10pm postmortem

I’m gonna slap down a quick FAQ and give my own postmortem thoughts in the next post. Be advised: this whole thread may contain spoilers, and this FAQ in particular will definitely include some saltiness. Now ladies and gents, your questions…

1. What was 10pm made in?

100% Twine! To be exact, the Sugarcube 2 format of Twine 1, with Javascript doctoring to produce the drag-n-drop effect. My eternal thanks to Chapel and the rest of the Twine forum for technical help (https://twinery.org/questions/questions). If anyone wants the code for their own work, I’m happy to share it.

2. Is Bird actually a bird?

Forgive my salt, but you’d think the first line of the game would tip you off to the answer here: “You are a twelve-year-old boy.” And yet more than one review referred to him as a literal animal…

2b. But then why is he named that?

He’s a product of his environment. The game is set in a slightly futuristic alt-Earth in which a lot of minor things (and a few major things) are different from our Earth. The relevant difference here is the propensity of lower-class kids to self-select their own names, usually single-syllable concrete things like ‘Bird’ or ‘Gin’. And this leads us to question #3

3. Why is the game so short? / Why is the story so vague?

This answer might be longer than the game itself :wink: Short answer: because I’m happy with that.

Long answer: When I first started playing around with Twine and IF, I plotted out a half-dozen massive games and, shockingly, completed none of them. After a long period of frustration, I took myself by the shoulders and said, ‘You gotta stop. Just sit down and finish something, gdi.’ That’s when I started churning out these things I’ve taken to calling “moments.” Pretentious, I know, but they’re a little longer than a scene and much shorter than a full story.

Incidentally, I realized that the moments tend to obey Aristotle’s classical unities of tragedy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_unities) – the story follows a single plot/theme in a single location within the timespan of a single day. The location of a moment is always within one of my pre-developed settings/worlds that I’ve worked on for other things. Likewise, the characters have existed long before showing up in an IF game. For me, this moves the onus from idea generation & world/character development to actual practice with IF. I think that shows in how divergent and experimental the mechanics of my stuff are – and how I don’t really attend to things like ‘introducing the characters’ or ‘explaining why some little kid is named after an animal.’ Poor literary habit? Yes! I won’t deny it. But hopefully these moments start adding up, and even more hopefully, as I get comfortable with Twine, I can start to fashion one of the longer games I had planned.

In terms of “adding up,” I’ll note that another game already exists in the same world as 10pm. So if you’re jonesing for more Ty action, you can join him on a solo adventure right here: (game is NSFW!! be advised) https://litrouke.itch.io/crew (please dont open in front of children). The game also has a little tab for a background info dump, because I felt it needed that more than 10pm.

4. Is it true that you’re an illiterate who makes games “for small children or retards?” – question courtesy of namekuseijin’s shrewd IFDB review

Caught red-handed!

On a more serious note, the gap between the IFComp audience and my usual audience has been a fascinating part of the competition process. Definite age disparity – most of my playtesters and readers for previous games are in their mid-20s or younger. I’ve often felt that I’m pressing them to the limit of their patience in how long they’ll sit and indulge me with playing these silly little things… in comparison to IFComp players, who by and large gave feedback that the game was too short and/or too incomplete. I won’t say too much more until I see the anonymous feedback from reviewers; I don’t want to assume the silent majority’s criticisms based on a few public reviews, as much as I’ve appreciated them.

5. Did you enjoy entering the IFComp?

Yes. I should say more about this some time, but in short, yes. 10pm was the wrong fit for this competition in a hundred different ways, but I don’t mind, and many of you were gracious enough not to mind either. Got great feedback on the drag-n-drop mechanic with excellent suggestions for future directions. Got told, ‘hey, maybe you should make this longer and talk more about your dumb kids??’ which is about as flattering a remark as anyone could hope for. Got to meet and talk with other IFers. I’m happy.

Now for a real postmortem…

You can read all of this (and more, in fact) on my gamedev blog (https://litrouke-works.tumblr.com/tagged/10pm), the way God intended it. But for cohesion’s sake, I’m going to paste over most of the info to this thread.

Some numbers about the game

11,365 words (98% of this is code), 178 passages total, 124 passages comprising the story itself (the rest are essentially code or transitions), 190 icons for Bird’s communication, and 6ish endings. Counting is hard, alright…

Original vision

10pm combines two mechanics I have been dithering around with for ages: dialogue conveyed through pictures/icons & using Javascript’s drag and drop to make choices. Both of these mechanics went through many previous iterations:

  • a story composed 100% of emojis – but it’s already been done! And far better than I could have
  • a normal text adventure, including first-person narration in text, but with pictures representing choices – why?? Silly idea in hindsight
  • a story using authentic ASL gestures as choices – would be awesome! But ASL dictionaries use videos, not still-images. Tough to incorporate into twine
  • and for drag and drop, a magical experimentation game where you drag different ingredients into a pot to brew potions – might still make this one

After all this, I finally settled on 10pm’s format. It features a dialogue-only game in which one character, Ty, speaks via words and the other, Bird, speaks via pictures. I found this to be a helpful balance, because Ty’s responses can ‘parse’ some of bird’s less obvious signs for the confused reader. After all, a game written entirely in visuals provides no hints for the text-accustomed reader.

