Doctor Jeangille's Lost Letter + Proper commentary

It was such a joy to participate once more in the Spring Thing, and a pleasure to be among this wonderful cohort of authors and their entertaining entries. I am humbled by all the kind words I have received for my silly little piece, they meant the world to me.
Thank you for indulging me in this regard.

Hey S.T.

Going through my archive, I found this letter from Doctor Jeangille. It is much longer than I anticipated, and am glad I only found it now. Its content is… well…

I think you might find it informative, if not, at the very least, a tad –
No, let’s be honest, she is being much too dramatic for her own good. It is probably more entertaining than informative. Good thing we “lost” that one…


Le 18 it was always nonsense.

Ma dulcinée, mon trésor, mon Olympia

You must be wondering why I am writing you so, when we are to be reunited in but a few hours. It is that I must promptly share with you some news and could not wait another moment, wait until I could be freed from this walls, wait until these Sisyphean tasks were dealt with. Please receive this missive with all my deepest feelings.

And regrets… so many regrets…

You will think me a coward for writing these words, too afraid of uttering them, too ashamed of seeing your disappointed face when I admit my shortcomings, too guilty of disregarding your advice. But I cannot bear seeing your kind eyes look away in disgust; it is much too hard to say these words, harder than you will ever know.

For another of my failures has landed on my desk…

My love, it is with a broken heart that I share with you this crushing defeat, this catastrophic response, this morale-breaking answer. You must surely remember our discussions these past few months about this recent project, for which I have pour not just blood, sweat, and tears, but all my soul.

And for what…

Not just one, but TWO Congrès have now passed over this project. I --…

The snickering already echoes through the hall, taunting me to respond. It seems the news has reached some unkind ears…

Disappointment doesn’t begin to cover the feelings I harbour since this last rejection befell in my hands. For I was certain my project had some merit! Alas… I found myself once again cheated by the glimmer of hope, which had settled into my silly feminine mind following the quite positive rounds of reviews. All my efforts… it might not have been for naught, but it still wasn’t enough for the judges.

“But, my dear,” I can already hear you say, “can you really find no fault in your methods? I recall–”

Oh, but so right you would recall these past months, seeing me arduously at my task, burning the midnight oil, unrelenting with my wish of submitting my last masterpiece (or so I foolishly believed it to be). An important project, you kept reminded me, that required time - much more time than I would end up allocating. Always more time than I ever allow myself.

And so, but two weeks before it was meant to leave my hands, I seriously sat down, took my quill, and finally penned on those cream sheets my words, transforming ideas that had been frivolously scribbled in my (now burnt) journal into proper writing.

It had been months since I first thought about this project and mulled it over. Knowing full well the deadline was fast approaching, yet still resting on my laurels (you must surely remember last year’s triumph, where I took but a month to complete my awarded study! why did I ever think I could recreate this one-of-a-kind?!), not once suspecting I would be wasting precious time.

“But, my angel,” I would surely protest, “have you already forgotten…”

Prior to those two weeks, my mind was elsewhere, filled with dangerous thoughts and ideas. You must remember my struggles with standing still, with focusing on but one thought at a time, with even keeping track of progress. Even you, I recall, expressed quite the dissatisfaction with the time spent together.

And complained even more when I finally brought myself to get on with this task, leaving you utterly alone and attention-less. What crime it was, and for this, I beg your forgiveness.
It would not be the only time I would do so, for only a month later, you complained yet again of my behaviour!

It is really a fault of mine, that I cannot seem to manage my time, always distracted by new prospects (except in love, I assure you!), anxious of not participating enough, feeling unworthy for the little I can show. I swear, again and again, that I would try to change, pace myself down and regroup my thoughts, or simply spend more time on one idea. But I cannot seem to help myself. The drive is too strong, too powerful to stop it. I must always strive to do, more, better, always, forever…

Even if I find myself stumbling, hurt, crushed…

I fear all this talk about failure may have washed away the details of the project. I am sure you certainly remember it all, having heard me rambling day-in and day-out, but for clarity sake, I shall recount this whole affair.

Some months ago, a strange news reached my ears, about some strange character using illusions to hide their true goals, their true wants, their true nature. Coming from distant land, they settled in a small quaint town, before it is plagued with some queer events.

Or was it maybe…

a recovered journal from a doctor in a small village in the country, recounting the final days of its existence, starting just before a stranger arrives and set it ablaze in chaos. Among other… a plague.

