ON THE SUBJECT OF PLANNERS
I remember they issued us day planners in middle school and high school, and I hated them. What business did the System have telling me how to organize my life? Why should I write down my assignments and keep track of when they’re due? So I can be a cog in your machine? Are we not men?
So I was really down on the idea of planners for many years. But at some point I got busy enough, or worried enough about certain deadlines, that I was compelled to start recording my plans in a planner-like format. I think this change in my thinking had partly to do with finding a notebook that I thought was really cool. It was important for me to use a planner my way, without some dumb institution forcing it on me. ARE WE NOT MEN?
My thought process probably went something like this: “There are sixty rooms in this game. The game needs to be finished by December 31st. So, I need to complete 1.3333 rooms per day.” This is such a dumb way to set goals, but I do it all the time. Then I’d write in my cool notebook:
WED NOV 16
I - _ room 1A
_ room 1B
H - _ get haircut
T - _ write round 1
where “I” stands for “interactive fiction” and “H” stands for “hair” and “T” stands for “trivia.” I have a rotating cast of task-categories with different abbreviations. I’d put a big line underneath this, to delineate what part of this notebook page was reserved for November 16. And then I would check things off as I accomplished them. It was basically just a daily checklist, and I rarely “planned” more than a day or two in advance.
The cool thing about setting tiny goals and writing them down like this is, if you happen to also finish rooms 1C and 1D and 2A on the same day, you get to scribble those in the November 16 space and have a physical record of how impressively productive you were that day.
As I got more confident with this I started writing out my little checklists further and further in advance. But never too far in advance. I try not to stress myself out.
The format of a planner page changed a lot over the years, but at some point I settled on this setup that I consider very cool:
In the top left quadrant I write my longer-term goals for that week. (That’s not the correct week number by most standards…) Sometimes these goals need to be adjusted in the middle of the week, but there’s plenty of room for corrections like that.
Let me try and reduce all that to some actual advice:
Do your planning on YOUR OWN TERMS. Are we not men? This probably means using a notebook that wasn’t laid out as a day planner by the manufacturer, but in that case, maybe you now have a use for a very cool notebook that you bought years ago and never wrote in because you were afraid of ruining it.
- If you have more than one notebook like this, it’s okay to be paralyzed by indecision for a while as you consider which notebook deserves to be your day planner. Use a paper napkin as a temporary planner, and write down a checklist dated three days from now that just says “_ CHOOSE A NOTEBOOK.” (Choose the cheaper one.)
Don’t feel like a whole page in your planner should correspond to a single day of your life. If you are like most people, then a single day of your life is almost never interesting or complicated enough to take up a whole page. Maybe try and fit as many days as you can on one page until you find out a layout that works for you.
- That might sound like a really useless piece of advice, but I think this consideration has some nontrivial psychological effects.
People talk a lot about “setting realistic goals,” but whenever I can I try to set very, very modest goals. Tiny stupid goals for idiots, or babies. This is probably one of those Habits of Highly Effective People that Language Arts teacher tried to drill into us. She’s the one who gave us those planners! Oh, how I despise her.
ON THE SUBJECT OF THAT COMBAT SYSTEM
The combat system you mention is referred to internally as “Ryan Veeder’s Perfect Combat.” It was used again in The Roscovian Palladium. I had planned to use the ATTACK system for the scene in question, but I found out ATTACK wasn’t being maintained except in accessory to Kerkerkruip. (This was in 2013 or 2014 or something.) I was too lazy to prune ATTACK down to the specific mechanics I needed, so I rolled my own (kind of overcomplicated) system.
The core idea of Perfect Combat is that the enemy uses an attack, you pick a reaction, and then I check a table to see how well your reaction works against that attack. This ends up having some limitations:
- The puzzle of figuring out what reaction to pick doesn’t seem to lend itself to being used in multiple battles throughout a longer combat-intensive game. I guess I can see how it’s possible to build it out into a bigger idea but it would require some cleverness.
- The system would have a lot of trouble incorporating normal RPG combat mechanics like variable equipment or leveling up. You kind of have to write a completely new table of results for every possible variation on a combat scenario. In The Roscovian Palladium, the combat scenario has two variations for two equippable weapons, and that was plenty of work.
- Since you’re always reacting, the player character is functionally always on the defensive, which has storytelling implications. The scenes where I’ve used Perfect Combat are both underdog situations. It doesn’t lend itself to power fantasies, or even stories where the PC is supposed to grow more confident over time.
All that being said, I think the system works well for the places where I used it. Although I may have talked myself out of ever using it again just now…
I can’t think of any specific inspirations it grew out of. I haven’t played Soul Calibur or Bushido Blade. Maybe the parrying idea came from Wii Fit or something? The tug-of-war conceit really seems like it came from somewhere, too… but it’s been such a long time, I don’t remember. I do remember designing around the idea of fencing-type battle, as opposed to most styles of RPG combat where you take a turn and then I take a turn and our swords never clang against each other.
Not that there’s anything wrong with conventional RPG combat! I just wanted this particular part of this particular game to have a certain feel to it. The feel of a one-on-one duel with weapons clanging against each other. After I’d implemented this system, I think I designed The Roscovian Palladium with the existing system in mind, but I implemented combat completely differently in Mud Warriors, and completely differently again (and much more robustly) in The Little Match Girl 3. Oh, and there was that Castle Balderstone story with the vampires! That one wasn’t very robust. But it was fun.
I guess I just have fun designing combat systems. I like to think I’ve designed systems that pair well with their games, though. In retrospect, “Perfect Combat” may not be a perfect name, because it is only perfect for certain types of scenes.
In most of the games where I’ve used combat, I was more or less serving a desire to make something similar to a graphical RPG or an action movie. As I worked on The Little Match Girl 3, I started to see how IF has the potential to depict combat in its own unique way. I think there’s a lot of space to be explored, both mechanically and storytellingly.
So I’ll probably write more games with fights, but I’ll probably be trying out new mechanics as I go along. If anyone wants to use or adapt any of the combat systems I’ve put together before, they should feel free to ask me about it.
Thank you for your questions.