Ground Level - Inform 7 Portfolio

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Another unit ends but we have only scratched the surface of both Scratch and Inform 7. Read on to get a behind the scenes look at Ground Level, my project in Inform 7, or click here to play it.

Setting and Tone
My interactive fiction game titled Ground Level is set in an exclusive apartment building filled with many floors of living areas, entertainment spaces, numerous hallways and dining halls. The tone of my game could best be described as a mix between action, exploration, and escaping. I also tried to write everything so that it had a sense of urgency.

Influences
I was influenced by a variety of stories, both in interactive fiction and video games, and from films. For interactive fiction, Adam Cadre's 9:05, which Dr. Jerz had introduced to the Video Game Culture and Theory class, led me to try and come up with something similar, yet change it up a bit. The two movies I looked to for ideas were The Matrix and Cloverfield. The part where Neo is trying to get away from the Agents in the various buildings ("Your other left!") is really the type of frantic movement I wanted the player to experience and be a part of. Since Cloverfield was shot in a first person style, many scenes were what I thought was a good representation of a setting where escape was possible but yet still felt dangerous and unknown. Such as relatively early in the film where everyone rushes back inside after standing on the roof, or when getting to the subway and away from the military / Cloverfield monster. Then for games, a Half-Life 2 modification dealing with fire safety and one of the campaigns in Left 4 Dead titled Dead Air added some more background material for me to work with.

Opening
As the game stands now, everything is pretty much temporary -- a beta or alpha release -- so although the introduction text establishes the basics of the game -- who you are, what your motives are -- I plan on changing the exact wording in the future. That being said, it manages to get the point across that you need to get to the ground floor and meet up with someone or else.

Code
Although this piece of code is in my story, it could be used in any other as long as the descriptions were changed. The following bit of code describes a room.

"[if visited]The reinforced metal platforms sway in the wind.[one of] The street below is alive with activity.[or] Below you, the street is filled with activity.[at random] Far ahead to the north you can see a ledge. [one of] It looks just big enough to walk on.[or] You should be able to walk on it.[at random][otherwise]You climb through the broken window, landing on the scaffolding. The reinforced metal platforms sway in the wind.[one of] The street below is alive with activity.[or] Below you, the street is filled with activity.[at random] Far ahead to the north you can see a ledge. [one of] It looks just big enough to walk on.[or] You should be able to walk on it.[at random]"

Looks a bit confusing? Let's break it down.

If the player has already visited this room
   print one of the following (at random)
      description one
      description two
      and then print another description (also at random)
         description three
         description four
Otherwise (this is the first time the player has entered the room)
   print description five and one the following (at random)
      description six
      description seven
      and then print another description (also at random)
         description eight
         description nine
         description ten

Therefore, if we have a player enter the room for the first time we will get:
description five + (description six or description seven) + (description eight or description nine or description ten)

and if the player enters the room again:
(description one or description two) + (description three or description four)

Main Body
From the start of the game until the end, the main focus is on movement. You are required to keep moving from area to area otherwise you will get caught. Because of this, interactions with objects is kept to a minimum. Descriptions of rooms are for the most part randomized and detailed enough to make up for the lack of object oriented gameplay, at least for now. Future versions should include a couple puzzles and plenty more rooms.

Ending
Because of time constraints I had to settle for a different ending then I had originally intended. But now it is sort of a cliff hangar and can lead to a great puzzle mechanic in future releases. So it worked out for the better.

Credits
I used the built in documentation in Inform 7 to look up how to build scenes, teach Inform 7 to understand more than one word to create the same result, and end the game.

Usability Test Report
Even though I thought my description at the beginning of the adventure set the stage and gave out clear directions, playtesters found it difficult starting the game. They did not have any clear goals set. Additional problems that came up in the playtest was backtracking to rooms that I had considered "dangerous" as in, the story had advanced so far that something had happened where it wasn't smart to be there. Another problem in one room was the unclear labeling of an exit. Since this is the way story moves along, it is an error that needs to be the top priority when working on the project again. There were some good results that came about from playtesting though. One playtester kept on typing "run (direction)" instead of the usual go south or just s, so this shows that they understood the need to get away from the enemy chasing them. In addition, they liked the few items that were in the kitchen and the descriptions for each one.

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