Over the past few weeks in EL236: Writing for the Internet, I have been working on an interactive fiction or text-based game.
Basically, since I did not have enough time to create a game with a good NPC, I decided to create a game that was short but challenging. Basically, there are only three or four commands that work for the entire game. It is about medium on the difficulty scale, but I have tried to make the descriptions interesting to lessen the pain of not finding one of the two winning endings.
The plot, or lack thereof, of the game is to simple. You have been locked inside the whimsical lobby of an apartment building with thirty four of your favorite objects. Ten turns (which can denote minutes or seconds, which ever you prefer) is all the time that you have. The bomb will go off if you choose to take more time than that, and the game will end. You must search for clues on how to disarm the bomb in the soon-to-be rubble. If that is not difficult enough, there are many traps that you can fall into. As I said there are only two winning endings, and one that is ... Well it is what it is.
I don't want to say too much more and ruin the ending. If you want some hints, or you just want to witness the evolution of my mad experiment, read my blog, and especially read the final portfolio (ignoring my incoherent reminiscing).
Otherwise, here is the link to the full version of Bomb Squad. Thanks for playing, and, since I am interested in how the general public feels about the game, feel free to leave a comment below.
Before I recollect about the blogging of the past three weeks, I would like to discuss the saga of EL 236. It seems like it all happened so long ago, but it has really only been less than six months.
It all began at summer orientation for my freshman year at college. Dr. Jerz did my scheduling, and somehow managed to slip in a little promotion for his course. As I think about it now, I don't even think he described much that we would do aside from writing online.
So, when I finally arrived for good in the fall, I remember having this sinking feeling. I wondered what I had got myself into. "It deals with computers, and I hate computers. And you have to program them. And I hate programming." Those are just some of my (censored) thoughts from late August.
This class will always hold a special place in my heart though, as sickening as that sounds. It was my first college class. I remember walking in on the first day, five minutes before class, thinking that I was doing something showing up that early on the first day of class. I walked in to a packed room, with Dr. Jerz in full-lecture mode. I was the last person to enter class on my first day of college.
The biggest effect of this class, along with STW and a few others, is the ease in which I write now. I remember the essay that we had to do from the first day of class (which really P.O.ed me, by the way). It was three pages, and took almost as many hours to write. Now I routinely write twice as much in the same amount of time. And I think that MT's lack of a spell checker causes me to constantly think while writing my blogs, and that has raised the accuracy of my writing.
I have also accomplished a lot this semester. I created three or four websites from scratch, using HTML. I can create basic interactive fiction games with Inform 7, which we will discuss later on. I have written 58 blog entries, and I am currently working on number 59.
Perhaps the most profound change is the way I feel about the internet. I know that there is no way to measure this, scientifically or subjectively, but I feel that because I have taken this class, I can use the internet to my advantage over my peers. I am still a traditionalist; I would much rather use a pen and paper if I could write fast enough without making mistakes, but I recognize that technology is an ever growing segment of society and college, and that I need it to succeed.
No, I am not trying to earn brownie points by saying this: I recommend EL 236 to all current and prospective English majors at Seton Hill. It touches my ego to complain about somebody using an e-mail attachment, or forgetting to write something in the subject line. I am constantly looking at the layout of websites, and still watch for artistic tabs. It is not naivete, I know that my understanding of the internet and electronic texts is rudimentary, but coming from a place where I HATED the internet, rudimentary is good. Thanks Dr. Jerz for being so persuasive.
And now for something completely different...
Over the past three weeks I have posted the trials and tribulations of my term project on my blog. My term project is an internet fiction game about diffusing a bomb. Stop back later this weekend for the official overview, or click the links below for an in depth explanation of Bomb Squad! I have tried to use the blogs to my advantage, by asking questions to the other members of the class. The three people who come to mind for help are Daniella, David, and Dr. Jerz. I thank everyone who took the time to post some of the random ideas they had in response to the random ideas I had. Play the game, and maybe you'll see your idea.
My Part is Finished - The last blog before beta testing; tells about the final changes in the game.
This Just In... - This one had less about the game itself, and was more about my insights into the world of IF authorship.
Update - A short entry to let everyone know that I hadn't forgotten about working on it.
Alpha Test - The results from the much anticipated alpha test. The game was shaped a lot by what happened here.
Alpha Prep - The early stages of the game, where I was just catching glimpses of what it was to become.
