's notes about other books.

When my friend Phidias told me I really had to read The Great Green Book of Mould, I was, well, somewhat surprised. I do enjoy nonfiction, and I’ve read excellent books by and about mushrooms, but mould? Not exactly inspiring subject matter, I thought. But I decided to trust my friend and give it a go.

The book begins with a thoughtful, introspective examination of mortality and eternity as revealed to us in the nature of mould. Is mould decay, or is it growth? Is it a symbol of the fragility of life, or of its tenacity? The author considers his or her own relationship to mould – after all, we are surrounded by it. Mould is in our homes, in our food, in our medicines. It can cause terrible ailments, cure dangerous diseases, and create preposterous cheeses.

The deeper you get into the book, the more the pages themselves begin to go mouldy. The act of touching the book, the tiny filaments caressing your fingers, becomes increasingly unsettling and strange. So does the book’s content, as the author leads us on what can only be described as a kind of poetic dream-journey through the history of growth and decay. The details are hard to set down, because the spores emitted by the book’s pages have a psychotropic effect. As the pages grow more and more mouldy, the words shift as the filaments move, and you can hear the wind whispering in the vast fungal forests that stretch out before you. You lose track of time, and you hear a voice – is it the author’s voice? Is it the voice of the mould? You begin to see every living being as a kind of explosion, as limitless energy and potential in constant transformation, of which the thinking soul is but a tiny part. You perceive the glory of death, though you’ll never quite be able to remember it later. You come closer and closer to some fundamental truth about the universe, about persistence, about the sublime… and then you pass out.

No-one has ever read the final page, or at least not read it and understood. Reading it on its own, without the full effect of the spores, is pointless – you can only perceive meaningless mould-covered paper. But the meaning is there, in the mould. Everyone who’s read the book knows that. The question is just how to find it. Some have gone mad trying, reading the book over and over, but I was content to stop. Perhaps the reason I was not negatively affected – as I’m sure my friend Phidias knew I would not be – is that I have faith. Not in myself, but in people.

I am confident that one day the mystery will be solved, not by a single brave individual pushing on through, but by many people working together to find a safe way of persevering to the final page. And then, perhaps, we will know. Or perhaps the words will have changed, but the wisdom we will have accumulated in trying to understand them will have changed us as well.

– Lin

Meet the new Lands of Dream team!

This fox smells of something reddish.

Dear Readers,

We all know things here on the Lands of Dream website have been slow. Much of this is due to the fact that our good friends and portal-makers, Jonas and Verena Kyratzes, happen to be trapped in one of Urizen’s major economic centres, and finding the experience rather depressing. I shudder to think what it must be like! But now The Sea Will Claim Everything is about to be re-released onto some sort of steam-based platform (you still use steam technology in your world?), progress is being made on The Council of Crows, and both Jonas and Verena would very much like to put more people in touch with the Lands of Dream again.

Knowing they can’t accomplish this task all by themselves (I just write updates), they’ve decided to get together a proper editorial team! I’m going to introduce my new friends here:

Henry

Henry Trollweather – Editor

Henry Trollweather is best known as a fiction writer (my favourite book of his is In the Burrows Under the Tree of the World), but he’s always getting involved in different projects, like helping R.L. Smith create a transubstantiated version of Ithaka of the Clouds. He currently lives in Hyperborea, where it’s really cold, so I guess he has a lot of time on his hands. Anyway, he’ll be helping coordinate the site, finding interesting writers to contribute articles and reviews and stories, and generally coming up with ideas. He’s interested in pretty much everything and has read more books than anyone I know, so that shouldn’t be too hard.

Jimmy

Jimmy Caballus – Investigative Reporter

Jimmy is grumpy and I’m a little scared of him, but he does great work. He exposed a major corruption scandal in Mag Mell, investigated the unconstitutional use of military troops in the Land of Plenty, and covered the fall of Lagonia is grisly detail. He’s as tough as they come, but from what I hear, he also has a passion for music, and may be writing some reviews for the site.

Lin

Lin the Liberator – Literary Enthusiast

Lin is a really famous hero in her homeland, the Kingdom of the Enigmatic Snakes, although not that many people know about her in the rest of the world, because everything that happens in that kingdom is kind of hard to understand. (They don’t even have a king, I think!) When she’s not fighting for freedom, she loves to read novels and poetry, so she’s decided to share some of her favourite works with us, as well as tell you all about new releases. She refuses to be called a critic, preferring instead the term “enthusiast.”

