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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.
418 backers pledged £8,832 to help bring this project to life.

About time

Posted by James Long (Creator)
2 likes

Hello!

What’s happening with Top Secret I hear you cry?! First of all, early access has been going well. I’ve had extremely useful feedback on design, narrative and UX. A few significant bugs turned up which should now be fixed. There was one issue which was slightly harder to solve: narrative consistency in the end game. Read on to find out more, but first some important announcements:

  • I’ll be sending out a newer (improved!) version of the game next Friday (Sep 2nd) and will send an update with a link then

  • Top Secret will be publicly released on the Fri 23rd Sep!

This has been a long journey but we’re almost there! I’ll talk more about the release in a few weeks.

Now, back to that thorny narrative consistency issue...

Let me explain.

One of the unusual (and cool!) features of Top Secret is that there are several narrative threads going on at the same time. This is not usually possible in interactive fiction (IF), but is relatively easy to implement in a real-time game. What’s more difficult is ensuring that those narrative threads stay in sync and remain consistent. For example, a character you’ve betrayed in one thread shouldn’t continue to be friendly to you in another! IF writers often have to deal with many permutations in branching narratives, but time makes this even more difficult as not only are the events important, but also the order in which they occur.

Since the beginning of Top Secret I’ve grappled with this problem and, predictably, it gets harder to deal with the further into the game you get. Feedback from Early Access made me realise that there were some permutations in the end-game which I hadn’t accounted for. To address this, I’ve adopted a slightly more rigid narrative when it comes to time. I now ensure that certain events can only happen by a certain date and no later which allows me to coordinate the narrative more easily across multiple threads. This probably doesn’t make much sense so let me give you an example. Previously, the player could betray a character at any point after the first third of the game. Other narrative threads had to deal with this possibility at many points. Now, the betrayal can only happen before a certain date. This means there’s one fixed point where I can check and be sure whether the event has occurred.

So what’s the catch? Well, to ensure events happen by certain dates, I need to drag slower players along to ensure they arrive at that event on time. In practice this means that the game is slightly less lenient when waiting for replies to important emails - if you ignore an important email for too long, you’ll get fired from the NSA and the game will end. This isn’t ideal but in truth, It’s very hard to hold onto narrative consistency in a real-time game if the player is passive!

Implementing this change was a fair bit of work and necessitated a few bits of new tech but it’s almost finished. As mentioned above, I’ll be sending out a newer version of the game next Friday (Sep 2nd) and will send an update with a link then.

Thanks for all your support,

James

In the news

Meet Moxie Marlinspike, the anarchist bringing encryption to all of us - Wired

Cracking the Adventure Time cipher - Aaron Randall

Snowden the movie, Ewen MacAskill watches the NSA super leak come back to life - Guardian

Secret cameras record Baltimore’s every move from above - Bloomberg

New leaks prove it: the NSA is putting us all at risk to be hacked - Vox

Logan B. DeCoursey and Jonathan Khoo like this update.

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