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What is Cataclysm: Arcadia?

“Cataclysm: Arcadia” is an ongoing procedurally-generated story of a college girl stuck in a zombie apocalypse. If her story should tragically end at some point, we'll move on to another story in the same world.

The format is heavily inspired by Kruggsmash's Dwarf Fortress stories. Kruggsmash is really great, and you should check him out if you are even the least bit interested in Dwarf Fortress!

Unfortunately, however, I am no visual artist. But in a previous life I was a part-time hack writer. And so, I present the story in the format of Raven's diary, with my own thoughts at the end.

My ultimate goal is to turn this thing into a narrated podcast of some sort, if/when I can afford to hire a voice actress to read for Raven. I'd still keep doing the textual thing, too, of course.

What do you mean, "procedurally-generated story"?

The story is generated via a post-apocalyptic procedurally generated open-world roguelike computer game called "Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead" (aka CDDA), in combination with a GM-less tabletop role-playing tool called the "Mythic Game Master Emulator".

Being a procedural open-world type of game, CDDA tends to suffer from the same problem that most procedural open-world games suffer from: a lack of narrative focus. The game mechanics are focused entirely on simulating the apocalypse, and do nothing to provide a traditional narrative structure within that simulation. The player is plopped down into the game with no defined goals, and must define their own. Which is fine. But it doesn't lend itself to generating a compelling story.

This is where the Mythic Game Master Emulator comes in. This is a tool designed for DM-less and solo tabletop roleplaying, which attempts to mechanically model rising tension and narrative structure. It requires human intuition to interpret the results (and thus can't really be built into a computer game), and can sometimes be pretty “hinky”. But it does provide a way to semi-procedurally generate a narrative that can surprise both the author and the reader.

One way that it does this is to allow the player to ask a “yes/no” question, based on the likelihood of the answer being “yes”. The GME then generates an answer based on the current state of the rising tension model. It can also generate interrupts, introducing new characters and sending the plot off in new directions.

CDDA doesn't natively support the GME, of course. But I can to some extent use the cheat console to spawn in and modify things that the GME calls for. CDDA is also a permadeath game, so I am backing up my saves and save-scumming a bit. I mean, it's fine for things to get bad for our heroine, but it wouldn't be very narratively interesting if our protagonist randomly perma-died without the story coming to some sort of satisfying closure.

I think this is cool. How can I help?

Discussion and feedback are always cool. But some level of very modest financial support would be most helpful.

Should you choose to support this project financially, half of your contributions will initially be banked towards hiring a voice actress for Raven, for a podcast release. The other half of your contributions will help hire people to do my some of my scutwork (I am a software-engineer-turned-farmer IRL, with very little free time) so that I have more time available to put into this project.

In thanks for your contributions, you will gain access to all of the most-current unreleased entries in progress. You will also be able to influence the direction that the story takes, by voting in polls to help determine the likelihood of some of the “yes/no” questions asked of the GME (higher tiers of support have more weight in these polls).

How can I contact you?

The best way to discuss story-related things is though the comments both here and on Patreon and SubscribeStar. That way, everyone else can join the conversation too. But if you have a private matter that requires my attention, you may email.