Earlier this year I saw tweets joking that due to cities being deserted during lockdown, the pigeons probably thought we had all died. This led me to think about the experience of being an urban fox during the pandemic – it could be a time of greater freedom, but also fewer Pret sandwiches to steal. Thus, the idea for Vulpining began to take form.
I began work on the game during the summer reprieve of 2020, building the narrative iteratively while getting feedback from my Limit Break mentor. Their advice and encouragement were invaluable, spurring me to learn new ways of manipulating text in Twine. The narrative structure of the game was built around the actual geography of the City of London. I wanted to capture the fleeting nature of encounters in this space, so I made the order and timing of choices affect your experience.
The fox’s sensory relationship with the City is key to Vulpining. I colour-coded the text associated with their sense of smell and hearing as yellow. Choices are blue, which works well as a way to distinguish them from other dynamic text, while also being a reference to vulpine dichromatic vision which perceives colour in terms of yellows and blues.
I loved writing the pigeons in the game especially. I have a real soft spot for London pigeons; they’re considered vermin by many people but really they’re just like any other Londoner trying to get by. I have a lot of memories of wondering the City as a field archaeologist, but now I also associate St Paul’s cathedral with my own eccentric pigeon characters.
It’s a very short game but it is full of ideas. I could have made it longer but it was important to find a balance between endlessly tinkering and actually completing the project. I chose to set Vulpining in the City of London because its always fascinated and alienated me in equal measure. On weekdays it used be heaving with business people, while on weekends it would be oddly vacant. Now the pandemic has truly rendered it a ghost town, and the eventual fate of the financial district is unknown.
The game was a way of working through my own feelings about the pandemic and vicariously exploring the City through the eyes of a fox. I hope you’ll join them.