Short version: I helped make a game! Go play it.
Long version: A little over a month ago, I attended the Interactive Fiction Summit, which is a thing that happened next door to PAX East. I had been planning to go for a while, but the night before, while drinking for free in a giant mead hall (…don’t ask), Rob Dubbin mentioned that he was thinking about doing the Speed-IF compo that’d be going on all day the next day. Much like when someone asks you if you’re a god, when one of the writers for The Colbert Report asks you if you want to write interactive fiction with him, you say yes.
So I think we had 9 hours officially? But we decided that obviously it’d be better to write the game in 4 hours, break to have a lengthy dinner, and then spent 2 hours testing and debugging right up until the submission deadline. Like the bad-ass new gods we are. Also, we got the title of the game from a poster of IF titles that don’t exist, and come on, what else do you do with that other than make a game about scurvy-fueled hallucinations featuring animals found in/around the ocean?
Notes on this, that I’ve managed to remember without ever writing them down so I guess they’re important enough to blog:
- Every single element you add to a game exponentially expands the scope.
- If there’s a more elegant way to do something, do it that way (even if it WOULD have been really funny to replace the “examine” command with pointing at objects with the chicken finger trapped in your rigored claw-like hand).
- Content generation is crucial. I knew this already, but nothing drives that home like working with someone who can write rings around me. It’s so much easier to edit and change someone else’s work than to try and generate from nothing, and a lot of why the game is as funny as it is is because Rob’s writing speed is seriously like this:
…where Rob is the sprinkler. Generally when I’m going from the Vague Concept stage to the Thing I’m Actually Writing Down stage, there’s at least a couple layers of self-editing and proofing and correcting going on, which means that a lot of things never make it into a draft. Rob seems to write down every thought in his head (alternately: he still self-edits but just has 20x the number of thoughts I do…which is likely), which meant that we had a pretty decent draft in short order, which meant that we could get to the inevitable, “oh we forgot these 50 things” stage and actually get the game to a playable state, which meant we had time to go through and tighten everything and make stuff funnier and I could sneak in references to Inception and Grey Lady beer.
- It’s really, really nice when the thing holding up the game is that the writers are thinking up a joke, instead of the game being broken in some way. Darius tells me that Inform 7 is really easy, but I continue to think he’s just a really good programmer. (I am biased, obviously). But it was still great to be able to hand everything over to him and have him get it all to work with very little difficulty. Also, if you’re learning Inform 7, I recommend having Andrew Plotkin and Emily Short on hand to answer questions when you get blocked. I know, I know, that advice is so helpful to everyone reading along at home. (Similarly, when people ask me how they should go about building relationships with video game people, I’m occasionally tempted to tell them to start sleeping with the guy famous for writing about game industry networking. Cause I mean, that worked pretty well for me, so.)
- Speed competitions like this (or things like the Global Game Jam that happen in a weekend) are great because it teaches you to be too busy to second guess yourself or be afraid. I’d never written interactive fiction before, and have only noodled with it as a player occasionally. If you’d asked me whether I could do something like this and given me time to think about it, I’d probably have fucked myself up about it somehow and panicked a little. Instead it was like, “okay let’s do this, sea creatures, scurvy, GO.” The game isn’t perfect, but it EXISTS, and that’s because we didn’t have time to do anything but make the game.
So there you have it, A Scurvy of Wonders!