September 2010 Archives

Ghosties and Ghoulies -- My Adventure in Text Adventure

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I had played a very small amount of Interactive Fiction when I was younger.  It mostly involved book based games (Goosebumps may not have been the best choice for someone with an overactive imagination) and I loved it.  To set myself up for this project, I played two different IFs.  Both Blue Lacuna and Violet caught my attention.  I enjoyed the complexity of Lacuna.  Having to examine things and actually "look" brought observation levels to a new height.  With Violet, I loved the idea of being just as confused as one would be in that situation.  Violet actually may have been my favorite because of that. 

My own IF takes place in Rockport, Massachusetts in 1709 - 17 years after the Salem Witch Trials.  The tone is pretty mysterious and (I hope) spooky.  The ideas of ghosts and witchcraft in a time that was so against them both adds a level of mystique.  Who's behind the hauntings? 

My influences were my honestly my own imagination.  I love Colonial America as a time period and the witch hunts have always fascinated me.  I also have wanted to write a horror story for a while now and was hoping this could get me started.  

My opening screen sets the stage of the character hearing voices and experiencing things that could land her in a lot of trouble.  I hoped this would help to draw readers in.  

The code probably gave me the most trouble.  I finally caught on, but it took my a while to figure out exactly how to word things. Figuring out how to change objects from scenery into "takeable" objects was one accomplishment I was incredibly proud of.  I had some help with changing day to night, but it worked really well and helps to set the scene for the spooky stuff.

The more players examine, the more they learn.  Backstories and even a little history appear as the player progresses. I actually used a real item, the witch cake, from the trials.  While I warped the use just a little, it remained basically the same. 

I utilized two different endings.  The first comes if one doesn't think their inventory through.  Running into a church with a spell book in 1709 wasn't the best way to prove one's innocence.  Instead, head off to Goodie Howe's.  Eventually, the player will win.  Eventually I want to add another ending based on points to include a vision of Hannah's mother. 

I didn't borrow any code, but I did research the Trials on Wikipedia for a little backstory.  I already knew a sizable chunk about the Witch Trials, but I just wanted to be sure I had my facts straight.  

My usability testing went well overall.  I had three test subjects:  Kelly, 20;  Elyse, 23; and Sara, 28.  All three really enjoyed the game's storyline, but wanted more to interact with.  I definitely and wholeheartedly agree with their opinions.  When I expand the game, I would really like to add more to the final scenes in the forest and make it more of a maze.  It's too static right now for my (and my testers') taste.  

My classmates have also been doing some amazing work.  I can't wait to play their games!

You can now play my game here!

Lions and tigers and "bad verbs" -- Oh my!

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Before playing around with the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction, I had two prior experiences with the sometimes frustrating world of Interactive Fiction.  The first was back in elementary school with the "Give Yourself Goosebumps" series of Goosebumps books.  For an eight-year-old with an overactive imagination, the frequent gruesome endings probably weren't the best choice of reading material.  My next experience with IF came from Christopher Paolini's Inheritance cycle.  The website used to include an IF game geared towards the characters in the quartet.  I had gotten pretty good at it before it was taken down.  

Now it's my turn to write an IF.  As I started researching (it had been a while since I had played any IF), I found three games that really interested me.  Violet, by Jeremy Freese, intrigued me.  I still haven't been able to get very far, but I like the idea of really having to work around the desires of another.  That is one thing that will be extremely helpful as I begin my own dabbling into IF.  

The second game, Lost Pig, may not have helped in my own particular storyline, but Admiral Jota's game did make me smile.  The idea of simpler language might help eventually, I'm just not entirely sure yet. 

Finally, I downloaded Blue Lacuna.  I have yet to get very far in it, but I really like the structure.  The way hints are given in bold is something I would love to be able to do with my own IF.  It makes life just a little easier in deciding what to examine or take.  

My horror story takes place in Rockport, Massachusetts in 1735.  The story centers around a teenaged girl named Hannah Merriman who is being terrorized by the spirits left behind by her mother's exploits during the Witch Trials.  When "examine me" or "inventory" is typed, the player will receive the following: 

"Hannah Merriman, 17.  You are dressed in a simple brown gown carrying a basket.  Your cap is in the basket as you gave up on it once the wind started blowing.  The book you were delivering to your father is holding it inside."  The book will be covered in brown paper to keep the contents a mystery.  After all, this is a horror story.  

As the story progresses, Hannah will discover two very important things: 

1.  Her mother is not who she said she was. 
2. The voices she is hearing aren't just imaginary friends. 

The job of the player is to help Hannah put the clues together.  After delivering the book to Hannah's father, Jacob, the player will face a narrative regarding the voices and the trunk her father hid the book in.  The player must then find the key to open the trunk and produce the book.  The book will start to unlock answers.  Next, the player must speak to various townspeople to further understand the stories about Hannah's mother.  The entire point behind the adventure is to force the haunting to stop before the ghosts destroy Hannah.  

The player will be hinted through Hannah's inner monologue to what they must do next.  Things like "I wonder where father hid the key?" or "Maybe Goodie Howe knows something" will (hopefully) point the reader in the right direction.  As the game goes on, however, the villagers will need more probing to pry answers from them.  Favors will have to be done for information.  However, the further into the game the player gets, the more information they will learn from the villagers.  

The game will have two different endings.  If the player successfully ends the curse, Hannah's life will return to normal.  However, if the player mixes up ingredients or directions, the counter-curse will fail and Hannah will eventually die...or go insane.  One of the two.  

If I run short on time, I can cut some of the middle regarding the villagers and just shorten the steps.  But if I have time, I would love to try and add some more backstory or exploration "levels." 