Bomb Squad Progress - This is where the idea was formed. I am proud that my game has stayed true to this form throughout the entire process with the exception of NPC interaction.
I have also tried to post helpful comments on the blogs of others. This time the lucky ones were:
I am so happy that the final portfolio of the semester is done!
I finished the rough draft of my internet fiction game affectionately titled Bomb Squad. I am very pleased with my finished product until someone tries to use it tomorrow and messes everything up. That's okay, half the battle is preparing yourself for the shock of a flawed program, I hope.
The game now has a grand total of 31 objects in one room according to Inform 7. I believe about fifteen of those are my dummy objects, while the other half are either useful objects in plain sight or hidden. Given a little more time and energy, I would get real creative with the game and make several red herrings instead of just having dummy objects. A red herring would lead you down the wrong path for three or four turns, wasting more precious time than a dummy object, which is one or two turns and then finished. Sadly, I ran out of ideas for nonsensical items to put in the lobby.
This leads me to the other part of what I accomplished today. While I overloaded the room with objects, the game has lost a large portion of its realism for my trademark cynical humor. A lot of the descriptions for the objects may or may not make sense to the player, but I tried to make them funny. As a whole, I think the game is more interactive than it was two weeks ago. It lacks consistent tone, but I think has something that will speak to the player.
And if it does, I have created a survey for my usability testers. I know that we aren't supposed to rely on our classmates for the bulk of our testing, but I had no one to test it at home, so I will need to conduct tests in class tomorrow, and hopefully the survey will give me a little bit of an edge.
The one thing that I do wish I knew how to do is publish the game online and draw just general, unsolicited criticism. If anyone could help with that, it would be greatly appreciated.
I am excited to see how Bomb Squad holds up. This was the only final project of the semester that was bearable to work with.
Okay, the last week has been a little crazy so I have not been blogging as much as I should be. To make up for that, I will drop a line over break to let all of my fans know how I am doing (if there are fans out there).
But there has not been that much to blog about lately. The robot works just fine now, all three to four steps to get it working that is. There is now an alternate ending involving the wires; I know it is cliche, but it felt as if there were a disproportionate number of "bad" endings. I spruced up some of the descriptions - one of the bomb explosions was just "KABOOM!" That was a little boring, so there is now a little pun inside that ending. My final addition today was a final, alternate ending. I really hope that one of my testers makes the mistake of choosing this because it comes out of nowhere. It is quite the surprise!
After seeing all the work that I have put into this, I do not know whether to be in awe or contempt of the people who write IF games with 40 different endings. On the one hand, it takes a lot of skill and intelligence to program something like that. On the other, who does not have enough of a life that they have an extra three or four hours a day to write alternate endings? Given I have a single room, but I am running out of things to put in the room, and ways to describe those things. Hence the reason why my one ending does not even make sense. So, what I am basically saying is, if you know anything that needs to be in the lobby of an apartment building besides a desk, table, chair, carpet, robot, and bomb, let me know. I just need some fresh new ideas.
And drop by some of these, too, for some fresh new ideas yourself.
I did not have as productive a period as I would have liked this period, but I am on my way nonetheless. The robot is starting to work, but with the way I have it set up right now, there is no possible way to win the game. No matter what you enter in when the battery is in the robot, the bomb goes off. However, the game is in its final stages of plot. After the robot begins working, I just have to add the "dummy" scenery, and the game will be ready for some beta testing. I am starting to get excited about how my game is coming along.
I gained two useful bits of information from my usability test. The first was about searching. When I play IF games, I usually just use the command "examine," and usually abbreviate that to just "x." I did not think of people typing search, and consequently some of my descriptions failed to manifest themselves. I have since incorporated that into my game for every object that I can think of.
The other thing that happened was with the timing of the game. I had cut the timer in half to ten, because I figured that there were about half the available actions that the final version of the game would have. That was not the problem. Because you do not start out with zero moves, the game actually allowed the player eleven turns instead of ten. That is something else that will be fixed for beta testing.
There is also the fact that for some reason I made my beloved robot (if that thing does not make me insane by the end of the project, it will be a miracle) scenery, negating its presence to the player. I am glad that this testing revealed that to me so that I could fix a central element to the plot.
By the end of the class, I was able to have my robot prepared to be workable though. The only thing that I need is the coding to make it take commands from the user, and the accursed thing will be finished until the final tests. I also still need to program the bomb for some diffusing sequences, and add a couple of other ways for the game to end other than timing out. All in all, though, I am satisfied with where I am at for this game.