Or maybe…

a tale of a disgraced doctor following a horrendous scandal*, forced to return to the place she swore she would never set foot into, leaving behind the love of her life in a heart-wrenching manner, only to find herself embroiled in some strange conspiracy.
Could you believe this to happen?
*I will admit, this horrendous scandal did no appear right away, but revealed itself quite late into the process.

Many widely different accounts of one singular event fought to be crowned the truth, and my research into the matter revealed itself futile (until that eleventh hour those final weeks). Yet, my goal had always been simple: recounting, to the best of my abilities, the event that transpired during this strange conflicting period.

Perhaps, I wonder, if the inspiration for this project weakened its foundation. I am afraid I must remind you of this painting we saw at the gallery quite some time ago, and of your hurt feelings when your emeralds landed its gaze upon the portrait. Your rage was so, you could have burned it to the ground had I not embraced you right there and then. And these was also this obvious book, which many remarked upon, and which I could not hide behind. Nor could I ever claim to amount to its greatness. Most controversial finally, was this pairing, which I am as well sorry to remind you about. I know you abhor seeing those name together. But I must admit it influenced this project more than you will ever know.
I swear I will one day get around to read those letters you recommended oh so many times… I have not forgotten, for you have reminded me aplenty, I just never got around to sit down and enjoy them.

Some thoughts about the format went into the process. I fancied myself writing a fore- and post- note into the matter, hoping to contextualise the disorderly… mess I was left with and vouching for the authenticity of the texts found. I must say, in hindsight, I am only glad I did not follow that route, for it would surely have not been received well (or made sense…).
I struggled with a similar thought last year, and was glad then I had discarded it.

A change of focus from the diary to the exchange of letters provided itself fruitful, as I could find more reliable source on the event - thought it seems the result of that affair does not seem quite settled, as diverging reports still cannot account for the true situation of the involved individuals. Still, I hope I have done my duty in telling this tale as best I could.

It was just in time that I managed to submit the first version of the project, which…
… was not at first received badly. Save for an embarrassing amount of minor errors, in the style rather than the form, only few returns were less than gleaming.

Oh, how wrong to believe laurels would be meeting my temples!

Yet, rather than attempt on improving upon my work, believing it already a flawless diamond, I dilly-dallied, let time fleet away between my fingers, avoided opening my files (discarded them even!), pretended there was no need to start for a long while still. Whatever betterment I could add, new findings I could report, new ways of sharing my work, I truly was certain this time, well, time would be on my side!

It was… not. Of course.

As you surely remember me scurrying through my papers, only two weeks again before all was due, re-transcribing my words again and again, changing vernacular or even plume, tempted to take dangerous paths that would lead me missing that final crucial deadline. It was just with a few seconds to spare that my work was received.
My heart bursting through my chest as the pamphlets left my shaking fingers. I laid on your floor for hours, days I would even assume, with my head spinning, worrying it would not be up to par. Only little sleep was found that night… or the following ones.

With this new version came its sets of challenges. Though I believed I had done my best with the time I had ended allocating myself*, I could not vouch for its quality. The intricacies in transcribing my words were difficult to entangle, even with my fluency in the matter. I was expecting, quite frankly, confirmation that this new work was but a pale copy of the original. I did not believe, myself, in the work I had done.
*granted, I had found myself a new distraction

And now I wonder… had it shown?

The reception of this new version was of similar magnitude to the previous one, though this round of commentary was maybe more thorough and detailed as a whole. Detailed wrongs were more prominently communicated (to my utter dismay), but so were the detailed rights (to my relief)!

Yet, relief was short lived, as doubts still haunted me.

  • Should I have included more into the project? Attempted to fill in the gaps between missives with imagined ones, knowing full well I would be inventing and meddling with historical and asserted documents?
  • Should I have slowed the pace of what was already a sizeable project, or considered less extreme alternatives? Added details to the accounts or compare them with others? Explored more the situation?
  • Should I have included the responses of the mysterious and controversial correspondent, known to all to be certainly lost and of no matter considering the value the primary sources at hand? Or deepened the bond between the involved individuals?
  • Should I have let the assessors adding their own version on the matter, regardless of the consequences, narration be damned?

But I still could not touch it, afraid I would worsen it irrevocably.

And so, when first official response from the Congrès returned, after weeks of delays, I’m afraid I let my humour sour our time together. It was as if a spear had transpierced my being, taking my soul along. Sullen, to say the least, I lamented to any willing ear of my despair in regards to my situation. Yet… I did not dare bothering your wonderful ears with my issues, for you would not take it quite as seriously as I had.

