Award-winning science fiction/fantasy writer and computational linguist Tracy Canfield, author of the new computer game “I, Cyborg,” and whose short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including “Analog,” “Strange Horizons,” and Fantasy Magazine, spoke to students, faculty and staff on Thursday, April 12, in Henkel Hall, Hester Auditorium, in her lecture “Writing for Computer Games.”
Canfield explained how the process of writing games differs from writing books, and how nonlinear storytelling empowers players to choose their own adventures, much like an interactive novel.
“Every element in a story shapes the player’s experience,” she said. “Things that happen in spite of the characters don’t feel the same as those that happen because of the characters.”
In “I, Cyborg,” which is expected to launch in May 2018 for Choice of Games, participants play a cyborg whose mind is copied from interstellar outlaw Ypsilanti Rowe’s—and whose attempts to get a much-needed replacement part are thwarted by Ypsilanti’s many, many enemies. And exes. The game keeps track of all the variables, and Canfield makes sure all these dozens of endings are satisfying.
Canfield says writing for a game uses about 300,000 words, the equivalent of three good sizes novels. “That’s a lot of text,” she said.
The game allows each participant to choose the gender of their character as well as his or her values and personality traits. The software stores and computes all these variables, so once a players’ decisions are made, the character’s personality and choices ultimately determine the storyline.
Canfield’s story “Starship Down” won the Analytical Laboratory Award for best short story appearing in Analog, and her story “The Seal of Sulaymaan” was a Million Writers Award Notable Story. Several of her other stories have been Honorable Mentions in Gardner Dozois’s annual Year’s Best anthologies. (Want to read a novelette set in the same universe? “Salvage” ran in Giganotosaurus, and you can read it online for free.)
As a linguist, Canfield also specializes in conlangs (constructed languages) such as Esperanto and Klingon.