Are others satisfied?
Tomorrow is alpha release day in my Writing for the Internet class. While I am starting to see the game come together, the programming is very slow.
The game will take place in a single room, and it takes twenty turns for the bomb to explode. There are really only four relevant sections of action, which is what I have created now. I think that it makes things fairly clear for alpha testing.
The finished version of the game is going to play on the player's desire to inspect every object. There will be certain "dummy" objects that exist for the sole purpose of making the player waste a turn. In that way, I will make a simple game very complex and intense.
I ran into two problems. The first was that I have some very key objects in containers, but in the room description these object stand out as clear as day. This kind of ruins the enigmatic part of my puzzles. I think that I can figure it out tomorrow, I was just tired after spending a lot of time making my desk drawer an openable container, and more than a little frustrated with Infom 7.
My other problem involves my little friend the robot. One of the problems is just like the leaf scenario that was done in class. I do not want the robot to act without the battery pack in it. That is an easy thing to solve.and I just needed access to my e-mail. The other thing that I want the robot to do is to act based on some input that the player enters in. If you enter in the wrong thing, the game is over; KABOOM! If you enter in the right command, the robot disarms the bomb and everyone is happy. That is the most complex idea that I have for my game and I will need a bit of help to make this good. If everything else fails, I want this part of my game to succeed.
That is the slow progress that my project has undergone over the weekend.
So, I was thinking of doing a game with a strong NPC for my term project, but two things occurred. The first is that NPCs are hard to create, which I already knew but this talked me out of it. The second is that I played Galatea, and I realized how hard it is to play a game without action. I must have seen, "You cannot form the question into words," about a million times in an hour yesterday.
I also did not like the dialogue. It would take the question I was asking, make it more specific, and then answer it with something that was even more vague than my question. I asked Galatea about life, and I got a page long answer about nothing. I think that would ruin the whole NPC idea for me. If you are going to have a good NPC, it needs to interact with almost anything that you throw at it, which means that I would have to write out a ton of answers to questions, statements, etc. I just don't think that people like you putting words in their mouths. I think that you would also have to write out responses to all the actions that a player might possibly make, so not only do I have to write for every possible conversation, I have to write for every possible event. To make a long story short, I do not have the time to create a good NPC game.
After understanding that, though, I had a good idea for the game that I do want yesterday. Basically, you are a member of the bomb squad, and you have to disarm a time-bomb that is in an apartment building. Here is what I thought of yesterday:
· You are a member of the bomb squad.
· A time bomb is in the middle of a high-rise apartment building.
· The robot you have sent in is no longer working due to a power outage.
· You must enter the building to save the day.
· There are four different rooms.
· The time bomb is in the lobby.
· There is a generator in the basement.
· There is a stairwell.
· An apartment door is open on the first floor.
There are two things that I need to figure out before moving on to the alpha testing. The first is understanding the bomb puzzle. It is central to the action of the game, and I need to figure out how I want the bomb to work, and what clues I can give about how to dismantle it. I really do not want to make it the cliché "Red your dead, green your keen," phrase about cutting the cords. To be honest, I do not really want cords on my bomb because they are so hackneyed.
I also need to understand how to program in the countdown on the time-bomb. This will probably be the part that needs the most testing. I want to have a specific number of turns that you have until the bomb explodes, but how much time is the big question. If I go too long, then everyone will be able to solve the puzzle without many problems. If I do not go long enough, the bomb will explode, and no one will beat the game. This is probably what the beta testing would attempt to solve.
I also have the idea of bringing a phone in somehow. Maybe this bomb squad guy is an idiot, which is why he got sent into the building in the first place, and he has to use a phone (or walkie-talkie) to talk to the chief. I probably would not call him an idiot, but I like the idea of making the player phone a friend for help. That brings the NPC aspect back into the game, but there is not as much programming to do for this.
The final thought I have is that the opening sequence needs to be better. It is pretty lame: the power goes out, and the bomb-defusing robot stops working. I am fairly certain that the robots police use for stuff like this are wireless, and pretty durable, so I need to figure out a way to get it out of the picture without being to "cheesy." I have a few ideas that are not too good. The first is that the robot was in the shop on a day that nothing was supposed to go wrong; very cheesy. The next is that the robot is caught out in a thunderstorm and is either hit with a bolt of lightning, or becomes waterlogged; neither idea is very appealing to me. I could have a sniper shoot the robot from the top of the building, but that would make things too complex and nonsensical. If there was a sniper around, why would he shoot the robot and not the police; the police would pay more attention to him than the bomb if he did that.