Robot

This Robot – Function Unknown

We don’t know what it’s called or why it’s shown up on our website. One morning I was just polishing some pixels and suddenly there was this bummed-out robot. It eats electricity and occasionally mumbles to itself. Since it seems to like company, we’ve decided to let it stay here and just see what happens.

Devourer

The Purple Devourer – Food Critic

Instead of consuming all in his path, the Purple Devourer will share all his food-related wisdom with us! I think that’s lovely, especially since I’m terrible at picking restaurants. I always go for the ones that have nice-looking garbage, and very frequently there’s a reason all those leftovers ended up there. What else should I add? Hmm. Well, the Purple Devourer is quite mysterious, so I don’t know where he’s from, or really even what sort of being he is, but I know he enjoys funk, hip-hop, and games about farming.

Sotira

Sotira Ulyanov – Historian

Sotira is one of the two fish that were multiplied by Jesus, so now there’s actually several thousand of her. This one has picked a surname inspired by her radical communist beliefs, and studied history under the legendary Kohlrabian Dialecticus, who may also be contributing some writing himself. Sotira currently spends most of her time in the sea surrounding the Fortunate Isles, but she likes to travel a lot and considers herself a cosmopolifish.

Pod

Pod – Podcast Expert

Henry is quite excited about the idea of doing some podcasts, as he is a big fan of the radio, so who could be better to help us with that than the very inventor of the podcast, Pod the Mushroom! He won’t be podcasting himself, but he’ll be helping out with all the various technical aspects of recording and broadcasting. Pod currently lives on the Chelonian Mountain, where he is working on a documentary about moss.

What does all this mean for you, dear reader? Well, it means updates won’t be so sparse anymore! You can come here and hang out with me far more often. Like every week! And then you’ll be able to use those portals and transubstantiated stories to experience all kinds of cool stuff!

Oh, and remember that you can go like the Lands of Dream page on the information-sucking parasite called Facebook, and you can follow Bob the Spider on the failing corporate outrage machine called Twitter. He never posts anything useful, though, so I don’t know why you’d want to do that. The important thing is to remember your friends in the Lands of Dream and come visit every now and then. It’ll be fun!

Yours truly,

Julian the Announcement Fox

Welcome to 2016

This fox smells of something reddish.

Dear Friends,

2016 is going to be an exciting year for the Lands of Dream. There will be new portals, new stories, and all kinds of surprises. Bob the Spider promised, and as we all know, Bob the Spider only lies to his enemies. I know I’m not Bob’s enemy, because he built a lair in some spare pixels I had lying around here on the site, and we hang out on weekends.

It’s going to be great! I’ll let you know as soon as something new is available.

Greetings,

Julian the Announcement Fox

A Guide to Dinosaur Hybrids

The Long Road to Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
– C.P. Cavafy, Ithaka

Whoa, it’s been a long time since our IndieGoGo. Dear God. I don’t even want to think about it. The funny thing is I haven’t stopped working since. I haven’t really taken time off since about 12 years ago, to be honest. We didn’t spend a cent of that money on erotic drugs, illegal massages, or whatever else it is crowdfunded money is supposed to be for. But boy is this taking a long time! And since I have a tendency to want to keep things quiet, to maintain the reality (and the surprises) of the stories, that means people are frequently left in the dark. Which is OK when they haven’t invested money in something, but less so in the case of crowdfunding.

So let me explain, not just as an apology, but also to help others who might find themselves planning something like this.

When we ran our IndieGoGo campaign, I estimated the amount of time it would take to finish Ithaka of the Clouds at 6-8 months. I based this on three things:

1) My health and ability to work.

2) Our financial situation.

3) The lack of other projects.

4) The time it had taken us to make The Sea Will Claim Everything.

Turns out I was wrong about all of this. Making games is always a messy business, more so than any other artform I’ve ever experienced, and when the parameters change on you, suddenly nothing is going where you thought it would.

Ithaka6

1) Health

The fewer people there are in your team, the bigger a deal this is. Many indie teams consist only of a handful of people, sometimes even just a single person. And when someone gets sick, your whole plan goes to hell. As some of you may know, I’d experienced a lot of problems with my teeth. Really, really painful problems. But when we were starting the campaign, I thought the worst was behind me. I mean, my dentists were telling me so, and they probably knew what they were talking about, right? Yeah, not so much. Turns out I’ve been cursed with terrible dentists. At one point five different dentists failed to identify a catastrophic infection in one of my teeth.

