Brain Guzzlers from Beyond post-competition thoughts

The game had its genesis in a mix of a few difference sources. I’m fascinated with historical pop culture and aesthetics, particularly from the 1920s through the 1950s, and I love science fiction and cheesy B-movies. At one point I was planning to make a game called Little Green Mandy where you played a marooned alien girl who has to get around Roswell after the saucer crash and reunite with her parents, and I wanted to make a big town with lots of NPCs. That one didn’t get made, but the idea for the town stuck around. Most of the other teens (besides Bonnie and her boyfriend) appeared in the first game I ever made, Whitefield Academy of Witchcraft, although the games don’t take place in the same universe. (In that game, they were all witches.)

What I think really worked in this game:

I was really proud of the conversation system. Huge credit has to go to the wonderful Hybrid Choices extension which made it possible. Trying to implement conversations in a parser is a nightmare, they’re so awkward and limited, and I felt like the menus really helped bring the world to life. The same extension also greatly improved the action sequences and helped streamline set-pieces, something that Chlorophyll would have benefited from (rather than a rather awkward forced-inaction opening and a final boss that just stands around waiting to be shot, which is what it does have.)

In general I think I managed to improve over my previous games in a lot of areas and present a more polished and better experience. I was working on this for around seven months (as opposed to two and half for Jacqueline, Jungle Queen and Chlorophyll) and I think it really shows.

What I want to improve on in future games:

I’d like to make navigation easier. I’ve heard the map was a big struggle to deal with. What I’d really like to have is something akin to the interface from Beyond Zork: a main area for commands, a dedicated window for a persistent room description, and a map showing the room and adjacent rooms, to which I would add a ‘picture’ window for popping up character portraits during conversations. There’s a Flexible Windows extension, but I could not get it to work, so I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to meet this goal.

I’d also like to simplify the commands structure a lot. Two games that I think really shone in this area in the comp were Midnight. Swordfight. and Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box, both of which really stripped down the number of verbs you could use to excellent effect. I thought I’d covered this by putting a list of all the necessary verbs on a pamphlet the player was holding, but I discovered someone complaining because they didn’t know how to use ‘i’ for inventory. When you’ve been playing these things from a single-digit age that’s just not the sort of thing that occurs to you as a potential problem. So in future games I’d like to have a ‘type 1 for instructions’ sort of page right off so that people can’t miss them.

Finally, I want to build my next game around an interesting mechanic. There is no central play mechanic at the heart of Brain Guzzlers; it’s just exploring the town while retrieving items and solving puzzles. I’d like to plan out something like Midnight. Swordfight.'s Bill-And-Ted-style scenario tweaking or Oppositely Opal’s backwards spells and then develop a game from that. I sort of did that with Jacqueline, Jungle Queen, but I ended up only having the first idol gives you much of interest (actually, I probably would have been better off just making finding animals to mimic the whole thing.)

Hi Steph, I didn’t realise you posted on here. Many congratulations on a well-deserved win! I hadn’t posted anything about my thoughts on ‘Brain Guzzlers’ during the comp since I thought there were rules about testers reviewing or discussing games they tested, but I could be wrong about that. Since I saw the game from its early stages I’d really like to give my thoughts on the game and its development from the perspective of a tester if you wouldn’t mind as I don’t have a blog, but if you’d rather I didn’t then that’s fine!

Sure, feel free!

Just a note that the game has now been updated. I added an brief intro that gives the player the chance to see a list of necessary commands right off, made the movie screen much more obvious as an item that can be taken (this is the one thing that just about everybody who got stuck seemed to get stuck on) and a couple other minor things. I played through and it doesn’t seem to have broken anything, but if anyone notices any problems with the new file please let me know.

It’s certainly where I got stuck on - that and the goat. But on the other hand, when I finally realised about the movie screen, I felt decidedly victorious and slapped my forehead because it was so obvious in retrospect.

Well, the Automap and Glimmr Automap extensions do a Beyond Zork-style automap.