So those are the four questions that I pose to you, faithful readers. What should the bomb be like? How long should the bomb wait to go off? How should I bring in a small amount of NPC interaction? And most importantly, how should I get rid of the robot? Thank you for helping me progress.
This is my third portfolio for my Writing for the Internet Class. I think that this has been the most interesting period for this class so far. Only a week ago, I was worried that I would not have enough blogs to make a good portfolio. That was before I wrote three blogs in a day last Thursday-Friday.
Looking back, that is how this semester of the semester has gone. I look back on what I have done this section of the course and I realize how concentrated it has been. I remember days that I would spend two or three hours playing interactive fiction, and then weeks where I would almost forget I was taking the class. I learned how to put together quality work on very short notice, like the usability test that I conducted Friday night after learning of the assignment. I do not have the assignment on the web, but here are the ones that I do have.
- Krug Ends - This one quotes his final chapter to discuss the thesis of the book.
- Intro to IF - I discuss my experiences with IF before the class delved into the subject heavily.
- What Rules? - I take a hard look at what keeps things running smoothly according to Wikipedia.
As always, there is a link to the course website for your convenience, though I have started intertwining it with the body of the entries better.
I have waited for this section to come up for a long time. I have had the pleasure of posting most of my entries at least 24 if not 48 hours before the due-date. Here are just a few.
- Tabs are art - Find out why, in this early blog.
- End of Fun? - Another blog that Krug inspired me to write early.
- Not Really - This was the actual end of Krug, and ahead of the curve as well.
- The Wikipedia Blogs - Three of them in all. All written three days before the due date.
This was another area of concentration. Some entries would gain a large response while others would be seemingly unnoticed.
- Angry Wikipedian - Just kidding! I received some interesting, unexpected comments on this one.
- Missing Krug - People had a lot to say about his departure, myself included.
- Editing History - It causes people to start talking pretty quickly.
- Disabled Use - I kind of sat back and let the entry work its magic on its own.
- Krug Crit. - Not a lot of quotations, but I think it shows a higher level of thinking.
- Killer Game - An in depth discussion of how to kill people in a game.
- Aha! - Find out the reasoning behind that statement.
- The Merits of Using Wikipedia - Pretty self-explanatory.
I probably could have been better in this area of my blogging. I was so busy that I would just write stuff to get it done. That being said, here is some of the best commenting that I did.
- Griffin Gate - Love it? Hate it? You decide along with the others.
- Feeling Lost - We hate that feeling on the internet.
- Who needs numbers? - Even though no one responded, I tried to explain why.
- I needed closure - and I tried to organize people to get it.
Even though my work was more sporadic this time, I was more pleased with the quality tenfold over last time. Of course, it does not matter what I think, so keep commenting.
The book has really forced me to rethink the way that I use websites. Given enough time and the fact that I am not trying to work as fast as possible for my Writing for the Internet Class, I actually notice the subtle little nuances in websites. For instance, I noticed that on Wikipedia, no matter what tab you click on, the "article" tab stays at the front (along with the tab that you clicked on). I have become really anal about the tabs after the one section, and yes they are art :-) I also notice some of the little slip-ups in navigation; there has been nothing that I remember, but when it happens I think, "Steve wouldn't like this."
It is also good thought for my term project. I noticed, thanks to the book, that designing anything for computers is less about the designer, and more about the user. When I start to feel myself getting over the top, I will ask myself whether the user will like this or not.
My only criticism is that the book did not focus enough on usability testing itself. Krug focused more on the little nuances that make anything useful, and less on how to find those things out. I still have a lot of questions about how to do a good usability test. The book is designed to sell usability testing ("Do...only as long as it does not keep you from doing more testing..."), but not making your testing better. Personally, I thought he made a good case for testing from the beginning, and I would have liked to see more of the places that I could go with testing.
My final comment has to do with exactly the thing I was I told not to say. If Krug were making another edition of Don't Make Me Think, I would recommend updating some of the website references. I understand that they illustrate some things very well, but it makes me wonder why I should use those techinques if the website is extinct. If I use them now, who is to say that I will not meet the same fate as those before me? I guess that I could meet that fate without doing those things, too.
I would recommend this book to everyone as a light-read that will still make you question the world around you. As we discussed in class, everyone can use usability testing, you just need to figure out how.