Finally, one night I started experiencing pains that I cannot even describe to you. I was almost blacking out. It was unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything even remotely similar. It was the middle of the night and the pain was unbearable, so we checked for dentists open for emergencies – there are only ever very few in Frankfurt – and went to one. She wanted to do a root canal on a tooth, but I looked at the X-rays and felt very uncertain – surely it was the tooth at the back that was the problem? No, she said. I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to decide. In the end, we left. I was in agony.

A few hours later, a different dentist was available. We went there. He looked at my X-rays, said “Any amateur should be able to find this!” and pointed at the tooth at the back. He fixed it with a painless root canal, which none of my other dentists had ever really managed. (When asked about a substance they put in your teeth to kill off the nerves instead of immediately doing a root canal, he said that stuff was “harcore carcinogenic crap from the 70s” that he doesn’t even stock.) And suddenly I had a good dentist. Unfortunately he now had to begin the task of fixing the disaster all the previous dentists had caused. He’ll be done in about… oh, 8-9 months.

And of course this has cost and will continue to cost thousands of euros. I didn’t pay for this from the crowdfunded money, but I still had to pay for it – because the German healthcare system simply doesn’t provide. Teeth – like glasses – are just not considered essential. Because, you know, human beings don’t need to eat. Or see.

My toothy horrors weren’t the only unexpected health problems we had to deal with – there was also our cat’s urinary tract surgery, and family issues you don’t need to be bothered with – but they were the most painful and the most expensive, and they did a lot to derail our progress. Basically, I am now where I thought I was several years ago. Ridiculous, but what the hell can you do? You can’t argue with material reality, as Straton of Stageira pointed out.

2) Finances

As anyone who’s tried can attest to, being an indie developer in Germany is a tricky business. For one thing, the laws are simply out of date. Anything done via the internet doesn’t fit well into the existing categories, which were designed around the time Steam wasn’t in your computer but coming out of your locomotive. And being an artist working with digital media? Don’t even get me started.

I must admit that I wasn’t adequately prepared for this. Verena and I had attended some seminars about being self-employed, but as it turns out, they weren’t that helpful. Once you fall out of the lowest category (which is quite easy), taxes hit you hard. I’m not surprised to have heard a lot of horror stories about German small businesses just collapsing at that point. It’s shockingly difficult. Even if I was a capitalist, I would find this system highly questionable. It may benefit big business, but this seems like a fantastic way to destroy the growth capitalism so desperately needs. Oh well.

With being self-employed also come completely deranged healthcare costs, by the way, which makes the fact that I have to pay for the continual annihilation and reconstruction of my dental capacities myself doubly enraging. I managed to at least get into a special healthcare thingy for artists, but first I had to prove I was an artist. (And now again, to avoid paying taxes that artists shouldn’t need to pay. We’ll see how that turns out.)

What all of this boils down to is a near-infinite amount of paperwork. I mean, you cannot imagine how many weeks I’ve spent just filling out forms, making lists, printing stuff out… it’s mind-boggling and it grinds your progress on actual work down to nothing.

So, if you plan on going indie in Germany, you should probably expect that potentially more than half your budget will be spent on taxes (especially in the first couple of years, when you may end up paying taxes for two years at once), and a significant amount of time will be devoted to paperwork. Even with an accountant! And it’s not like accountants are cheap. Do not underestimate this, because it will hurt. Trust me. I know.

3) Other projects

Along the way, The Talos Principle happened. It was a unique opportunity, the kind you can’t say no to, and the resulting game is something I’m incredibly proud of. It was also a metric ton of work, and I can’t say that didn’t delay Ithaka; but then, it also made things much easier. The Lands of Dream are far stronger now than before, and at least we managed to get all our backers a very serious discount. (And the feedback has been tremendous.)

Of course, there was more work: Road to Gehenna (the upcoming Talos DLC) and A Postcard From Afthonia. For the former the same applies as to the original game, and for the latter, well, it’s a Lands of Dream game, and all backers got the Special Edition for free. It was my first time putting together such extras, but I was very happy with the result, and I’m sure we’ll do even better with the next games. And it was really cool that so many people tried the moussaka recipe and loved it.