“There will be other opportunities,” you would remind me. “Like that other–”

And now, we return to the object of this already too long missive. It is over, ma chère. I have exhausted every venue, every path, every option. There is no going back and change a thing. This project is no more, it never was, it never will be. No, they said. Loud and clear. I shall resign myself to my fate, as tragic as it may be…

Prey tell, ma douce Olympia, was I always meant to fail?
I fear… I fear some forces are conspiring behind closed doors. Uncomfortable looks already fall upon my person when I cross the halls. Already I imagine myself barred entry to my study, to the school, to even… your arms.
Oh, how would a separation destroy me!

Olympia, I beg of you, release me from these crushing insecurities and doubts!

Votre servante, fievreuse de vous servir jusqu’à la fin de mes jours,
… Votre amante, en manque d’égo,
… … Isabella

PS: Monsieur D’Archambaut vous demande, dis-donc… Savez-vous pourquoi?

Goodness M,

You don’t say… That goes beyond being a drama queen at this point…
Where did you even find this?!

Do you think… we can destroy it? Pretend it never existed?
I would hate for someone to find out how insane that Isabella was… and ruin our original work.

PS: Do you think we can make it a tag-yourself-meme, because I’m definitely a pale copy of the original


Now that it’s not 2am and I actually got some sleep, let’s be more serious about some stuff.

Welp I clicked the wrong button… guess it wasn’t that much sleep.

== Timeline ==

There are lessons to be learnt from this ordeal, is what I tell myself every time I participate in a competition. And that lesson is often: start early enough, take your time and send the project to testers. Do I finally learn this lesson? Not with this project evidently…
But I did take more time for my TALJ entry, even got it properly tested too! Maybe there is still hope for me yet!

Working on Les lettres du Docteur Jeangille now feels like a fever dream. Two (hectic) short sprints instead of what usually should be a (more calm) marathon. I can still see myself hunched down on my notebook, writing that first draft in French, or banging my head against the wall because I can’t find the correct English phrasing to translate an idiom. But details of what was done? :woman_shrugging:

I went and checked my original documents, see when they were created, and even though I have the idea penned down since about November/December, there was not real work down on the project until February 19th (and I was still coding this during the first few days), with in mind that the deadline for the French Comp was March 4th. Transcribing my written draft into their digital version didn’t happen until the 23rd. The coding itself of the game was didn’t start until March 3rd (I had a basic UI ready, which was updated later on).

Is two weeks enough to create a game? Yes, of course. Will it be high enough of quality for a competition? Ehhhhhh

But what about the translation, then? Oh, well I did the same thing, obviously. Starting on March 16th to prepare my documents for translation, only to finish editing/coding on the 29th. 15 thousands words in a non-contemporary style. Yeah, that should be ample time…

Honestly, it’s a wonder it got it all done before each deadline.
I did worry by the end that I would need to withdraw because the work seemed far from complete, but somehow, it happened. Thanks, probably devil I may have sold my soul to…

== Inspirations ==

One thing I really like about the French IF Comp, is that we have themes to help us get inspired. This year was Venu d’ailleurs (from elsewhere) and Illusion.
One thing I didn’t mention in the OP is that the first actual brainstorm idea was not about a doctor and a vampire, but an Alien coming down to Earth and recounting their experience with this strange world. I really didn’t get far with this, as the entry can show, taking instead the other perspective (local retelling the arrival of a mysterious stranger). It was first going to be in a diary form, somewhat inspired by both Bram Stocker’s Dracula and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, except that the player would get some choices with the entries, which would influence the events of the story. With the big twist at the end that the stranger was… a vampire!

Another Handmaid’s Tale inspired idea was using a framing device of finding the journal in some archive, having it studied because it talked about “the Massacre” (note) as a primary source. In the writing planning, I kept this idea for last, so it would not influence the content of the diary (which would become letters). I ran out of time, it never happened, and I realised it was for the best. There was too little content where this intro/outro would make sense and feel necessary. Had the story centred around the searching body rather than the journal, and included more sources, it would have been different.
At the end, it joins DOL-OS, where the player is directly thurst into the story with little context.

Going back to the meat of the story.

