Announcing: ‘The Red Market’ – A Narrative Monster Hunting Game

The Red Market - Title

After years of saying I’m going to make a game, quickly making two small games, and then another five years of saying I’m going to make a game – I’m finally making a game (this is honestly my best attempt at a PR press release).

The Red Market is a narrative, text-based monster hunting, trading, breeding, and eating simulator:

  • Choose one of five characters with unique benefits (e.g. influence with high society as a result of your loveless cage of a marriage to a local captain of industry) and drawbacks (e.g. an empty, ravenous void where your humanity once was).
  • Send out expeditions to capture dangerous and disquieting monsters.
  • Cook them into disquieting dishes.
  • Cross-breed them into arguably yet more disquieting offspring.
  • Sell them for profit, or else be crushed, gored, dissolved, enveloped, consumed, or hollowed out and inhabited by them in turn; your limbs moving at their command; their eyes looking out through your own.

You can download the prototype from here, from Dropbox of all places (because I am a serious game developer)

Made in Inkle’s amazing narrative scripting language ‘Ink’. I’ve just finished the prototype of the game, which consists of an extended tutorial (with a fair deal of player freedom and hidden secrets) and one extra monster encounter. The next step is to get it running in an actual game engine (Unity, specifically), and then gradually add further monsters, locations, and secrets. In the longer term, I have plans for an end-game, a restart mechanic, and multiple character-specific hidden end goals.

Future builds will add dozens more varied monsters, such as:

  • The Tree of Hands
  • The Threadbare Visitor
  • Jenny Hundredweight
  • And, of course, the elusive Double Lion

It’s always going to be a primarily text-based game, like its influences, but I am looking to make it a slightly more visual experience (think Cultist Simulator or King of Dragon Pass) in further updates. I’ll also be looking into commissioning art for the game at a later date.

I’ll be aiming to write an update about the development of The Red Market (including posts describing upcoming monsters, and insights into the game’s design philosophy)  once a fortnight.

Also, I’d really appreciate any feedback or criticism on the prototype! Feel free to comment on the development update page here, or tweet criticism/advice/death threats/doxx me on Twitter.

(The Red Market is inspired by Fallen London, A House of Many Doors, Chandler Groover’s ‘The Queen’s Menagerie’ and Eat Me’, King of Dragon Pass, the Sorcery! series, as well as books like Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’, Amy Sackville’s ‘Painter to the King’.)

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(2016) The Year in Books – Interpreter of Maladies


Jhumpa Lahiri – Interpreter of Maladies

This is another in a long line of ridiculously lucky ‘picked off a bookshop shelf on a whim’ choices – a process that’s introduced me to at least a dozen amazing authors and only ever given me one actual dud (Oe Kenzaburo’s absolutely terrible The Changeling, in case you’re looking for recommendations of books to definitely not read). I’m a little embarrassed to say I’d never even heard of Jhumpa Lahiri before, but after reading Interpreter of Maladies and her similarly impressive novel The Lowland, I’m excited to explore the rest of her bibliography.

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that largely concerns itself with the lives of Indian-Americans, sometimes first, sometimes second generation, with a handful of stories set in India itself. Now, as a well-establish, dyed in the wool white boy, albeit one with ‘heritage’ outside the UK*, I obviously don’t see a great deal here that’s directly relatable to my own experiences. But despite an instantaneous knee-jerk reaction against any media that doesn’t feature someone almost exactly like me in the starring role, I quickly fell in love with Interpreter of Maladies, as it manages to do what only the best literature can do – show us a deep, universal emotional truth we recognise in a life we don’t.

On a smaller scale, Lahirir’s moment to moment writing is consistently sharp and understated, and she shows a genuine, thoughtful insight into the complexities of her characters. Every story in this collection is special, but here are some of my favourites:

‘Mrs. Sen’s’ focuses on the suffocating sense of isolation that comes from packing up and moving one’s entire life to somewhere completely new and alien. In its titular character we see what happens when someone isn’t given the means to integrate into a new culture, as well as how the prospect of integration can itself come to seem suffocating in its own way.

‘Interpreter of Maladies’ follows a family of Indian-Americans visiting India on vacation, exploring how children of immigrants can be purportedly part of a culture yet have nothing to do with it whatsoever. And as well as this – how we can sometimes convince ourselves we have such a strong connection with someone; know someone so well and imagine the arc of our joined lives, only to be jarred back into the knowledge that we have nothing whatsoever to do with them.

Finally, ‘When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine’ follows a Pakistani professor working in the US on a research grant while his family remains back home in the buildup to the Bangladesh Liberation War. In it we see the pain of being separated from one’s family and one’s culture, especially when looking on in safety far away in a time of crisis, and the comfort a shared culture can bring after so long isolated from one’s home.

I figured I should put something here to avoid this post from just trailing off, but I don’t really have anything else to say except to reiterate that you should read Interpreter of Maladies. It’s a genuinely great book. It even won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, so you don’t even have to trust my notoriously unreliable opinions, and instead can trust those of much smarter people – people with degrees in literature and double-barrelled surnames and finely manicured side-partings, probably.

* (I don’t think any white person has ever felt comfortable using the word ‘heritage’ when talking about themselves without adding quotation marks)


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(2016) The Year in Books – The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch is the long and twisting story of Theodore Decker. On an ordinary day in his almost-obnoxiously New York childhood (we have an hour to kill before meeting with your principal – let’s ride a cab a few blocks and go see an Old Masters exhibit at a fancy gallery), Theodore is caught in a terrorist bombing. Shell shocked and bleeding in the aftermath of the explosion, unable to find his mother, Theodore finds something else instead – an Old Master painting, undamaged by the explosion. For reasons he can’t explain, he takes it, and hides it away for himself. Then, after finding his way home he waits for the call to come telling him his mother’s been found and taken to hospital. After an agonizing wait, he receives a call, and is told that his mother died in the blast.

At first he stays with a friend’s family. Foster care is discussed, but eventually he’s sent off to live with his estranged, addicted-to-everything-from-Class-A-drugs-to-high-stakes-gambling father in Las Vegas. From there Theodore’s life continues to ping pong out of control, before finding a degree of stability back in New York, at the home of an art dealer he met after the terrorist attack.

Throughout the bulk of its 700+ pages The Goldfinch is a fairly standard bildungsroman, following Theodore’s adolescence and early adulthood, and leaving the priceless stolen painting hidden under his bed all but forgotten. But periodically we’re reminded that that it’s still there. Years later Theodore finds himself unable to get rid of it, despite the very real, years-in-prison danger of being caught with a priceless missing painting.

Eventually the novel finally veers into a world of art thieves and underground crime. A lesser novel would have fallen apart under the strain of this  jarring shift, but by that point Theodore is so well sketched, so deeply understood by the reader that the high stakes crime-caper denoument meshes surprisingly well with the more slow-paced introspection of the earlier sections. Which is not to say it’s perfect. Theodore’s early life is arguably far more compelling than the bulk of his adult years, with the deadened, discomforting aftermath of the terrorist bombing an especially strong testament to Tartt’s status as one of the best writers of pure narrative prose around.

But even above that, to me the most special aspects of The Goldfinch are found during Theodore’s early adolescence with his father – and more importantly his friend Boris – in Las Vegas. Boris – a rough, alcoholic, troubled Ukrainian boy – quickly becomes Theodore’s best, essentially only friend. The relationship they share comes to dominate much of the novel, and it’s one of the most well-realised, closely-observed friendships I’ve seen in fiction (Elena Ferante’s Neapolitan Novels also do a wonderful job, in its own vastly different way (cough cough)).

The two spend their days skipping school, shoplifting, drinking and taking drugs to the point of unbelievable, dangerous levels of intoxication. And then they do it again and again and again. And in doing so they become the only island of stability in each other’s horribly disfunctional lives. At times it feels like they share every waking minute together. Their gangly childhood affection mixes with intense jealousy, violence, and those handful of unspoken-of moments that, when recalled years down the line feel both sharp and imminent, but also entirely unreal; that cause you to wonder at 26 years-old – ‘my God, was that really me?’.

Are we still talking about The Goldfinch, here?

I loved the entirety of this stupidly long book, but this was the part that really stuck with me. Theodore feels real and alive and close at hand throughout the novel, but its during these years in Las Vegas that Theodore becomes Theodore. And it’s in its depiction of that turbulent, drug-addled example of teenage chaos that The Goldfinch really captures something special: that awful, wonderful (, awful) intensity of adolescence. And the people that come to mean so much to you, to shape you in such unexpected ways, before disappearing, in some cases, forever.

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