Play it online here

After an engineered launch on Hacker News a few hours ago, Google Analytics tells me that we have had over 9000 players and wasted over 100 hours of their collective time so far! :)  (Yeah, average time/visitor not so high, but hey)

We are super proud of the game.  I am super proud of the game.  I am rather in awe of Mr War’s artwork and the pace he works at.  And he uses MS Paint!  The top-down map for a text adventure gives a spatial feel that works really well.  Anyone ever played a game like it?

Text adventures really bring back warm memories.  And they are shockingly underrepresented in LD, so we tried to remedy that!  We deliberately didn’t want to fall into the point-n-click improvements trap and we wanted an overall Victorian HG-Wells / steam-punk feel to it all.

Back when we were small we used to make text adventures in Basic and later Turbo Pascal with still images in VGA 13h.  I actually can’t remember how we did it, but I imagine it took far more technical planning then.  Nowadays RAM is so cheap we just have big JSON arrays of everything in dynamic languages…

We did a dry run back in the mini 31 in January.  That showed that artwork was our strength but that we were under-resourced programmer-wise (my area) and we completely lacked musicians.

We didn’t recruit any musicians for this LD either.  Tempted?

We prepared the weeks before by acquiring permission from loved ones and deciding the kind of game we wanted to make.  We settled on a text-adventure, using HTML/JS, and the top-down spatial map idea.  I wanted the programmer UI but that didn’t need Mr War, so would have been a solo entry.  Not cool.  And I’m so glad we did the illustrated one; its by far the defining feature of the whole experience.

I didn’t actually know Javascript, so the week before I set about asking on Stack Overflow how to do things like the scrolling that I thought I was going to need.  I got not leads.  I also asked on gamedev about parsing, but the advice there was to use Inform; not what we had in mind!  I settled on super-simple string matching in the end.

This entry was low code high content.  The basic engine – in Javascript – was workable within hours, and by the end of day 1 we were more content oriented.  We panicked a little bit about the actual narrative, and roped in James at short notice to give us some lines.  By the end of day 2 we had 90% artwork done, 90% coding done, but only 60% of the puzzles complete.  You could play the game but not solve it.

Day 3 was of course a Monday – a work day.  It was also the day that my flu kicked into overdrive and I was feeling decidedly groggy.  We didn’t return to the challenge before the evening (Europe-time), just hours away from the deadline.    We managed to get the puzzles complete and get some of the glest community to do play-testing for us.  We submitted in time and went back to our families.

This went super-smoothly.  We ended up with a playable game that can give several hours of fun (if you enjoy slow-paced text adventure puzzle games without bloodshed).

Technically, it has some weak points:

The command parsing is primitive in the extreme.  Its just a list of legal commands.  (You can see them all by pressing shift-space).  I had planned text auto-completion.  Its not the meaning that you have to guess the commands.

The programmer SFW mode doesn’t have the auto-completion I imagined as central to its look&feel.  I experimented with code-like layout of text, but the shortcuts I tried to massage text into code nesting and adding faint punctuation and camelCasing etc made it completely unreadable.  Chopped.  I think with more finesse such a mode could be successful.

The NPCs don’t have the full role we imagined.  We had wanted much more emergent dialogue, and work in how they all knew each other and what a coincidence it was that they converged to retrieve the treasure.  That got cut on time grounds.  And writing dialogue lines is hard.  The NPCs were to have a role in the solution, and be a hindrance, but that never got fully developed.

And we forgot to add the vicar.

With 50+ locations, 30+ items and 7+ NPCs its quite a full enough game anyway?

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