4) Design

Designing games is the least predictable artistic process I know. There are so many variables, so many ways of changing things – especially if you’re not starting with the intention of making a particular genre of game, but of telling a story or creating a world. I’ve been doing it for over a decade and I still can’t predict it at all.

(For example, I have a game sitting in my projects folder that has a very unique visual style that I adore, all kinds of great ideas packed into it, but I only figured out how to really make it work a couple of weeks ago. I think I first worked on it before Ithaka. And all it needed was a change in story setting.)

Making a Lands of Dream game is always a process of exploration, but you do go in with at least an idea of your destination. I started working on Ithaka of the Clouds knowing certain specifics: I knew who the characters were, where they started out, where they would end up. I also had several important stylistic choices in mind, because it’s very important to me to give each game its own flavour. Above all, I knew I wanted to evoke the feeling of a forward journey, time passing, things changing.

We made the first third of the game – or at least the first chapter, depending on how you looked at it, which covered the protagonists’ childhood. There was a great deal of fun stuff in there. But as the game continued to evolve, something was off. I struggled to put my finger on it. It just didn’t feel right – the interface, the ways of interacting with the gameworld that the “classic” Lands of Dream style was based on, didn’t allow me to create quite the experience that I wanted. It felt like a stretched-out version of The Sea Will Claim Everything instead of what it was supposed to be.

There was one bit that worked great, though: the wintry bit. We’d been wanting to make a Lands of Dream game set in the snowy north for a while now, and at this point we were thinking it would be a story-in-the-story in Ithaka. But it kept growing, and taking on a personality of its own. Eventually we decided we could release it as a small standalone game, free for backers, like we did with A Postcard From Afthonia. Except… it still kept growing. A single idea basically doubled the size of the game in one fell swoop. And then our beloved and surprisingly patient composer, Chris Christodoulou, started writing music for it, and the music was so impressive, so beautiful and so grand, that I felt the game had to be even bigger than planned. And Chris, inspired by the atmosphere and the lack of constraints, produced even more music! It ended up being as big as The Sea Will Claim Everything, if differently structured.

It’s called The Council of Crows and I love it.

Meanwhile, for a long time now, a strange thing was happening in the back of my mind. I would catch glimpses of a game. It was all about sailing and the ocean – going from port to port, discovering new places, meeting new people, really capturing the feeling of travelling in the Mediterranean. It was text-based, choice-based, a kind of interactive novel. And I yearned for it, I yearned to work on it and make it happen, but I kept telling myself that I was supposed to finish Ithaka first, and anyway this was entirely too similar in what it was evoking, and so on…

Yeah, I can be pretty thick sometimes.

Eventually I realized two important facts:

crow

I. The Council of Crows is Ithaka of the Clouds.

That big game in the classic Lands of Dream style? That’s The Council of Crows. That’s the game we crowdfunded, the game we were imagining. It grew out of that one chapter, and it’s not the exact same story, but it has the same heart. It shares themes, locations, gameplay… and it’s actually turned out to be an utterly essential part of the greater story of the Lands of Dream, much more significant than I ever expected.

And it’s a thousand times better than some half-arsed version of Ithaka would have been.

Ithakatest

II. Ithaka of the Clouds is the interactive novel I was dreaming about.

Of course it is. Sailing from island to island, meeting people, discovering new places, making interesting choices – it’s the Odyssey, it’s Ithaka. I should’ve realized straight after making The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, which I enjoyed immensely. Long before games like 80 Days (which is lovely) became successful, I loved game books – in fact, the very first game I ever made as a child was a Choose Your Own Adventure-style game book inspired by Lone Wolf. And, strangely enough, before crowdfunding Ithaka, I’d been thinking about trying to crowdfund a (digital) game going back to those roots.

I’d gotten the setting wrong, but the type of game right.

Suddenly everything made sense again. The game had felt weirdly stretched-out because the structure and gameplay of The Sea Will Claim Everything is all about expanding the map, travelling around an area; Ithaka was about moving forward, which means there should be more choices, more things you might or might not see – and it should feel natural that you can’t go back, which it never did with the previous system.

We did some rough tests (see above), and it just felt right. Oddly enough, the work I did on The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna (you’ll see) also confirmed that feeling. Working with text (with illustrations by Verena, of course) opens up all kind of awesome possibilities for exploring the Lands of Dream in new ways, and doing so on a scale far larger than The Matter of the Great Red Dragon or my other text adventures is massively exciting.

I mean, what I’m planning is incredibly ambitious. It’ll be an interactive novel like no-one’s seen before. I won’t say it will be the best such work, because that kind of bragging is ugly and pointless, but it will be the best possible version of Ithaka of the Clouds: dense and rich and complex, it will draw you in and make you feel you were right there, you were part of that story.

Consequences

When we ran the crowdfunding campaign, I’m not sure I was aware of just how burned out I was. I wanted to make one more Lands of Dream game, but I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to make another game after that. I’d spent recent years in the very-very-indie part of the indie scene, if you know what I mean, and that space had recently turned horrifyingly toxic. To suddenly find yourself hated and denounced by people you’d considered friends, or at least allies (in the regular sense of the word), simply for being an internationalist and a socialist and not subscribing to a very specific brand of US-centric identity politics… it was depressing, to say the least. Mainly, I think, because it was so viciously personal. I’ve never thought that being wrong about something inherently makes you a bad person, but apparently this belief has taken over large parts of the internet, and it really sucked the joy out of everything.

I struggle with depression anyway, even without that stuff. I try not to talk about it too much, because I’m disturbed by how depression has become romanticized and fetishized, but yeah, it’s something I have to deal with, and between the awful weather and the awful people, I was pretty down. Ithaka, more than anything, felt like a swan song.

The Talos Principle changed that. I still want to spend more time on novels and screenplays and films, but I do still love games. (I’ve never been able to understand this whole “smash X” discourse. I don’t want to smash stuff, I want to improve it. Even socialism, as far as I’m concerned, is about building on the accomplishments of capitalism.) My enthusiasm for the Lands of Dream once again matches the love and loyalty I feel towards that world.

What does that mean for the actual games? It means I want to do things properly.

You see, what’s usually happened so far is that I’d finish a project, burned out and depressed, and I’d only do minimal publicity. I hate publicity anyway – I hate spoiling the game for people, I hate bragging, I hate having to reduce the ineffable of art to a features list… so the games would only ever reach a small fraction of the people they could’ve reached. I’d like to change that, and the only way I can do so is by taking enough time, picking a non-ridiculous release date, and actually getting some help with the whole publicity thing.

There’s more, though. With both The Council of Crows and Ithaka of the Clouds becoming highly significant stories in the greater mosaic of the Lands of Dream, it’s becoming increasingly problematic that some of the older games aren’t available in as accessible a format as I’d like them to be. Particularly The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge, which started us on this journey, and which remains utterly central to the work as a whole. But even The Sea Will Claim Everything is not in the state it ought to be in, with font problems on newer Windows systems, irritating small mistakes, and design elements that are flawed due to the horrible amount of pressure I was under when it was made.

So this is the new plan:

  • My first priority is the updated version of The Sea Will Claim Everything, which will be released on Steam and Humble.
  • The standalone version of The Book of Living Magic and the updated version Desert Bridge must be finished sooner rather than later. I already started work on both long ago, but I now intend to put more effort into finishing that work, taking inspiration from the Special Edition of A Postcard From Afthonia. (They’ll be free, but will include cool extras.)
  • The Council of Crows will be finished in the coming months, but will not be released to the public immediately, so we can take the time to polish and promote it. However, backers will receive the game as soon as it’s done, even months before it’s released.
  • After that, the long process of creating the insanely ambitious new Ithaka of the Clouds will continue.
  • While I will consider finishing The Council of Crows as finishing our crowdfunding obligations per se (if under a different title), backers will receive backer rewards for both games. Meaning they will not only receive DRM-free copies of both games, but those who put in more money will have their name in both games, suggest a creature for both games, etc.

So in the end, while it will have taken a long time, backers will have received:

  • A Postcard From Afthonia (Special Edition)
  • The Council of Crows
  • Ithaka of the Clouds
  • 50% off The Talos Principle
  • early access to the updated The Book of Living Magic and Desert Bridge
  • plus the more specific rewards

I don’t know if this is a stupid business decision, but I know how scarce money is these days, and I want every cent you invested in the Lands of Dream to mean something, even if the road is long and there are some unexpected encounters with Laistrygonians and cyclopes.

Love,

Jonas (and Verena and Chris and Cat and Julian and Bob and many others)

  • Monkeys