Indie game storeFree gamesFun gamesHorror games
Game developmentAssetsComics

Narrative Design in ENGLAND ON FIRE

In November of 2022, while I was down in London for AdventureX, I stumbled my way into an occult bookstore out of fated curiosity. I'd heard how London had crowned itself the occult capital of the world, and despite my long-standing interest in the topic, only recently took to testing the city's reputation in person.

Beyond endless rows of Crowley, butchered Kabbalah, and self-help books in their rightful home, a small square book caught my eye. It was entirely monochrome, distressed, with the title scrawled on the front in what looked like a desperate scribble.


I opened it, read the first line, and immediately went to the counter to buy it.

My feelings on being British are complex. They sit with me almost everyday, and are something I could never quite put into words, no matter how hard I tried. Those feelings I'd never seen mirrored, or if they are, not in any means that had found me.

That day, they did. Reading the book made me feel every pang of disgust, shame, horror, and sinful pride of being British that I'd wrestled with since ripping my eyes away from my parent's view of the world. It was the realisation that someone else felt the same way as me.

I was enthralled by it. I burnt through the whole thing in an evening, bound to the written sections and flicking through the curated art, letting my mind run wild with the stories they told.

And then there was a chapter in Manchester.

So to have this book to hit a nerve that had never been hit, to have it strike it so precise and cleanly, to have it directly mention the Arndale and the route I'd cut through Piccadilly to catch the train lit a fire in the pit of my stomach.

This wasn't just mutual cultural commiseration. This was pointed.

After closing the book, like I'd suddenly been yanked out of an entire Other dimension, I knew what I had to do. I had to share what this book did to me. I needed to tell everyone about it, spread it, knowing there had to be others who'd resonate with it in just the same way, but...

I just, knew. I just knew. If I were to recommend this book to anyone else, with the gleeful enthusiasm and praise it deserved, that it could never land in the same way. This needed to be filtered through myself. It was the realisation that I wasn't here to share the book, but instead the feelings it ignited. I had to answer the precarious call to action posited by the final chapter.

And thus, this game began to form in the murky depths of my creative conscious.

Tumbling the Idea Around

I'm throwing stories and new game ideas around the back of my head near-constantly, which I usually chalk up to something in my brain being unmedicated. EOF was little different, but did stump me for some time. I knew what I wanted to tell, but didn't know how to approach it. 

This really came from the structure of the original book itself. I wasn't looking to make a straight one-to-one adaptation of the thing, but that really would be an impossible task. The book has no real plot, or more, there is, but definitely not in a  traditional act sense. It's just, it presents you with slices of the fucked up side of England, lets you experience them in word and image, and then sends you on your merry way with your psyche a bit worse off.

This is the bare minimum I did know: I wanted contained stories, some narrative threads, but not a solid plotline with a typical act structure. More importantly, I was adapting my impression of a book, not the book itself.

So, I tried looking for inspiration from square one. When I approach a narrative, I always try to distil it down to a single, or handful, of points. What's the point of this? Am I trying to preach something? Is there a message I need to get across? Is it just an elaborate shitpost?

The game was centred around one critical feeling: grief. Then I thought, what was the most cliche way I could represent it? The five stages of grief. That's an alright starting point, and a bit silly, and I can use this to grow into something much better.

This ended up being the crux of the entire game.

I'm not complaining; it ended up working very nicely.

With this in mind, I came up with the idea of 5 separate branches to go down, telling stories based around their appointed name. In fact, these "branches" didn't have to follow on from each other smoothly at all. They could simply be a series of disconnected nodes, only sharing a theme, with hard cuts as you jumped between them. If I was going for deliberately disorienting, this would work quite well.

And I would sure love to show you my original sketches with my plans for this, but they are unfortunately lost to time and/or my dog.

I can, however, reproduce it:

Just as shittily, in all its ms paint glory. 

The thing I actually want you to look at in this, is the branches and how they're constructed. Every single node would be able to "move" the story into an adjacent stage of grief. Or more, onto one of the five paths.

There's a critical thing, however. It gives the illusion that there's more than five paths. You'd be bumbling through the passages, not entirely sure what choices affect what due to the nature of the narrative itself. Even if you got the same ending as someone else, you could have reached it in a very different manner, making the branching inherently dynamic. This structure, and not spelling out which choices would push you down different paths, left you essentially blind on where you're going and why.


That compliments the book.

And that's the moment I commit to it.


I plot the shit out of everything. I don't understand how people sit down with a vague idea and fly by the seat of their pants then end up with a full and perfected story. Wizards. I truly believe that.

The immediate concern, that I saw very quickly thanks to my insistence on plotting, was how much content this game would need. From that earlier sketch we know a few things. First, we had the intro and initial sequence. 2 nodes. The split before the main branches was 3. Then we have 5 main branches, going on for however long they need to be.

Thanks to a little mathematics, how many layers deep we wanted to go meant (n*5 + 5) nodes to write. 4 layers deep meant 25, then 30 including the introduction nodes. Youch.

This made me do some back-and-forths. I could cut or combine a branch. From our previous example, 4 branches would give us 21 chapters. Much more manageable. However, the five stages of grief had become a crutch of this game, with each ending state taking a name from each, and missing one might make a player hunt for something that wasn't there. 5 branches was set in stone. Also, a lot of those chapters would be pulling from prompts or inspiration from the original book. Not lifted wholesale, so it's not like several chapters are pre-complete, but far less intensive than coming up with several dozen pieces from scratch.

Planning usually works in tandem to actual production for me. After seeing my pace on writing these nodes, I settled on 3 layers for the main branches, and one more for the endings. For the total nodes, that gave me one, three, three lots of five, and one lot of five. In total, 24. That seemed doable compared to other games I'd done.