I'm really excited about getting this game going.  Now just to figure out where to begin...

Scratch: A Portfolio

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Originally, I wanted to make a game of Mad Libs.  I had found a great game on Scratch simply titled "Mad-Libs" created by funnyman1120.  The game was fun and I had always been a big fan of Mad-Libs.  When I tried to use the code though, I couldn't figure it out.  No matter what I did, it wouldn't work.  I scrapped that idea and went to look at more games.  The next that I found was called "The One Level Maze."  Kamikozerk's maze was deceivingly simple.  The maze was easy.  Avoiding the walls...not so much.  The game also didn't have very clear instructions.  

That maze sparked an idea, though.  I wanted to make a maze with a silly little storyline.  I decided to play around with knights, ghosts and, of course, a princess in distress.  

You can now play my game right here!

Opening screen


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I wanted to try and draw players in with a little bit of mystery.

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The instructions are really pretty simple:  use the arrows to move and avoid the walls!  
My first tester didn't think much of the wall rule...until this screen popped up. 

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The ghoul is unamused by the intrusion to his domain.  This screen had a tester frustrated until she saw the next one. 

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This screen is a bit of a push to play again.  The challenge of "if you dare" has encouraged a couple players to start again.  

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The Knight is pretty curious.  I hoped he would make the player curious, too.  Level one is pretty easy.  Just navigate over to the door to clear the level.  

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This screen gives a little more information about the goal before heading onto the next level.  The player discovers that not only are they trying to save themselves, they have to save the king, too.  

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Level two is a little different.  Not only is the door there, the knight also notices a green orb.  If players want to try for it, the orb reveals a fairy who offers her help...if you can answer a riddle.  The payoff for the extra work is skipping level three and moving right on to the final level. However, if the player chooses the door, they will receive a new instruction screen.

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Level three forces the player to make a choice.  Two orbs are decoys, one moves on to the final level, the fourth alerts the ghouls and restarts the game.  The coolest thing for me as the creator was to watch during usability testing and see not one person choose the losing orb.  

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The blue orb whisks the knight away to the courtyard of the castle and the hedge mage outside.  The princess calls out for help and the first step is to save her.  Once the knight reaches the princess, the king appears and the princess begs for the knight to save her father.  This level takes longer to compete, but the upside is that clearing the dungeons helped.  Touching the walls outside only restarts the level, not the game.  Once the king is safe, the player finds out what happened to those ghouls.

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Winning the game triggers a cutscene revolving around the Wizard destroying the ghouls.  For once the player gets to just sit back and watch someone else do the work.  

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The reward for winning?  The kingdom is safe again all thanks to you!  

--

I've had a blast working with Scratch...when my coding worked.  But even the glitches made for an amazing experience because the feeling when I worked them all out was amazing.  I actually made a computer game.  Does it still have some bugs?  Definitely.  But I plan on working them all out. 

--

Usability Report for "Labyrinth":

In my testing of "Labyrinth", I realized that I needed to do a little work on the game just to tweak it.  The overall game was enjoyed by all testers, but some little things need to be fixed.  

With more time to work on this, I would add more options for the green orb in the second level.  I would also widen the hallways in order to make the maze just a little easier.  The fairy in level 2 will have an option to repeat the riddle as not everyone figures out riddles on the first try.  

First Tester: 
Kaitlin, 20, female 

User immediately understood the directions, but gave up when she hit the wall and had to restart.  Total playtime: 1 minute

Positives: 

Storyline 
Characters

Negatives: 

Difficult
"Don't play if you're stressed." 

What can be improved? 
Make the maze a little easier

I wanted to see if it was just Kaitlin who was having trouble before changing anything. I went on to the second test.

Second Tester: 
Mandy, 19, female

User loved the idea of the maze and named her character "Aragorn."  The user made it through the maze with no trouble and even realized that the discolored areas in the walls were shortcuts. Total playtime: 5 minutes  

Positives: 
It's adorable! 

Negative:
It's hard to tell how far I can hit the wall. 

What can be improved? 
I think the princess is annoying, but I don't like princesses.  The orbs were really cool.  Keep them. 

Because Mandy didn't have a problem, Kaitlin went back and tried again.  This time, she won. 

Third Tester:
Sean, 19, male

Really loved the idea of the game and the ability to make choices.  Was the only tester to pick the green orb on level 2.  Ran into the wall, but instantly tried again.  Total playtime:  7 minutes

Positives:  
Fun and old school

Negatives: 
Add a repeat option for the riddle.  I didn't get it. 

What can be improved?  
Add the repeat option.  It would be a little easier. 


Conclusion: 

I will definitely be taking my tester's suggestions for the hallways and repeat riddle options.  My tester's were great about playing the game and really did enjoy it once they got used to the walls.  That will be fixed at another point and hopefully will be more enjoyable.  


Just let them play!

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Keeping my mouth shut when I'm trying to test something might be my biggest problem here.  Trying not to help someone figure something out is just plain painful!  Watching in horror through my first batch of usability testing, I realized something: every glitch that had never shown up before decided that it was the perfect time to make their presence known.  The shortcuts didn't work, the timing was off and somehow things were moved around.  I didn't even hand my computer to a second tester.  There was no way I could.  

The article definitely caught me at something I'm bad at doing: keeping my mouth shut.  "By simply mentioning something in a question, you draw attention to it."  Forcing myself not to say anything about the green portal or the decoy portals helped me to learn that people are naturally curious...or afraid of the consequences.  

The one positive reaction my failed usability testing gave me (before all those annoying little glitches) was the idea to add a "repeat the riddle" option in the second level for those who didn't catch it the first time.  Hopefully I can add that without the entire program exploding.  


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