It was around the time of the Queer Vampire Game Jam announcement and a previous reintroduction to the Twilight series (and its wild AUs), that I settled with the main characters to be all women, and have a little nod to the series with Isabella and Mlle Alice Bouchon - Bella and Alice being two characters of Twilight, with Alice being a vampire.
Side note: that was a fun jam to participate in. I also had a gay vampire in that entry.

Isabella would then move on from recounting in a diary the strange events of the village since the arrival of Mlle Bouchon to sending a third party: her lover. That lover didn’t get a name until I started writing, inspired by Manet’s portrait of Olympia (one of my favourite painting, I even analysed it for a paper). That angle brought in another layer to the story, and the background of Isabella, becoming a scandal-riddled doctor banished to the middle of nowhere, and making her suspicious in the eyes of the village.

I was tempted, then, to scrap the whole Alice is a vampire angle, turning Isabella into an unreliable narrator with her at the true centre of the disappearances. While it was fun to think about, tricking the player into thinking they were in the right side of the story, it was just a half-baked idea that didn’t really work.

The story fell into places. Each letter would bring something to the reader, whether it was telling what was happening or what once was. Building up slowly to the final show down. Hints were spread generously throughout to nudge the player in the right path.

So did the writing style of the letters.
Throughout February, I had been going back to the French classics of the late 18th century for my night reading, and tried to emulate the more romantic, flowery prose of the writers of the time. Though editing was a super pain, the writing of the letters were so smooth! I don’t think I’ve ever had this easy of a time writing the whole thing, even with the variation. I even went and read back some old love letters, written by actual renown writers to get the dramatic just right.
But I shoved myself into a corner, because translating this whole thing and keeping not only the tone but also the style was a challenge I don’t wish on anyone. I was relieved to work on a parser next!

== Some Random Bits ==

  • the original title was going to be Venue d’ailleurs, which was too on the nose at the end, especially as I kind of wanted to keep Isabella’s gender a sort of secret for a while.

  • I tried writing letters from Olympia’s perspective, but never got her voice right… and it ended up feeling redundant, as both Olympia and Isabella would remind the other what was in each other’s letters (I mean, who keeps copies of the letters they send to people… I would want to be reminded too, but game-wise, it was just too much the same). I ended up loving only learning about Olympia through Isabella’s words, giving her a bit of mystique.

  • the mockup interface was going to include a quill, and animated envelopes that open with every new letter. But the first looked weird on the screen, and both ended up not being mobile compatible…

  • in my mind, the letters are shown on Olympia’s desk rather than Isabella. You read through the letters with her eyes. But gameplay wise, it probably makes more sense that you are writing the letters, especially since you can choose what goes next on the page.

  • Isabella was always meant to be oblivious, because as much as we would love to have that Ah-ha moment and I can see right through your schemes, I’ve always had in my mind that she would usually be too exhausted to notice things happening around her, or make the connections. She might be a doctor in the middle of nowhere, one people don’t really trust, but it’s not like she would be twiddling her thumbs all day. And I wanted her too focused on her goal to return to Olympia to be involved in other people’s affairs.

  • also building up on that last point, I use both that and the start of the “chaos” as an excuse to stop the letters between the final display of the truth (if that is what you chose). I had tried to write a short missive between the one-before-last and final letters, to heighten the intensity or have a smoother transition between the them, to avoid an abrupt ending. But nothing felt right or fit any of the endings.
    I preferred chalking it all off to Nobody would have time to write letters in the midst of all of this chaos rather than pushing through.

  • was I tempted to add an actual “doctor writing font that is illegible because only doctors can read them” to the game? Yes. But then I realised I wouldn’t be able to spot issues…

== In conclusion ==

  • Don’t start working on a big competition project two weeks before the deadline.
  • If it doesn’t work, kill it. Don’t waste time on forcing it
  • Read books of similar genre while writing, it helps a ton
  • Maybe have someone test your game ahead of time…
  • Have a treat after submitting/reading results (I’m currently eating homemade brownies with chocolate chip cookies ice cream)

Ok I think I truly wrote enough about this. I can’t think of anything else to talk about.
If you have any question about the game or the process, PLEASE ASK! I love talking about making games :green_heart:

Thank you again for reading the ramble.


Thanks for sharing! I find these views fascinating.

It’s pretty cool how reading a couple of chapters of something enables like a special pastiche-writing mode, isn’t it? Humans are really great at picking up tone and style.


It helps so much! I’ve had the same thing when I worked on DOL-OS and P-rix (I was reading sci-fi at the time).
We, humans, are easily influenced :wink: