small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast

Welcome to this blog, which intends to document the progress and processes behind creating Tea For Three Studios’ upcoming game, Shax  (or shax—we’ve not yet decided on the stylisation). Samantha here—hope you’re ready for some reading!

The (Pre-)Beginning

Sometime in March (2016), about a week before I submitted my PhD thesis in Shakespeare studies in the UK, I went searching for some funfunfun academic conferences to attend in Europebigland before I had to return to my native Australia. I stumbled upon a super awesome conference that would be held during the weekend of Shakespeare’s 400th deathiversary in the Kronborg Castle of Hamlet’s Elsinore. While my research area was Shakespeare film adaptations (and specifically the function/s of film soundtracks), I saw there was a panel called ‘Shakespeare and Technology’. In my ‘spare time’, I had been writing iOS games with my amazing indie team at Tea For Three Studios, and had kept a Shakespearean production at the back of my mind. The conference—and Shakespeare’s 400th deathiversary—seemed like a pretty good time to play around with some ideas, and after some transcontinental brainstorming with Melody, our team’s extraordinary games designer and developer, we had a very rough idea about our next project: Shax.

In April, we brainstormed a bit more, and then put together a very rough prototype for my presentation at the Elsinore Conference. But more importantly, we established some fundamental ideas about our Shakespearean game:

  1. Funfunfun is our priority. There are many possibilities for a Shakespearean product, but for this, we want to focus on entertaining rather than educating.
  2. Shakespeare is for everyone. I’m personally categorically-epically-rantastically a bit iffy about Shakespeare as ‘high culture’. We want our game to be fun for and ‘accessible’ to as many people as possible, which includes everyone from Shakespearean academics (like myself) and general game/life enthusiasts without an English literature degree (like Melody).
  3. Exploring is fun. When we first started working on Regency Love, we wanted to create a game/story world full of possibilities for the player; however, as the game became rather plot-dependent, it evolved into a different thing entirely. This time, we want to make our Shakespearean game more exploratory and ‘open’.

It was important to have both these ideas and some written prototype material, but this was still the very, very early beginnings of our game. Pre-beginnings, as I like to call it.

The super duper rough prototype.
The super duper rough prototype.

May, June, July, August. I was travelling, defending my thesis, returning to and settling back in Australia, resuming some tutoring work, revising my thesis. Melody was devoting her time, energy, and passion to Open Learning, where she’s a user-experience designer. But we still wanted to embark on this Shakespearean journey, so we both cleared our schedules for the last week of September, hoping to nail down a few things.

And nail them down we did (though some bits are still quite wobbly and will require re-nailing). We spent Tuesday to Friday at Melody’s apartment (which is essentially the Tea For Three Studios HQ).

Week 1

Here were a few things we confirmed about Shax by the end of Week 1:

  • We’re currently using inkle’s engine for the game, aptly named ink. Back in 2013 when we were still fiddling with bits of Regency Love (for which we used our own engine), I was fortunate enough to meet the then-two-people team in Cambridge. Now, it’s a great pleasure to be able to use their scripting language to tell more stories.
  • We’re using Unity to develop the game. From what Melody has told me, this means we can release this game for both iOS and Android.
  • We’re trying out a lot of game design ideas, for future elaboration (both the ideas themselves, and blogging about them).

I should also say here that while the week turned out to be quite productive, it could’ve turned out very differently, full of discarded ideas and misery. The key ‘event’ was on Tuesday morning, when Melody came up with a solution to some of our game design woes, which meant we could then spend the rest of the week trying out and fiddling with the concepts.

On my end as the writer, here’s what I did over the last week:

  • Revisited a structural outline for Twelfth Night that was created in April;
  • Wrote the ‘ending’ for Twelfth Night (which would most definitely need rewriting);
  • Wrote a few things for Macbeth (which would be discarded);
  • Came up with a few game mechanics ideas (discarded);
  • Read some of the ink and inky documentation. I got through the basics, but I get constant headaches in my day-to-day life, and this kind of ‘brainy’ reading exacerbates the ouchiness (yes, I did three English literature degrees, including doctoral research on Shakespeare. I don’t know either);
  • Learnt how to use inky and write in the ink script;
  • Wrote over 5,000 words;
  • Found some resources on Renaissance names (ugh I am horrible at naming characters);
  • Researched some Renaissance vocations;
  • Made ratatouille for one of our dinners; and
  • Ate all of Mel’s chocolate.

The Blog

We also decided to document our journey in this progress blog of sorts. So far, we’re not entirely sure about the format, frequency, design (I’ve just chosen a simplistic theme today), or exact contents of this blog. I can be quite verbose, so the majority of spammage posts might be from me. Melody might post pictures or screenshots, or perhaps explain how she spent an entire week on refactoring (which I’ll let her explain someday). Some weeks will definitely be more ‘productive’ than others. Some weeks will probably be full of hours spent on work that won’t amount to ‘anything’ on the surface. Some weeks will regrettably be Shax-free as we wrangle with our other projects (or fall down the rabbit hole when enjoying books/games/stories/sunshine).

But we very much wish to share our behind-the-screens stories involved in creating Shax (or shax). We hope you’ll learn about our processes, just as we hope to learn more about game design, development, writing, and putting everything together.

As the Bard himself said in The Comedy of Errors,

Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast.

We hope you will join us in our virtual feast of geekery.

Lots of love and lulz,

Melody and Samantha

shax

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