I made a text adventure game in 2019 for the Interactive Fiction competition, called Bradford Mansion. It didn’t finish last, but I hoped it could do better. I was not satisfied with how it went. So I decided to try again.
I took some learning points from that game into the next one, which will be entering this year’s Interactive Fiction competition. (I will add a link to the game when the competition judging period starts.)
Note: I call Bradford Mansion my first game, but what I mean is that it is the first text adventure that I actually finished and published. Over the years I have created several prototypes and beginnings of games that never got even close to being finished.
Let’s go through some of the things I learnt from my first attempt at publishing an interactive fiction / text adventure game.
No more console mode
It must be my nostalgia for text games that run in a console. Or my love for the console as a developer. Nevertheless, I thought I will create my game as such. Bradford Mansion was distributed as a console mode program for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Well I don’t think this went pretty well. People are not used to the console any more. It is not device independent, so I also needed a lot of effort to compile the game for every platform. There were some problems with the console implementation of .NET Core on the Mac, which also caused problems.
So no more console mode.
I switched over to a browser based implementation. Platform independent, can be played from anywhere and a familiar environment for people.
In fact I ported my previous game over to the new platform as well, so you can try out Bradford Mansion easier than before.
Even more testing
It was always clear to me that a text adventure needs testing. Especially a parser based one. But I think I might have underestimated the required effort with my first game, Bradford Manson. The first parts of the game were quite polished, but the end part was not so much.
I used automated testing to some extent, but this could just could not replace manual testing.
With the new game, I increased my manual testing effort. So far I am pretty pleased with the polishing process, I was able to add a lot of items and descriptions and interactions to make a more rich environment and story. The judges and players will be the final arbiters in this one of course 🙂
Still my own engine
People often comment you should not write your own interactive fiction engine, because it has been done before. And they have been polished and developed for years. So what could I achieve by having my own.
There are many things here I would like to mention. First of all, we programmers like to reinvent the wheel. And I am programmer first and game developer / adventure writer second.
Second, it is more about the journey for me, than the destination. I have been programming since a very early age, and I still enjoy the creative process of making something work. Creating my own adventure engine is a hard challenge that I enjoy very much. Yes, it is extremely hard to create an engine that reacts to players free text input in sensible ways. I learned that already.
Could I have made a better game if I didn’t also write the engine? Maybe. But I enjoy the process and like to challenge myself.
With my new game it was a bit easier, because the engine was already in place. I needed to further develop it, add improvements, but the bulk of the work was done already. This meant I could spend more time with the actual game and not the engine.
Improved the parser
I strived to improve the parser to recognize more things. I made it easy to add all sorts of items, entrances, descriptions so I can sprinkle the game full of them.
What about the story?
Before I even started coding, I made a puzzle graph, maps and plans for Bradford Mansion. I have already learnt that coding a game without planning is bound to end badly 🙂 This was also my starting point with the new game.
This time however, I was aiming to make the game world more consistent.
Why is a particular item in the place it is found in. Is there a logical explanation for it? Is it explained in the game somehow? These are questions and points I tried to answer.
Putting a random item in the kitchen drawer for the players to find is not the best adventure design, because it feels random. Because the player will never say, yes, should have looked for it in the kitchen in the first place.
I do realize I did leave some of these random text adventure items even in the current game, but I am hopeful the game world is more consistent this time around.
Will there be more text adventures?
As the Interactive Fiction competition is bound to start on the 1st of October, 2022, I ask myself, do I have the power to create more interactive fiction?
To that question, I answer YES, because the whole creative process is something I enjoy very much. But will it be a text adventure or maybe a point-and-click adventure, that is what I contemplating next 🙂