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A fictional detective story overlaid on real world events, Top Secret’s branching narrative takes you into the heart of the NSA.
A fictional detective story overlaid on real world events, Top Secret’s branching narrative takes you into the heart of the NSA.
A fictional detective story overlaid on real world events, Top Secret’s branching narrative takes you into the heart of the NSA.
418 backers pledged £8,832 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Top Secret - a game about the Snowden leaks

£8,832

418

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Top Secret has been successfully funded!

Get the latest news and updates about the game at playtopsecret.com.

Thank you!

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Twitter | Website | Dev Blog 

Featured in:

Motherboard | CNET | Boing Boing | The Escapist | IndieGames.com | Indie Game Magazine

Inspired by the incredible true story of the biggest leak in US history, Top Secret is a branching non-linear interactive fiction game, played in real time, by email.

Edward Snowden - inspiration for Top Secret, Praxis Films/Laura Poitras, Creative Commons License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
Edward Snowden - inspiration for Top Secret, Praxis Films/Laura Poitras, Creative Commons License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A fresh recruit to the National Security Agency (NSA), you have a new mission: find out who’s leaking TOP SECRET documents to the press. Stop them by whatever means necessary. 

A single selector (phone number, email address, name) is all it takes for your team to surveil a target. It’s your job to decipher the intel, and follow the trail to its source.

But surveillance has a price...

In the paranoid world of the NSA, anyone can become a target, and soon your friends are in the firing line. 

Everyone has something to hide, will you reveal it?

Want a taster? Try the demo to get a first look of what the finished game will be like.

NSA HQ, Fort Meade -where the story unfolds
NSA HQ, Fort Meade -where the story unfolds

Top Secret is a narrative-driven game played by email. Fundamentally, it’s an exploration of the complex issues raised by the Snowden leaks.

Blend of fact and fiction: You’ll investigate the journalists involved in the Snowden leaks and the methods they used to cover their tracks. Uncover real messages sent by Snowden at the time.

Non-linear, branching narrative: You choose who you surveil and in what order. The direction your investigation takes is entirely up to you.

Shorter, richer: Numerous unchosen possibilities add depth to the story. You will only see a fraction of the game content in a single playthrough.

Delayed consequences: Players are encouraged to roleplay rather than optimise strategy - choices will have significant consequences, but not necessarily immediate or expected ones.

Ask more of players: The game will demand your curiosity and focus. But hey, you’re leading an investigation for the NSA, it was never gonna be easy right?!

Real-time story  

The narrative unfolds in real-time over many days. The player has time to reflect on their choices, and immerse themselves in the story.

Playing by email adds new dimensions to traditional interactive fiction. A delayed response can mean a character is busy, disinterested, or cautious. A quick reply can signify impatience, anger, or excitement. Top Secret injects meaning into both the contents and timing of a message.

Master the encryption methods used by Snowden

Play with the real encryption method used by Snowden
Play with the real encryption method used by Snowden

Receive and decrypt enciphered messages at critical moments in the game. Use your ingenuity and crypto skills to uncover all of the secrets!

For added authenticity, Top Secret can be played with PGP so you can encrypt/decrypt every message in the same way Snowden did to hide from the NSA.

All you need to play the game is an email address!
All you need to play the game is an email address!

You will receive and reply to real emails from the characters in the game. You read and reply to them just like any other normal email you receive, directly from your inbox.

The content of each message suggests various reply options to the player. Including one of the options in your reply continues the story. E.g. for the message:

“Should we do X or Y?”

a valid response would be:

“Let’s do X”

But choose wisely! Your choices determine how the story progresses and can have unforeseen consequences.

For interactive fiction fans, Top Secret is more a choice-based (rather than parser) game. Email latency does not encourage much experimentation with replies, so the game tries to make valid options completely transparent. It’s about the choices you make, rather than working out the possible responses.

Platforms supported

Best played by email, Top Secret also supports offline play on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
Best played by email, Top Secret also supports offline play on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux

Top Secret is best played in real-time by email and can be played on any device which supports email. The game will also be available as a digital copy for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The digital copy is DRM-free and is completely playable offline. The content is identical to the email version, but messages are sent and received immediately from a fake inbox.

All reward tiers with the game include both the email AND digital copy.

Until now Top Secret has been entirely self-funded, but I need your help to finish the game.

So where will the money go and why I am asking for £8000?

Your support will cover the cost of the remaining programming and content creation. After fees and physical reward costs, the money is broken down as follows:

- 70% will fund the writing and gameplay iteration

- 25% will be used to improve the game tech and content-creation tools (both of which will be open sourced)

- 5% will fund art assets for the reward tiers (poster, t-shirt) and promotion (logo, wallpapers)

Just as importantly, I really need your feedback and knowledge to make this game the best it can be. There are many people out there who have a passion for digital rights, and others who love new gaming experiences. Top Secret is going to be a collaborative experience, I want you all to get involved!

Failbetter Games Incubation

Top Secret will be incubated by Failbetter Games! They’ll be giving advice, support, and office space throughout the development of the game. 

Experts in game writing, Failbetter have successfully taken a game from Kickstarter to launch and beyond so know the best practices when it comes to developing a crowdfunded game.

Read more about the incubation and what it means for Top Secret here.

Progress

I’ve already been working on Top Secret for 10 months now and have a prototype. Emails are sent to the player in real-time, replies are received, PGP encryption is supported, and all the core gameplay elements are in place.

But the game is not yet finished! There is a lot more writing to do - 70% of the remaining time will be spent on content. The tech needs to be made production-ready, and the content-creation tools improved to speed up the writing process.

James Long
James Long

Hi!

