17 June 2009

Reflections: ADRIFT IntroComp Entries, 2009

Reflections on my own entries [WARNING: SPOILERS].
Reviews of other entries may come later.

****
6th place: “No Such Thing”
Inspired by Sandy’s Lost Doll (I thoroughly encourage Sandy to release another game, if she feels up to it... shame we haven't seen her around the forum) and Richard Otter's Vague, No Such Thing intended to explore unimplementation as a possibly useful trope in interactive fiction rather than just an aggravation. To do that, I tried to make unimplementation significant to the game’s storyline, so that it actually became one of the driving forces of the plot rather than an obstacle to it. In this case, the messages intent on informing the player of unimplementation (such as the canonical “You see no such thing.”) are not for the player only. Revgiblet hit the nail on the head when he said, “The struggle of the protagonist to interact with his world is the whole point” (emphasis added). Somehow, thanks to the magic of text, the PC literally sees and yet does not see or is otherwise inexplicably constrained from action, and suffers something of a breakdown at the inconceivability of his or her situation.

This intro has four possible endings: one is triggered by looking at, trying to pick up, or opening almost any object four times (does not have to be the same object each time). Another is triggered by going north, then down, and typing “kill npc” (although it is recommended the player “talk to npc” once or even twice before for full effect/explanation). The third is triggered by looking at the ghlegh’hel. The final, super-secret ending should only be available if you are able to open the game in the generator/debugger and set the “secret” task to “completed.” On further consideration, a player could theoretically just type in the secret task at any time, since it lacks a #, but I won’t mention what that task is so that breaking into the game is still required for the ultimate anti-climax (the command for which would also have to be looked up in the generator/debugger).

Also note that your spouse will return from outside if you just wait. If you keep waiting, you’ll get a further hint about where the game might go later.

While I can’t answer with certainty, No Such Thing probably won’t make it into a full game. As it is, its primary gimmick doesn’t really have the resilience to extend over much more than the intro… i.e., I think it gets old far too fast. If I can think of some way to keep it alive, inject some flexibility or other sort of longevity into it, then maybe. If you think it has more resilience than I think it does, let me know (and if you don’t, let me know). On the other hand, it might be easy enough to finish that I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.

The title “Dish Duty” was meant solely to mislead players into thinking that something was actually wrong when they couldn’t “wash dishes”. Apologies to any who are still confused.


****
5th place: “To End All Wars”
I mentioned in the forum that this game was inspired from watching All Quiet on the Western Front the previous summer. I started writing TEAW as an RPG— which I believe I also mentioned on the forum— where the player could generate their own character based on four stats (marksmanship, esteem, nerve, and fortitude), or generate a random character (a system which turned out to take over 400 tasks by itself). I actually turned in a transcript for a final grade, with which my professor seemed pleased.

Months later it started to become blatantly apparent that the RPG elements made the game too bulky & expansive for me to realistically expect to finish, so I scrapped them and decided to go with a more linear story. Specifically, I had originally thought I’d create a separate storyline for players who started with 1 in their fortitude stat— that has now become the main storyline. However, I still expect this thing to have several possible endings— opening the story file in the generator will reveal the intro alone has ten possible endings [beginnings?], three of which are deaths that end the game. Thanks to Thingamus, it will now have eleven (since the chocolate nutcake & sugar cubes are now edible, and result in another mustard gas scene).

I fully intend to finish this game, but who knows how long it’ll take? If you happen to be a history buff (or otherwise) and notice some sort of inconsistency, or you think some sort of functionality should be added to it (With the shovel for instance, have you tried to “fix trench”, “hit corporal with shovel”, or “dig” after Smythe gets blown up? Have you tried to “shoot self”? “Slap Smythe”?), please let me know. Some small problems with this intro still need to be fixed, for example eating Smythe should not be allowed on the third turn (only the fourth). I would also like to sprinkle period music throughout the game as a sort of ironic juxtaposition with the setting & circumstances (after the mustard gas, I’m thinking the first minute or so of “I Don’t Want To Get Well”), but we’ll see. Maybe I’ll have to get them remixed.

Funny thing is, I don’t think that the intro really gives the player any idea where the story is actually going. Historical fiction it may be, but the story really has almost nothing to do with actually fighting a war (the player is removed from fighting via injury). I s’pose it’s more about the effects of war and the conditions of the Great War, in particular. Just have to wait to see how it all develops, ├ža ne fait rien.

Apologies to any who expected to live through a fifth turn or more on the front line.


****
2nd place: “Dung Beetles Are Aliens!”

Ah, yes. Dung beetles. A Mind Forever Voyaging and 7 Days a Skeptic (not IF, but still adventure-- note the series of weak Yahtzee references on the computer) inspired me to make a game where a few of the puzzles have to be completed through a computer, so I set out to make one, which became MAWINDEX (a suitable mish-mash of Macintosh & Windows, I thought, it also helped determine the game’s time period). At the same time, I was also playing through Earthbound and really loving the crazy battles with angry slugs and ants and things. Somehow it all came together to inspire this mess.

There’s not much there in the intro, but I didn’t know how much else I could offer in three rooms. Still, I felt I had to include it for several reasons, one of which was the sheer age of the thing. The only older project I have still intact is Irvine Quik and the Search for the Fish of Traglea (which I tell myself is the project I'll focus on next, but we'll see). It would be a shame, I thought, if Dung Beetles was never seen by anyone (if you think otherwise, lemme know). Plus, I thought that the general spoofy B-movie weirdness of it made a nice juxtaposition with my other entries, which seem a little more on the serious end.