Sound design

In a dialogue-only game, how do you convey physical movement – such as when Ty leaves to take a shower or slams his door shut? It’s tacky to have the characters literally narrate their behavior, and I found it confusing to have no indicators in the game whatsoever. Enter my saviour: sound effects! The noise of footsteps, doors, water, etc. Acted as vital bridges between scenes, and they fit well into the non-verbal theme of the story. This is only my second time working with sound, but I’m proud of some of my audio mixing, especially the title page’s domestic sequence and Ty throwing a tantrum in one of the endings.

The title

Honestly, I wish I could apologize more for accidentally setting my game in the first alphabetical position. I didn’t think about it all when naming it. I’m miserable with titles, so I give great thanks/blame to my girlfriend for helping me craft this one. Fun fact: the title will actually change throughout the game. Watch the game’s tab in your browser: as you progress through the story, 10pm will tick over to 11pm and eventually to midnight. The more you know~

The visual aspects

Here’s three screenshots of 10pm’s layout-in-progress, from the very first Javascript-testing page to the beginnings of the final layout. (edit: added the final layout too, for comparison.)



As with most of my games, I instantly abandoned mobile compatibility – sorry, folks. Next time, I swear. However, I did try to make this layout more responsive to different desktop resolutions than my previous ones. One small step forward. As you can see from the layout’s progression, I started with egregiously ugly colours for simplicity’s sake. Much of my code troubleshooting occurred with that beautiful grey background searing into my eyeballs.

Colours are my bane. I spent a long time trying out different colour schemes for Bird’s and Ty’s dialogue boxes before I realized I was a fool and could simply use white. This had the charming side-effect of looking comic-book-ish, so I ran with that and chose an all-caps font for Ty. Even outside of the aesthetic, the font suits him well – ostensibly friendly, chubby, and a bit loud and childish. (Also he doesn’t use apostrophes because he’s 2cool4school and the font renders them hideously, so whaddya know…)

From there, the major change was shifting the icons to the right, so that the drag toward Bird’s dialogue box was shorter. Finally there was a long sobbing sequence where I agonized over the icons’ colours every time I opened Twine… Still not happy with them, but I had to be finished at some point.

The design of the icons was naturally limited by what was freely available to me. All blessings to flaticon and icons8 for their vast reservoirs of icons. I had to ditch a couple ideas that I couldn’t find icons for – particularly vexing for me was the lack of a “laughter” symbol, which I searched high and low for. Had to make due with Bird’s thumb-up and ok signs.

The game’s setting & characters

I’m not going to say too much about this here. If you’re interested, you can read more about the setting on a post for another game that shares the same world (https://litrouke-works.tumblr.com/post/166055958514/sycfo-world-building). Basically, it’s slightly futuristic alt-Earth with a mild dystopian flavour. Lots of urban decay and the like. Now, if you’re deathly curious about Bird himself…

Bird is physically mute due to an intentional physical trauma enacted on him by some very nasty people. He lived with a group of similarly afflicted children before Ty found and adopted/kidnapped/rescued him and a younger kid named Megan. Ty managed to locate her family and send her back to them, but Bird refused to budge from his new nest. Bird earned his name among the mute kiddos because of his habit of whistling to communicate, as a complement to the ever-expanding dictionary of signs that the kids developed among themselves. (Megan preferred to communicate by banging on things. loUdLy.)

I’ll leave the plot details to that, unless anyone has specific questions. Thanks for reading~

Thanks for this! I especially like the peek at the visual designs and your thoughts about fonts and colors. Lovely work, both in the story itself and the design notes.

I like seeing how the game’s visual representation evolved during development. And given my agonizing indecision over colors in my work, I sympathize.

And my thanks to both of you! :stuck_out_tongue: Glad it was interesting, and I really appreciate your kind words.

Sargent, I’m glad we can suffer together for whatever sin we committed against colours in our past lives. And speaking of layouts, I thought the progress bar at the top of Will Not Let Me Go was a masterstroke. I hadn’t realized how much I needed that until I saw you implement it. As much as I love Twine games, especially discursive non-quest-narrative ones, I definitely get antsy wondering how far I am through the work. It’s difficult to signpost ‘progress’ in a work that doesn’t really ‘progress’ like a puzzle or adventure game, but I think your solution was quite elegant.

Ooo, thank you! I’m glad to know it worked for you.

This was really interesting to read about, thank you for sharing! I like the length - it keeps the interaction tight, and focused in on the relationship between Ty and Bird. I couldn’t bear to steer the conversation in a negative direction, and tried my best to keep the relationship on an even keel, but even so the pictograms provide a real feeling of communicating at cross-purposes while the characters care deeply about each other.

Aw, that means you didn’t get either of my two favourite endings! (Of course my faves are the worst ones haha.) It would be quite interesting to see how people’s reviews correlate with which ending they reached. And thanks, I’m glad the short “moment” length worked for you.