How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Rhapsodies on games, gaming, and why we play.

Category: Game Dev

I fixed it, but it’s still broken!

by anbrewk

I fixed my game, I thought, but it’s still proving buggy to some. A disappointment that it is being judged for gross technical failure and not all its other many failings. Labyrinth of Loci is not a winner! Yet, I am finding some solace in playing other games entered into the IFComp — not, as one might assume, because they are so much worse, but because I am honestly enjoying so many others. And some of those which I am so enjoying are also being panned for things that I rather liked.

Of course there are also some games which I found to be simple nothing experiences that are gaining praise.Which, I guess, is just part of the judging experience — shitting and loving, the biogenesis of a critic! (I was justly criticized for using overly formal words incorrectly. But, I like the idea that shit and love are living excretions from the activity of “being a critic.” (at least right now as I am emotionally recovering from the stings and bruises of having my creation critiqued)).

It is still most disappointing that my game is proving to be technically flawed in some way that I do not understand. Ah, well. To be shit on.


This might not be the place

by anbrewk

This year, I participated in the IFComp, a place for interactive fiction to convene and be judged. Though the competition is very real and the judging taken very seriously, I take it that at least in some way the competition is simply an excuse for IF writers and enthusiasts to create and share things.

What I’m discovering in my first foray into this community as one to be judged (or, whose work is to be judged) is that the kind of work that is expected and highlighted and adored is maybe not what I’m into… My work, Labyrinth of Loci, is not off to a great reception and not for no good reason. The one review I’ve read is quite damning and the other feedback I’ve received give me the stark impression that I did not judge my audience very well. While the review I read (which can be found here) brought up critical bugs I was unaware of (a damning indictment of any game (and a real bummer that I didn’t find them despite my efforts…)), some of the other criticisms were about the effectiveness of binary choices and the game’s failure to evoke a sense of ownership of the character. Criticisms which I took to be well thought out and not untrue. Given these were my two main goals, I’m distressed to have failed.

Even if I decide I might not really like the kind of IF that is praised by the community, I still respect the IF judges devotion to substantive criticism, regardless of whether I subscribe to their conclusions or even premises.

Given that choice was the main goal of my game, what I am most interested in, rather than my placing in the IFComp (especially since that is looking to be very poor), is the efficacy of my use of choice in the design and implementation of my project. The review quoted above thought the binary choices at the beginning of the game epitomized the problem of player ownership as the player must, at the outset, choose between two things they have no reason to care about. Yet, in those uninformed choices the player is given who their character is and what their character can and cant accomplish (in terms of paths and unlocks or what have you). Not unfair criticisms and not untrue.

My intention (not in my defense) was to provide the player with some context for the character they would then create by playing the game. I can see how that might just be a misunderstanding of a well known genre-conceit (it’s called character creation for a reason) and not at all a realistic expectation on the player.  Yet, I wonder now how I might have changed my approach to actually accomplish what I set out to do. My vision was for a ADOM-light character creation through narrative, where in-lieu of assigning points, you make narrative decisions which then assign points (of a sort).

Or NEO Scavenger where the character is a blank slate minus some simple characteristics (up until you discover who you truly are, though, that is optional and not all that definitive either).

Yet, I just said I didn’t really want it to be character creation at all, at least not in the sense that you are taking a fully formed individual and putting them in the world. I wanted it to be the creation of character context for the player to then make more substantive choices in a world they themselves were discovering. I can see how my implementation of that idea may have been misguided.

I wanted to avoid a linear narrative, to avoid given the character any sense of self whatsoever. Even the character choices at the beginning are, for better or worse, intentionally lacking in character. They’re just blank slates.

I wanted to create a little place where a player could experience a narrative arc of their own experience (yet of my design). I expected the player to make choices because they wanted to avoid, or experience, certain things. I thought that the more absent the character was, the more the player would fill that in. Yet, it may just be a (not so well-made) standard high-fantasy dungeon crawl. Oh well, not for trying.


by anbrewk

I forgot how humiliating it is to create things with inexpertise. I’ve started on another project after finishing my last one for the IFComp and just as I’m getting to tough and frustrating problems with coding and scripting, I go back to my just-finished project and find that the last touches and the final edits are all missing. I literally, just yesterday, emptied my trash, two weeks after finishing the project, and now find that maybe there would have been an archive in there that saved my final work. The version I currently have, the latest archive, the current file on my computer, and the file I submitted, are all old.

