So I am taking the disciplined approach – or at least what I consider to be the disciplined approach – and starting this process by really solidifying my story. The real reason I think of this as “disciplined”, of course, is because it’s hard. It’s easy to say “I want to write a story about a chicken who crosses the road, and in so doing, gets to the other side.” The hard part, naturally, is telling the story in a way that anyone wants to read.
Part of my challenge is that instead of knowing from the start that I wanted to tell the story of a chicken who crosses the road to get to the other side, I began with the notion of a chicken who had already crossed the road and started telling the story backwards. Why is he on this side of the road? How did he get there – did he walk? Fly? Get kicked? If he walked, what events might have prompted the journey? Was he laughed out of Poulet Prep for not knowing the difference between sorghum and barley? What meaningful experiences did he have at Poulet Prep? How were those experiences shaped by previous events in his life? As I pick my way backwards, I discover that I am not telling a story so much as discovering one. I knew from the start how the story ended; it’s discovering how it got there that has been the most fun.
And so, as I drive back and forth to work every day, I unfold the story, prodding at the corners, smoothing out the creases, poking into crevices. I watch the characters walk backwards through their play, knowing where they’re headed, wondering where they’ve been. Sometimes they back into the wrong sorts of corners, into pasts that don’t make sense, or histories that I simply don’t like. And now that the story has pretty much been laid out in my mind, I find myself rather surprised at what I’ve ended up with. Now begins the process of folding it all up again, and if you’ve ever tried to refold a map, you know how challenging that is.
So that’s where I am. The story has finally been decided on, and now starts the next hard part – turning it into a work of IF. With the story written, I guess the next step is figuring out where the game is in all of it, which challenges naturally translate into puzzle elements, how to use gameplay to help the player unfold the story, and of course… how to make them want to play it in the first place.
So that’s my open question for today: what’s your approach? Do you start with an idea of the challenges you want the player to face, and then figure out how to build a story around them? Do you think of interesting mechanics and try to work them into puzzles? Or do you start with your story, and figure out a way to turn them into a game?
As I dip my toe again into the waters of IF, I am struck by how much things have changed since my last foray. I guess 4 years of absence will do that to you. My comprehensive list of bookmarks is reduced to a collection of mostly broken links, favorite resources seem to have dried up, the newsgroup seems vastly different than I remember it, and my knowledge of any recent games is minimal… It seems I have some catching up to do!
Anyway, on to my progress…
I’m very, very hesitant to actually post this, because then it means I’m accountable (even if only in my head) but over the last few weeks, this game has been forming itself in my head, dominating my thoughts as I drive to work. As I tell myself the story and explore the nooks and crannies, I realize that I have to at least try to get this down. So here we go again, years after my last attempt.
What am I doing differently this time around? Well, for starters, I am taking a different approach to the overall process. Last time, I started with a sort of half-cobbled story idea and a few puzzle ideas that I wanted to incorporate, and started with the implementation before having a clear plan. This time, I have a fully formed plot, a very clear sense of the geography, detailed thoughts about key events and turning points, and a few set puzzles that play into it. My plan now is to actually flesh out the plot into a narrative, and then mapping out the corresponding locations and events. I think having a clear design will make implementation easier this time around. Well… we’ll see, won’t we?
Wish me luck!
Ah, a day of blissful laziness. I slept until a shameful hour, finished playing my Lost game, and spent time working on my own game. A large part of today’s work was actually just code cleanup – putting things in logical order, and fixing my headings (I had books inside of chapters, volumes inside of parts – it was a complete mess) which rendered the new “Contents” pane much more usable.
Fitted out a couple more rooms with scenery and objects, including a filing cabinet, which led to today’s triumph. I wanted to have it so that only one drawer in the cabinet could be open at a time, without actually requiring the player to close one himself. My first 15 attempts at coding it ended in run-time errors (and to think, I was so giddy when there were no compile-time errors!) so I started drafting a plea for help on raif. Continue reading
Happily, I’m getting back into the swing of things. Most of my descriptions are done, in that they are written, which has made it possible for me to sort of move on. They’re still not quite complete, but I have at least overcome the obstacle of not being able to put anything down at all. Tweaking, for me, is far easier than the initial process of writing.
So in the process of creating a closet, I got (happily) sidetracked by creating a light. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward construction: a cord and an outlet; plug the first into the second and voila, there’s light. Took only two minutes to realize it wasn’t as straightforward as I initially thought. How do I keep people from plugging frogs into candles, for instance? So I set about defining what can be plugged in, what can be plugged into, and how to handle any deviations from that.
And I figured it out, without needing to turn to the documentation. *insert happy dance* Now, the fact that I did it on my own means it is probably the least graceful approach, but it works. It’s also good for the confidence; I’m really starting to feel like I have the makings of a game that will at least be passable, even if it falls short of being brilliant.
My next task is to figure out how to automatically supply the right second noun if someone says “plug cord”, or how to handle attempts at things like “plug in cord” instead. The question is: if I define an action as “applying to two things” how do I handle attempts that only apply to one thing? (Mostly rhetorical; I plan on posting the question to raif shortly. [UPDATE: Got it working thanks to the kind and knowledgeable souls at raif.]
