Hello! This post-mortem (and post-comp release) is indeed absurdly late but as some have noticed, I am a graduate student in English literature and so this is the earliest opportunity I have had to work on Animalia in any substantial way.
First of all, thanks to everyone who played and took the time to write a review, send me an email, or give me feedback. I’m so pleased everyone enjoyed Animalia as much as they did – it means the world to me.
Animalia began as a children’s middle-grade novel in the summer of 2016. A child was kidnapped by a giant eagle to learn why their littering / speciesist privilege / selfishness / lack of care for the forest? was a Thing He Needed to Change. I don’t remember much about this part of the book because it was bad. But the second part of the book, where the animals of the forest piloted a replica of this young boy in his day to day life, taking him to school, interacting with his parents, trying to talk to his friends – that grabbed my attention and held it. The needlessly didactic forest education section fell away. Soon my dastardly brain spun wild predicaments for my animal friends to navigate. As I filled a notebook with scenarios (the notebook unfortunately fell victim to an errant spilled coffee) I discovered I had a difficult time weaving a coherent, linear narrative from everything I wished to include. I had a concept and hundreds of ideas, but no thread to link them. I shortly became distracted by Life and Other Projects, and, like most nascent book projects, this one fell to the wayside.
I can’t remember when I decided to turn it into an interactive fiction game, or when my interest in IF was reignited – but it was probably around when I played 80 Days. I was late to the party on 80 Days, but it is as close to a perfect game as I can imagine.
As I’ve mentioned to some folks, I entered the 2004 IF Competition with an entry entitled Blink. I was 15 years old. It was to be my Grand Statement on War and the State of the World. Fifteen-year-olds possess great insight on such subjects, y’know. The only problem was that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Narrative design? Ha. One of the biggest criticisms of Blink (among many) was how I included an ABOUT text which said there are many paths through the game. But there aren’t any. At all. I wanted to, but I had no idea how to implement it. I never removed that text, and it always bothered me.
Then I played 80 Days, wanted to participate in IF again, learned about Twine, and remembered my animal child idea. Everything clicked. My inability to decide upon a single linear narrative for my children’s book met my stubborn desire to design a better, more interactive game than Blink. It worked out pretty well, I think!
I don’t really have a full essay planned, but here are a few things that might be of interest:
One of my design objectives was to get the player to attempt actions which would result in failure, but which appealed to them anyway. I adore the feeling when you’re playing an IF game and you think of an absurd command / strategy / solution which is accounted for by the game’s creator. Even if an action leads to your demise, it’s fun to explore those possibilities regardless. This is much less common in choice-based games than parser, and I wanted to see if I could replicate that sense of possibility within Animalia. (Sam Kabo Ashwell mentioned this in his review; in fact, his entire review absolutely nailed what I was trying to accomplish. I highly recommend giving it a read – thanks Sam for the thoughtful writeup.)
I think I mostly succeeded at the above; it was fun to listen to playthroughs and to watch streams of Animalia where the players became more experimental in their choices as the game progressed. Some reviewers mentioned a difficulty level, or that Animalia was “stressful.” I found this interesting because I deliberately obfuscated what the squad needs to do to succeed. The Taiga Council’s plan is TERRIBLE. Could you imagine telling a nine-year-old boy to keep other humans away from the forest? It doesn’t make sense. Mathbrush described Animalia as a “combinatorial explosion game” in his excellent review on IFDB – but it’s a combinatorial explosion game which explores many facets of a very bad idea, which is something I hadn’t seen before in IF, and wanted to create.
Many people appreciated the amount of content in Animalia, but truth be told, I had planned for much, much more. I wanted for particular 3-animal and 4-animal squads to lead to different pathways; I wanted there to be a greatly expanded school day, broken into different periods and recesses; I wanted to have a more explorable town after school; I wanted more. But I quickly realised this was a) very difficult and b) I wanted the squad choices to be more reflexive in the dialogue and descriptions. I wasn’t really willing to compromise on the latter; I wanted to avoid repeated dialogue for different squad members as much as possible (otherwise, what’s the point of choosing a squad?) I’m happy with the finished product, but lemme tell ya, I had some even wackier stuff planned.
On Animalia’s flaws:
Mathbrush’s review points out one of the biggest flaws with Animalia: reaching certain storylines and paths isn’t clued well enough. This is especially true given the time restrictions of the competition. Several players mentioned “there’s so much I’m not going to be able to see,” which is a blessing and a curse, I suppose. I found there was a tough balance between maintaining replayability (the player should WANT to replay the game from the beginning) with exploring the paths they wish to see (the player shouldn’t feel burdened by replaying over and over to get a path they want.) I didn’t do a good enough job of balancing these needs. Therefore, I’m happy to announce that the post-comp edition of Animalia features a hint system in the main menu (under “Story Possibilities.”) If you were curious about how to reach a certain story possibility, you can click on the link and find out how to get there.
tl/dr: Animalia now has a hint system in the main menu. I’ve also fixed some bugs and typos, and changed the spelling of boogeyman to bogeyman in one scene to finally confirm the many weeks of rumour amongst the IF community: Bogeyman and Animalia take place in the same universe. You figured it out! Congratulations.
(Just kidding to the above. But wouldn’t that be great? Apologies to Elizabeth, ha.)
I don’t really know what else to say. I’m happy to field questions in this thread. Is that weird?
Thanks again to everyone who played and my fellow competitors. This has been such a fun, rewarding experience. Playing everyone’s games was an absolute delight, and I’m so amazed and impressed at the level of creativity and invention in this community.