I felt it was time to formally introduce my grand writing project of the last few months on my blog. I have been working on a game script about robots that I only recently began to title A Robot Fugue. (That may eventually be demoted to a sub-title, but its much better than the last working title, "Untitled Robot Game".)
This project was the one I used for Script Frenzy, and I brought the current script to the 100 pages required to declare a win! I did cheat, just a little, but I won. The biggest cheat is that a certain bulk of the current script is taken in describing a maze that I'm still not sure will fit into the final game.
So far I feel like I've finished only one of the game's planned six acts. By finished, I mean the act is fully playable and gets most of the (highly expository) points I wanted to get across, but I'm sure it still needs more polish/play-testing. I've got bits and pieces scattered across the other five acts, including the aforementioned maze which may or may not be a puzzle in the game.
In the game, the player takes on the role of a robot named Pov given the choice between a voluntary upgrade and a possibly mandatory deactivation. I've ended up with what I feel to be a very interesting backstory to the game. The world of the game has nearly a century of robotics leading into the alternate 1980s in which it is set.
The title A Robot Fugue has some interesting connotations. Outside of music, a fugue is denoted as "a dream-like state". Certainly, I think this applies to the game at many levels. There is also a negative implication in modern usage of the term, and although I try to keep the game mostly light-hearted, the core themes are pretty "heavy".
Perhaps more interestingly, a fugue in music is associated as a particularly format where a theme is explored in repetition (and light variation) in a traditional 3-part structure. As with most good robot literature, the game is an exploration on the theme of control and authority. There is quite a bit of narrative repetition on that theme, particularly in bringing in the biases of multiple characters. Further more, there is also the implicit repetition I'm encouraging in the game's narrative form itself.
As far as I know, there isn't a name yet for the narrative form I'm attempting, but fugue sounds like a good candidate. I'm planning a branching three-act structure whereby there are six acts in total and four main paths through the game (simpler to describe graphically, but it's a very simple tree with a single intro branching into two acts branching into three acts). To see 100% of the game, you will need multiple playthroughs. I'm hoping that the game will be reasonably short enough that it won't be a grind for completists, and I'm trying to scatter enough interesting details amongst the edges to make it worth it to those who aren't necessarily completists...
It is a complex writing project. I'm happy with what I've completed thus far, but there is certainly still more to write. It helps that the backstory keeps getting deeper for me, but then that's always been my interest.
Below I've decided to present a tangent from the backstory that I felt needed writing and might make an interesting preview of sorts. Of the backstory pieces I've written, this one is the least directly related to the game itself. Although it perhaps touches the most on the actual themes of the game. It's also interesting because it took several attempts before I was happy with it. I think some of the best parts of the script happen when I best explore the particular biases of the characters, and after an attempt writing half of this as an interview transcript, I realized that it was time for a new character and a new bias to explore.
Hopefully it works. Rest assured that the character's bias is not my own, and that I do not condone the use of anti-robot slurs, but have left them as written "by the character".
National Robotic Magazine feels it important to provide dissenting opinions. Last month's interview on the Steel Rebellion generated some controversy amongst sections of our readership. We've asked Dr. Cameron Crawford, a Professor of History and self-described "Robot Skeptic", to provide his perspective.
Of course we all remember the legacy of John Henry. John Henry probably wasn't the first, and definitely has not been the last, man to challenge a robot, but John Henry will forever be the patron of the humanist and the luddite both. John Henry challenged that steel-driving machine, fought hard and won the struggle, even if it cost him his life.
Nearly a century later, the National Robotic's esteemed "expert", Robot Pyschologist Calivina Suza, has decided to throw the legacy of John Henry into spin (as well as desecrate the names of many deceased journalists and members of our legislature) all in a publicity stunt to gain support for National Robotic's silly pet project--- The Museum of Robotics.