I then amended it slightly. I decided on the first layer, it felt a bit cheap to let the player have access to an acceptance node when they haven't really gone through the motions of anything yet. Instead, after the intro they could only go to the first four stages, and the fifth was accessible on the second. Less work, and it makes more sense! Love that.

And so, the final game map looks like this:

The asymmetry got to me, even though the player would literally never see or notice this, by design. Regardless, my mind drifted to another small branch to even it out, regression, with its own ending, but knowing the pace I was working and how busy that December was growing to be I forwent it.

I still kind of want to do it. Maybe if it exhibits somewhere again.

This then brought me to which engine. Super Videotome was in my sights as the one. It had been on my list ever since I had a wonderful run with its predecessor, Videotome:ADV, and I was definitely interested in its more visual-heavy, but still narrative-focused, components. Critically, it allowed for non-blocking choices, something you rarely see in other games, and ever since making a game where every choice could be clicked through I'd become hopelessly addicted to it as a narrative system. 

EOF was merely an extension of this at first; the game would allow you to go through the entire story without ever making a dialogue choice, purely because I liked it as a narrative design and writing challenge. As it turned out, that allowed for some very interesting moments with the themes of the game.


Time to actually put pen to paper.

Or finger to keyboard.


Choosing person perspective was easy. 2nd. I was addressing you, directly, and pulling you under to experience this as I did.

I already knew what the start was going to be. Manchester was, 100%, the core of the narrative. I wanted to have the moment this book hooked into my soul to be front and centre as soon as you opened the game. After a brief moment in the city, specifically in its Christmas colours, you'd be gradually pulled into "Other" England, and where the punches would start to be thrown properly.

I did a run around the city on the last day of my old job after finishing all the Manchester scenes, taking specifically-angled pictures and recording the tram sounds I knew I wouldn't be able to get stock anywhere. As of writing, it remains the last time I've set foot there since moving south for work. Looking back at these photos gives me a feeling I'm not quite fit to describe.

And for writing everything else, was probably the most ritualistic I could have gotten. It was a matter of reading through the whole book again, literally highlighting and colour-coding the parts that matched each stage of grief, and spinning them into their own little stories.

Some nodes hit harder than others. Some felt like I was running out of steam. But, the best moments of the game, I felt, were found in its endings and the opening at the Arndale. Even if there were weaker points I wasn't as satisfied with, the main stars of the game would be hit everytime. And besides, this is a creative medium. There's someone out there who's going to like it, and I'd hate to starve them of the joy.

A big moment was hit mid-way through writing that altered things significantly. The traditional stages of grief are ordered: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Looking at how I was writing bargaining, especially in comparison to depression, didn't make that much sense in terms of progression. Bargaining felt like a state above depression, and depression leading into acceptance led to some whiplash. So, the two were swapped. It's something I hit fortunately early, and the choices that lead into those branches hardly existed yet. 

Actually writing all the separate nodes really showed how important the ending names were for revealing the game's structure for future runs, almost like a final punchline, and at this point I made the decision to number them to make it all the more explicit. If you're bumbling through on your first go, and see "ENDING 2 — ANGER", and previously knew about the five stages of grief (which considering meme culture, you definitely do), you now have a hint. You know there's five possible endings, and have a better idea on how to progress. You're angry? Try being depressed!

This did worry me with the whole deal of swapping bargaining and depression, as them being out of order might signal to the player that the order doesn't matter at all. There was no real solution I found to this, as swapping them made much more sense on a narrative level. It's something that nagged me right up until the end.

But the end came nonetheless.


And soon, into the world it went. Finished, complete, and ready to be played by whoever stumbled upon it.

I originally wanted this game out on December 21st, Winter Solstice, fitting nicely into the occult themes that propped up. But thanks to many unforeseen—and wonderful—circumstances, I ended up too busy and uploaded the game on Christmas. If there was any other date I would have accepted, that would be the one.

Its release, like most of my other games, was fairly subdued. Some people played it, less than a handful rated it, and one or two comments said that they had a nice (harrowing) time.

This all quite changed once I exhibited at WASD.

Like most everything I've done in my life ever, I submit to Curios on a whim. I had no thoughts of ever getting accepted. EOF was the last thing I'd made, which by how honing a skill works, probably meant that it was the best thing I'd done so far. Who'd really care, right?

Who would indeed.

My train was late. There was a queue to check into the hotel. I ended up at the booth setup, drenched, thirty minutes until closing, with a soggy cardboard box of black card scribbled with white pens I'd desperately tried to save from the rain. They, fortunately, fared far better than I did.

It was only the start of how completely out of my depth I'd be that weekend.

I had people, to my face, tell me how much the game touched them. Friends. Strangers. Devs from studios I saw as untouchable. The weekend went by as the quickest and slowest days of my life. 

I still keep it as a tight memory, and a physical memory, thanks to a guestbook I left at the booth.

Looking back at EOF, there's nothing I'd do differently. Even the parts I think aren't as good on a technical level, it's beyond rewrites for me. It's crystalised itself as something beyond my petty self-flagellating notions of "quality" and "personal opinion". All because, the most important part of it all, that the game touched others in the same way the book touched me. It did everything I wanted it to do and more.

England's on fire, but at least we're burning together.

Support this post

Did you like this post? Tell us

Leave a comment

Log in with your account to leave a comment.

Loved the game. Thanks for taking the time to write out some of your process!

I loved reading this and learning about your narrative design process (and the game)!

Very cool. Thank you for sharing!

Mentioned in this post

Visual Novel
Play in browser
micro narrative engine
Run in browser
micro ADV engine
Run in browser
Catch a criminal; pursue a poet
Visual Novel
Play in browser