This postmortem is a chance for people to see my game creation thought process, to fill in some blanks related to the backstory, and also discuss a few points brought up by some of the reviews.
The primary inspiration for Alone should be obvious. I wanted to capitalize on the crazy shared experience that we have all been going through over the last few months. Certainly, the idea of pandemics and their effect on society is a well-traveled path in the world of storytelling but have not been quite as relatable until recently, and I wanted to capitalize on that.
What may not be as obvious is I didn’t really start this project with the goal of making a “zombie” game. It wasn’t even clear at the start of development that there would be zombie-like characters in the story. In the end, I did embrace the idea a bit more but wanted to stay squarely in the scientifically plausible 28 Days Later style, where the people are just in an advanced stage of illness, more so than the Romero style supernatural zombies.
From the start, I wanted to create an entirely blank slate protagonist. It was important to me that the player could see themselves as the main character as I think this helps people be more immersed in the story and apply their own experiences and emotions to the situation. Someone on IFDB added the “gender-neutral protagonist” tag to the story, so that is some measure of success. A few reviews and comments said they wanted more development of the character and understand more of their backstory, but its omission was intentional. From the first paragraph, I wanted you to be in that car.
I’m just a neophyte IF author, so I’m still developing my own style of developing games. But thus far my games have had only a very basic outline, and I’ve created a lot of the rooms, puzzles, and descriptions as I go. This probably means that my games may not be quite a “tight” as a fully planned out game, but based on comments from reviews, I think it results in puzzles that don’t feel too contrived and feel derived from their natural surroundings. The downside may be that some of the puzzles are not wildly clever, and there may be some inconsistencies throughout the story arc.
I think I will try developing a more complex game in the near future where I may not be able to take that laissez-faire approach to game design.
The Verbs, oh lord the verbs!
If there is only one bain of parser-based IF authors, it must be to figure out all the pesky ways all you players decide to form your sentences! I mean, how many possible ways could you want to say “turn crank”? Let’s see. “turn handle”, “turn crank handle”, “use handle”, “crank handle”, “crank crank”, “winch joe”, “crank joe”, “turn winch”, “use winch”, “winch joe with crank”, “drag joe with winch”. Ahhhhhhhgggggggg! I know, I know. The answer is lots and lots of beta testing. Thanks to my beta testers, Alone was way better than my last year’s effort, House on Sycamore Lane, and I promise next year will be even better! My goal is to not have one mention of a thin implementation in any of the reviews.
One other possible solution is to implement a link based system like The Impossible Bottle, which I thought was ingenious. But it’s an interesting tradeoff. There’s something to be said for the joy of figuring out a combination of items, and I worry that may be slightly diminished if it’s presented in link format. I’d be interested in hearing other’s perspectives.
I thought I would close with a little more backstory that some reviewers have been wishing for. As mentioned before, the protagonist was intentionally a blank slate, with the exception that this was clearly a person who had gone beyond the last straw. A rational person would try to hole up someplace and hoard all the things they could. The protagonist had tried that and was done with it. Surviving was just a base instinct at this point, and they were simply drifting with no goal and no purpose. Their purpose was to drive and hopefully stay alive.
In terms of the bunker, the premise is that all the “normal” research facilities had long been compromised, and all that was left were a chain of clandestine facilities that were initially built during the cold war, but were retrofitted in the age of pandemics to continue research even when society had collapsed. Joe, the garage hand, was the cover for the facility. In reality, he was retired special forces. He managed the gas station and provided perimeter security.
The journal explains most of the rest, but poor Joe was killed by Lucas as he was running from the facility. With Infection-induced strength, Lucas slammed Joe against the shed, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. Lucas wandered around the grounds for a couple of days when he finally met his fate on the road. Without Joe to maintain the generators, they slowly went offline, shorting out all but one of the fuses (see, it wasn’t just a plot device!) and trapped Adrian in the Lab where you rescued him. (You did rescue him, right?).
From the beginning, I knew I wanted a few endings. There’s probably nothing more cliche in horror than an unhappy ending, so I decided to turn that on its head and make one optimal happy ending. There are also a couple of neutral-bad endings and a couple of plain bad endings.
It’s also very typical in horror to treat infected people as monsters, and I deliberately wanted to break that mold. That’s a person there, even if they are ravaged by illness. I wanted your choices to matter. Too often in games, people take the cynical approach, but this has been such a cynical year, with so many bad events, I thought a positive ending based on a moral choice would be refreshing.
Anyway, that’s it! I hope you all enjoyed the game, and I very much appreciate all the great feedback I received, both positive and constructive. It really, REALLY helps and makes me a better author.