The final touches and edits are relatively minor. The few typos and whatever simple changes are lost in all the other imperfections so it isn’t damning, just disappointing.  Having made changes, having improved the work, having spent  hours of time on it and then for it to not be there, it’s sad. It feels wasted. Yet, I think of old DnD campaigns and books I’ve read and stories I’ve written, and it doesn’t matter to me if I can’t remember them or if I’ll never interact with them again. They still existed, they still counted.

Though may just be it Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it counted because it wasn’t part of the final form. Maybe that’s a fair thing to mourn. Although, like everything, as time passes, it will be forgotten. I can relive them or move on and avoid the future mistake of unsaved progress and unshared effort.

Game Dev Log #3: Prototype

by anbrewk

My prototype is almost ready! The main components of the prototype are one main screen and two “rooms.” The main screen acts as a point of reference for the player to return to. It’s meant to represent a hallway in some type of labyrinth with each iteration of the hallway containing two randomly assigned doors from which the player chooses one. I had already made a bunch of pixel-art doors and written up a bunch of text that I am now slotting into the framework I’ve built. The door images are taken in a random order from an array along with their corresponding door descriptions. When the player clicks on a door, they then enter the corresponding room. The player can then return to the labyrinth’s corridor from the that room and then again enter further randomly assigned rooms.

I still have to build the interaction response/prompt system for each room, which I think is going to be difficult. I had originally thought I would make one room template and have all of its text and options populated from arrays but that’s proving to be hard to even get started. So my current plan entails  building every room as a distinct level which I think from an organizational standpoint will be a lot cleaner and easier to edit/change. So it’s probably a win my first idea proved too difficult/not possible.

Before I tackle the response/prompts though, I’m going to make a game over screen and link it to a bool for player health. At the end of each room, the player will either be dead or alive. Alive, go back to the hallway. Dead, go to the end screen and either try again or quit. Then from there, it’s the response/prompts …and an abilities screen with variables tied to choices that will be available conditionally on those abilities being chosen. Which I think after building the response/prompt system should be a relatively straightforward  addition. I think…

Regardless, I’m very excited about the kind of progress I’ve been making given what little experience I have. It’s gratifying how much the final game is coming to look and feel the way I want it.

Game Dev Log #1

by anbrewk

Over September I’m working on a simple text based game with some visual aspects in Unity. My first week and a bit has been spent anticipating design hurtles. I’m building it in an unfamiliar engine and as an almost complete beginner in coding. Given my very little programming experience, any coding whatsoever, like anything at all, is difficult and tiring.

That being said, the actual planning of what/how to implement my ideas in code is kind of exciting — until I have to actually implement them that is… which is what I started to do yesterday. I had ordered another monitor to make my work space more manageable and had been waiting for its arrival before I started. Yesterday it arrived and I began to go through some of the tutorials I had book marked over the last couple weeks.

I had already discounted a few of them prior to anything because as I made a list of features and thought about implementation, it became obvious many of the tutorials were for drastically different things that what I planned to do. Given that, there were only a couple tutorials worth looking at and only because they clarified some of Unity’s features and interface. Entering a new program is somewhat daunting so the hand holding there was actually quite appreciated.

After I felt a bit more comfortable with the interface, it began to become increasingly obvious that Unity can do a lot of things that I do not understand AND a lot of the things I want it to do are not obvious. Given I want to make a text based game in a physics based engine, it shouldn’t surprise me that much of what Unity can do is not what I want it to do.

After giving up on finding a tutorial that would essentially show me how to make my game, I eventually found some success just trying to make a single feature work: a button!

My plan is to essentially make a game menu that leads to other menus using GUI elements because that’s really what the back end of my game consists in: 2D pages with doodads on them that the user can interact with and which, when interacted with, change either the page you’re on or the content of the text on the page. The dialogue part, which I just very poorly described, is actually going to be the most complex, I think, but this morning I did, successfully, create my first button. Which is not a minor thing. It is a major element of my game which I successfully made a very poor version of which actually did a thing I wanted to do. It’s an ugly button and it only does one thing I want it to do (and not to the full extent I want it to do it), but it works. And so I’m pretty happy about that. Day 2 of n00b coding and I have part of one of my games features partially implemented. That, is pretty cool.