The fun part of today’s exercise has come in thinking of new ways to expand the story. The game isn’t puzzleless, but it also isn’t going to be very hard; I guess my aim is towards something that is really mostly an interactive story; all the player’s actions are geared towards developing the story. The trick is figuring out how to do that in a way that doesn’t feel too mundane or tedious, without bringing in arbitrary puzzles just to give the player something to do.
Three day weekend ahead – if I get my way, much of it will be spent working on the game.
I am looking for a good share- or freeware newsreader to replace Outlook Express. I have tried a few different ones but they’re either too clunky, too cluttered or simply no better than Outlook. Here are a few I have tried, with notes about what I didn’t like:
I consider myself to be a good writer, in the conventional sense. I know that I enjoy reading what I write, and the fact that my words put a roof over my head and food on my table seems to be at least somewhat of an indication that I’m not bad at it. So writing IF, a game form that I immensely enjoy playing, has always seemed like a natural fit. The thing that has typically kept me from succeeding is the programming aspect of things.
Inform 7, of course, was the solution to that particular problem, and while I’m certainly not all that strong in it yet, it has definitely made the lack of programming knowledge less of an obstacle. It also, unfortunately, makes clearer the specific challenges of writing for IF.
If you’ve read even two entries of this blog, you already know what I am about to tell you: I am extraordinarily verbose in my writing. I tend to think that this works for me, and is just my particular style. However, verbosity doesn’t lend itself all that well to IF – as much as I love to read, I can’t stand huge info dumps in games. If a game requires me to read a long entry in a book *coughs politely at Anchorhead* I’ll probably just skip the reading and hope that I can acquire any necessary information by skimming, or through some other means. (I should note that I actually quite enjoyed Anchorhead, even if I never was able to get past the well on my own.)
Because I’ve lost momentum on my game, especially as far as the puzzles are concerned, I figured I’d get back into the groove by finishing up some room and object descriptions. The benefits are twofold – I’ll have a fuller game world to weave the story and puzzles into, and I’ll burn off some of this excess creative energy. Yet, after staring at the screen for an hour, and idly cleaning up some of the existing game text, I still can’t figure out how to write the living room’s description.
You know those horrible math puzzles (which are second only to sliding puzzles in my list of Ways to Torture Jules) where you are given a 3×3 grid and a set of numbers, and have to put the numbers into the grid in such a way that both the columns and rows add up to the same number? The creative portion of IF writing feels a lot like that to me. These are my ideas of the key components of good game text (feel free to disagree or expand):
- Relevancy to gameplay
- Relevancy to plot
As you might imagine, it’s the second point with which I have the most trouble. For instance, I am currently trying to write the description for a dining room. I have this very clear, wonderful image in my mind of how the dining room looks. I know exactly where it is in relation to other rooms, and I know the role it plays in the story. I just don’t know how to tell the player without taking four paragraphs to do it. I’m also struggling with how to add in important information, such as “The kitchen is to the west, and the living room is to the south” while maintaining the narrative flow. In my 3×3 puzzle analogy, the columns add up to descriptive, the rows add up to practical, but I’m supposed to be striving for “natural” in both. I’m half (OK, only quarter) tempted to just stick my tongue out at the player and say “It’s a dining room. People eat here. People cook to the west and watch TV to south. Get over it.”
Or, I could keep plugging away at it and try to hit the right balance. I probably have a better chance of getting past the well in Anchorhead, though 😉
So obviously, the pendulum of progress stopped swinging on my game. As much as I tried to prevent it, pressing obligations just wouldn’t take a back seat (nor would the burglars who, a few weeks ago, stole 90% of my wardrobe and who last week stole my monitor). So after a string of hectic weekends and even crazier weeks, this weekend has been pretty wide open for doing whatever I want to do. And not a moment too soon!
So after doing all the other things I try to do with my weekends, I finally loaded up the ol’ Inform 7 IDE and started working on my game. To get me back in the swing of things, so to speak, I started reading through what I’d already written. It was an interesting experience.
So I didn’t get as much coding done over the weekend as I had hoped, mainly because the telephone company *finally* installed my DSL line, which meant I was up til 5:30 Saturday am catching up on the new episodes of Lost. That, in turn, meant that most of the weekend was spent wishing I hadn’t stayed up until such an ungodly hour, and concentration just wasn’t in the cards.
However, I did get some stuff done, which is good. Even the tiniest bit of progress counts as momentum, which is crucial for me. If the pendulum stops swinging, it will be very hard for me to get it moving again.
So the other day, as I was going over the blog (which really is as much a tool for me as it is a way for me to share my thoughts with others), I realized I had overlooked a very basic thing when coding the whole “automatically return the frog to the fuschia” bit…
Grrr… I’ve been so bogged down in work and client emergencies that progress on the game is at a temporary (no, really! Only temporary) standstill. I’ve managed to flesh out a few more room and scenery descriptions, but have not accomplished anything noteworthy in a few days. Hopefully after this week most of the fires on the work front will be extinguished, and I’ll have time to dive into the game this weekend.
(She says to no one, since there’s been one hit on this blog since… it started.)