There are projects that, regardless of the amount of time and work that you put into them, end up unpublished, unbroadcast or, as in the case of Halycon Sun, partially-published, then lost in the backwash of a dot-com bubble. Or so I thought, until my former co-conspirator, writer/translator/anime authority/travelogue presenter Jonathan Clements (http://bit.ly/2LS7Opx) unearthed a YouTube link to the whole, 12-episode thing…
Halcyon Sun was a hybrid of Science Fiction serial and space-combat sim. Episodes featuring a mix of narrative cut scenes and embedded missions were to be released monthly (if I remember correctly) and for free on a new games download site. Jonathan and I wrote a feature-film’s worth of scenes. I first-drafted the odd-numbered episodes, Jonathan the even, then we alternated drafts, incorporating notes from Kuju Entertainment, the games company headquartered deep in the wilds of Surrey that was making the game, and the company behind the games site.
(As far as I understood at the time, the plan was for Halcyon Sun to run on the site as a kind of giveaway/loss leader to draw customers to paid downloads of more well-known games. I have no idea how sensible (or otherwise) a business model that was – at one point the idea was floated of selling ad-space on the in-game spacecraft – but the site was a victim of a dot-com crash (remember them?) after only two or three episodes had been released, so I guess we’ll never know.)
While we were writing, the designers at Kuju were creating the missions and grappling with motion capture rigs which, if they weren’t strictly first-generation, were very close cousins. According to the date on my first draft of the first episode, this was in early 2000, so we were some way from the technology that would be used to create Jar-Jar and Gollum, Groot and Rocket.
It wasn’t just that the rigs were cumbersome, the software had some interesting limitations, too. I remember receiving an email warning me that our characters would be ‘unable to blink randomly’. I’m not sure I have ever written a scene direction that required a character to blink randomly, but it was good to be kept in the loop.
I also remember that, in the early iterations of the animation, characters would randomly become detached from various body parts – arms, legs, teeth. Eyes would literally pop out of their heads. I can only imagine the long nights at Kuju HQ that went into keeping them together.
It was with some trepidation that I clicked on the link but, while the polygon-heavy animation might be charitably described as ‘of historical interest’, the storytelling hangs together and the character relationships are amusingly snark-based in a way that, I think, set Halcyon Sun apart from most of the more po-faced military SF around at the time.
My fondest memory of the project is the smooth co-writing relationship Jonathan and I quickly developed. I suspect it helped that the game’s lead designer, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (https://bit.ly/2XZnlWX), had set in place a solid narrative structure upon which our scripts were to hang. And we were already friends, having been involved in various projects before, though not as co-writers.
But still, actually having someone else’s sticky fingers pawing over your latest draft, killing your darlings with impunity, could have caused all kinds of ill-feeling. As it was, I looked forward to reading Jonathan’s latest pass on my scripts. And, of course, there was always his latest draft, torn bleeding from the depths of his tortured, artistic soul, upon which to wreak my messy revenge…
I also can’t help but admire the mad, epic ambition of the whole project. 12 episodes. For free. A feature film’s worth of story. Love. Death. Mind-melding gribblies. Shooty space action. What’s not to like?