Although the interview is still fresh in many of our minds this month, pardon me as I retell this unique new history of the Steel Rebellion that Dr. Suza would have us believe: the robot leader of the Rebellion has been in storage at GSD for nearly a century. This Mark I unit, designated by Dr. Suza as "Hardsteel", not only lead the Rebellion, but in fact was the very same robot that battled John Henry on that fateful day! As if that were not wild enough, it turns out that Hardsteel believes that it let John Henry win, against its own orders, and this act was in fact the first event in what we now refer to as the Steel Rebellion.
Dr. Suza, and presumably many others on the staff at National Robotic [ED: National Robotic's official policy decision on Dr. Suza's recent research can be found elsewhere in this issue.], would have us believe that John Henry himself is the secret martyr of the so-called free robot and a direct instigator of the Steel Rebellion, history's largest robot uprising. That the robots were driven by their response to John Henry's passion and determination. That they took John Henry's ideas about fair wages and applied those ideas to themselves. That any work that had value enough for a man to die for was work that they themselves should receive some recompense for. Certainly none of that seems to agree with history's view of events or of the man John Henry.
Dr. Suza asserts that a robot will never lie. Certainly all of us have come to know the skills at equivocation that all robots seem to inherently possess. We have all seen that robots have a very interesting way of walking around the truth, when they need to. However, if what Dr. Suza says is true and Hardsteel is the rebellious leader she claims, surely it is possible that such a dangerous machine might lie.
This Hardsteel would have us believe that the pro-human, pro-living-wage ideals of John Henry gave it pause, and that consideration led to, of all things, a peaceful attempt at unionization. History, of course, appears to disagree on this point: the numerous newspaper articles on death and violence during the Rebellion certainly provide plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Of course, Dr. Suza would white-wash all of that as "yellow journalism". Unlike Dr. Suza, I have directly spoken with the few survivors of Steel Rebellion riots and revolts and I have extensively researched the subject. You can, of course, pick up your own copy of my book Machines Lacking Proper Authority: The Impact of the Steel Rebellion on the American Psyche and the Advent of Modern Robot Licensing if you wish to know more of the subject.
Disregarding, for the sake of argument, such evidence as I believe is also clearly established in my book, there is still the curious question of whom such yellow journalism would have benefited. Is it the few meager competitors of GSD at that time, none of which exist today? Is it GSD in some mad ill-considered conspiracy to nearly destroy their own industry, or at least just the public's faith in their products? Certainly fear and destruction alone can sell newspapers, but is that enough of a reason for what Dr. Suza and Hardsteel tell us are years of fabrications and exaggerations?
Dr. Suza and National Robotic would have us believe that much of the real truth of an event nearly a century ago can be solved simply by asking the right robot. Furthered by the odd incongruity of the fact that they claim this very right robot just happened to have been donated to the nascent Museum of Robotics in San Francisco by a generous donation of GSD. Even with Dr. Suza's complicated relationship with GSD, I find this an interesting stretch of the imagination. Perhaps the mysterious storage archives of GSD from whence this supposed revolutionary came might include other legendary robots we should be made aware of. Of course, the timing of this discovery is so incredibly convenient given the upcoming grand opening of the Museum. I'm sure the National Robotic Society must be as surprised as the rest of us how this has affected their last minute donations towards the completion of the Museum.
I feel that we need more proof of the identity and the history of this robot, particularly if the Museum really expects to activate this Mark I robot under security measures much more relaxed than current laws allow. Certainly such laws were put into place for very good, very real reasons following the Steel Rebellion. I don't think that we should forget that. I don't think that such a strict, defining law, which caused so much debate, was merely a delusion of its legislators.
I especially don't think that the unverified ramblings of a briefly reactivated century-old robot should be the source of our reassurance against the possibility that the perhaps inevitable sequel to the Steel Rebellion might be fomented inside this Museum that Dr. Suza and National Robotic are so keen on finishing. (Particularly if Dr. Suza is correct and this Mark I is indeed the legendary Hardsteel! That seems to me like more reason to refrain from further activations of this unit.)