I’ve been a game developer in the UK for the last 4 years and have previously worked on Oort Online and The Marvellous Miss Take

Before that, I was BAFTA nominated in the “Ones to Watch” category and a winner of the international student games competition, Dare to be Digital, with my friends in Team Tickle.

Last year I quit my job to work full-time on my own project. I realised I could combine my passion for games and digital rights to make a game about the Snowden leaks.

James

Note: Each tier includes ALL previous tiers.

UNCLASSIFIED: Support the project, and get your name in the credits!

CONFIDENTIAL: Play Top Secret as intended, in real time, by email. Plus, get a digital DRM-free copy of Top Secret for Windows, Mac, or Linux for offline play. 

SECRET: Get early access to the beta - play Top Secret before the public and give feedback to shape the development of the game!

SECRET//SPYMASTER: Get creative and write an intel report for the game on a target of your choosing - a journalist, drug smuggler, human rights activist, or just a regular person, it’s up to you!

SECRET//POSTCARD: Receive a postcard with a secret encrypted message for you to decipher. Want to test your code-breaking skills? This one's for you. Plus, shape the development of the game with early access to the alpha!

TOP SECRET: Receive an invite to the the Top Secret launch party! "Bond films" fancy-dress theme, in the London area. (Travel and accommodation not included)

TOP SECRET//TSHIRT: Get an exclusive themed t-shirt, only available to Kickstarter backers! 

Representative of final design, subject to change
Representative of final design, subject to change

TOP SECRET//POSTER: An exclusive, beautiful poster, and 4 more copies of the game to give to your friends!

Representative of final design, subject to change
Representative of final design, subject to change

CORE SECRET: Help design a subplot for the game! I’ll write an entirely new email thread for the game based around your idea.

CORE SECRET//PATRON: You will receive a special mention in the game’s foreword (if you wish) and have dinner with the dev at a fancy restaurant in London.

(Travel not included)

Any pledge, no matter how small will help Top Secret!

You can also:

Follow me on twitter - @jamestyro, and (re)tweet about the game .

Tell your friends on Facebook - post/upvote Top Secret on reddit and other forums .

If you have any questions or ideas for the project, get in touch - I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for checking out Top Secret!

This project does not involve and is not affiliated with anyone involved in the leaks, but I want to thank Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Barton Gellman, Micah Lee, and Ben Wizner for inspiring me to work on Top Secret.

Free open source software

After the release of Top Secret, the full source code of the game, and content-creation tools will be released under the free open-source GPL v3 License (this does not include the game content).

Anyone will be able to modify and use the code to create new interactive email-based games!

So far Top Secret has been entirely self-funded but I need your help to finish the game.

So where will the money go and why I am asking for £8000?

Your support will cover the cost of the remaining programming and content creation. After fees and physical reward costs, the money is broken down as follows:

- 70% will fund the writing and gameplay iteration. - 25% will be used to improve the game tech and content-creation tools (both of which will be open sourced) - 5% will fund art assets for the reward tiers (poster, tshirt) and promotion (logo, wallpapers).

Just as importantly, I really need your feedback and knowledge to make this game the best it can be. There are many people out there who have a passion for digital rights, and others who love new gaming experiences. Top Secret is going to be a collaborative experience, I want you all to get involved.

Risks and challenges

Perhaps the biggest risk is the core mechanic. Playing by email has particular creative and technical challenges so I developed the prototype to be confident that email play in real-time can, and does, work.

But game development is unpredictable and things do go wrong. Top Secret isn’t immune to this, but I believe my 4 years experience will help me deliver as promised.

Top Secret will be a completely open and transparent project:

- I’ll be using a public Trello board so you can see which tasks I’m working on every day

- the game website will include progress bars for the major milestones so you can easily see how the project is progressing

- you’ll receive regular updates on the development process

If there are any unexpected setbacks or delays, you’ll hear what they are, and how I plan to resolve them, as soon as they occur.

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Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £1 or more About $1.55

    UNCLASSIFIED//

    Support the project, and get your name in the credits!

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    12 backers
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    Pledge £5 or more About $8

    CONFIDENTIAL//

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * Play Top Secret as intended, in real time, by email.

    * A digital DRM-free copy of Top Secret for Windows, Mac, or Linux (playable offline).

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    224 backers
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    Pledge £8 or more About $12

    SECRET//

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * EARLY ACCESS to the beta - play the game before the public and give feedback.

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    67 backers
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge £12 or more About $19

    SECRET//SPYMASTER

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * SPYMASTER - write an intel report for the game on a target of your choosing (friend or foe).

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    14 backers
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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge £15 or more About $23

    SECRET//POSTCARD

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * POSTCARD - receive a postcard with a secret encrypted message for you to decipher.

    * EARLY ACCESS to the ALPHA - play the game before the beta and give feedback!

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    45 backers
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge £20 or more About $31

    TOP SECRET//

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * PARTY INVITE - invitation to the Top Secret launch party in London. "Bond films" fancy dress theme!

    (Travel and accommodation not included)

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    28 backers
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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $78

    TOP SECRET//

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * TSHIRT - receive an exclusive Top Secret themed T-shirt.

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    9 backers
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge £100 or more About $155

    TOP SECRET//POSTER

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * POSTER - exclusive Top Secret poster.

    * 4 more copies of the game to give to your friends.

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 7 backers
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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge £300 or more About $466

    CORE SECRET//

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * STORY CREATOR - help design a subplot for the game! I’ll write an entirely new email thread for the game based around your idea.

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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 2 backers
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  10. Select this reward

    Pledge £500 or more About $776

    CORE SECRET//PATRON

    All of the above, PLUS:

    * PATRON - you will receive a special mention in the game’s foreword (if you wish) and have dinner with the dev at a fancy restaurant in London.

    (Travel not included)

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    Limited 3 backers
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Funding period

- (30 days)