I felt a little bad about the insect research file being “lost or deleted.” Feels like such a cop-out.

Hopefully players noticed the objects on the table… in particular, the bug translating helmet, specimen carrier, and the gas goggles will all play a big part in the game. Did anyone try putting objects on the gas goggles? Intend to make a running gag of them. Funnily enough, the Zegathean slug is the only ASCII art I have in the game so far, really. That was sort of a last-minute addition. I haven’t thought up what ASCII moths, dung beetles, etc. might look like, although I do have a king elephant in another game that never made it (one of the many).

Has anyone ever actually been to Georgia (anyone visiting my blog, that is… obviously people have been to Georgia)? My favourite adventures have always been ones that create a strong sense of time and place, and I’ve a particular geographic location in mind for Sarkalouga, nestled in the Ridge & Valley section of Appalachia. Flora, fauna, culture… I’ve done some of my own research, but it will never beat first-hand experience. If you know something about northwestern Georgia in the 1980s, lemme know.

Apologies to any who wanted a completeable intro.

02 June 2009

ADRIFT IntroComp, Day 2

Votes have started coming in. I was somewhat concerned my scores might seem low, but from some of the votes I've seen it looks like I should no longer worry! Yikes...

Anyway, will try to get all my votes out today. 'DRIFTers, have you voted already? If not, when do you plan on voting?

01 June 2009

IntroComp: Initial Thoughts

Well, I’ve played through the IntroComp entries (except for my own, on which I will not be voting). I’m delighted to see such a curious spread of games. From detective noir to worlds of magic to time travel… I hope all who entered to finish their story files & encourage them to give us the whole bathtub!


In this post, I intend to discuss how I’m going about thinking of ratings for these games [WARNING: SOME SPOILERS & LENGTH]… but first, allow me a paragraph to rant.


Numerical ratings might be convenient, but they make me cringe. They really do. I have such a hard time assigning a number to the personal works of others, especially when a 10/10 is assumed to mean “perfection.” It’s my own stupid, stingy rule to never vote a game “perfect” (great games have imperfections, say I). A game would have to be nearly life-changing to score a 10. 10s I would only assign retrospectively to great classics. I’m just as unlikely to assign a 9… some might say my scale should be called out of 8, but giving an 8/8 implies a sort of holistic completeness that inexplicably bothers me on some level. At any rate, this is all to say that I prefer qualitative ratings over quantitative... my scores will almost undoubtedly come out low, but that does not necessarily mean that my opinion of a game is low. I encourage people to vote my own games just as low if they see fit to do so. (Why yes, my glass really is eternally five-eighths empty…)


With that out of the way… after playing these games I had to decide how I would weigh such a diverse bunch against each other. Each has individual merits, & level of proofreading, implementation, etc. are all things to consider in these intros, but there’s more to making a good intro than just that. The criteria for the winner is the game of which a player most wants to play more. Therefore I chose to give weight to what I thought was the crux of the competition: the literary hook of a piece.


I’ve cast two votes already, but I don’t feel like I can continue voting quite yet until I’ve discussed the how & why of my votes a little. The votes I’m referring to are for Donuts (8/10) and Apokalupsis (7/10). Each game had strong writing in its own, unique way. They were both quite memorable, I thought, and I wanted to play more of each. But here’s the kicker, and it’s why Donuts got a higher score even though I felt that Apokalupsis is a game with a stronger guarantee I'd enjoy it in full form— again, it’s all about the hook. By the end of Donuts, I wanted to play more. I need to go on, no matter how weird or bad the game might end up. The writing managed to consistently subvert my expectations and keep me off balance, like some weird, raw judo. I'm hooked.


On the other hand, Apokalupsis ends with a lighter hook… you exit the crime scene having gathered some evidence, but nothing definitive. I didn’t get the hint of that horrible archnemesis sort of thing that I wanted, nor did I feel I’d seen the sort of cinematic crime & villain hinted at in the beginning. From the evidence (and by the narrator’s reaction), I appear to have witnessed just a routine crime of passion from an unseasoned criminal. Dangerously unseasoned, maybe, but I don’t feel like the narrator really explored that. So the light hook was little bit of a let-down in an otherwise well-written story.


As for the rest of the entries (again, excluding my own), I thought I’d take a moment to weigh out what I thought the hook in each entry was, just to help clarify my voting process for the benefit of myself & the authors. In no particular order…


***

Through Time: A sympathetic protagonist faces a long-awaited & positive change of fortune.


Dead Race: Zombies, for one, are their own hook. Text messages received make the player look forward to the upcoming rescue missions.


The Magician’s Niece: The unique items & magic system seem to promise some really interesting puzzles.


Existence: Unique protagonist promises unusual gameplay opportunities.


Yon Astounding Castle: Tiberius Thingamus being weird & spoofy.


The Merlin Bird of Prey: The protagonist is an adventure game enthusiast… story aside, this seems to promise some in-jokery & amusing references to other games.

***

Authors of the above, what are your own thoughts on your games or the competition? Am I right about your game’s hook or am I a blathering idiot? If so, please correct me.


As for my own entries, I’m obviously somewhat concerned about the use of music in To End All Wars. I’ve tried my best to court fair use, but I dunno. I haven’t read up on British copyright laws. Should I remove the song? Should I use the whole song? Thoughts, please.