Underbelly is my latest playable media fiction, created in Flash. It’s about a woman sculptor, carving on the site of a former colliery in the north of England. As she carves, she is disturbed by a medley of voices, along with her ticking biological clock, and the player/reader is plunged into an underworld of the artist’s repressed fears and desires mashed up with the disregarded histories of the 19th Century women who once worked underground mining coal.
Earlier this week, I performed Underbelly at the Transliteracy Conference at DMU, Leicester, UK, so I thought it was high time I went public with the piece online. It’s a ‘beta version’ at present and I’m hoping to get some user feedback to help me swat any bugs (of which there’s a swarm, I’m sure) and iron out any usability issues. When you’re working alone outside any institution or formal gro
up, it’s hard to get this kind of feedback prior to publishing, so any comments from netpoetic readers would be most welcome!
It’s been a struggle to get Underbelly into shape, partly because I was teaching myself ActionScript 3.0 as I was developing the piece. Currently, it relies heavily on AS frame-scripts because that’s what I was most comfortable with when I started work on it about 18 months ago. I suspect I have a lot of garbage collection issues, which is hardly surprising, the amount of messy code I brushed under the carpet! Initially, I attempted a more object oriented approach but, although I knew it would be cleaner, I found that it was simply beyond me at the time.
Since then, very recently, I’ve been learning how to code games in AS3 which has been a real eye-opener. It’s helped me recognise a much better process and workflow for developing playable media fiction in future. In retrospect, I realise I approached the making of Underbelly in a completely topsy-turvy way. For example, I didn’t arrive at a user interface design until very late in the process. In future I’ll design and thoroughly test the structure, storytelling procedures and UI elements in a wireframe prototype before going any further.
I’d be interested to hear what kinds of development models other artists who do their own programming use. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Perhaps it’s different for each project?
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