Thank you so much for giving me such detailed, enthusiastic feedback!
It’s mathematically possible to have zero spoons (not negative) at one point of the excerpt. Only one such point exists, though - if you were doing a spoon-preserving path through, you probably missed the entire segment where it was possible. This is a branching visual novel, and it’s not possible to do every good thing in one playthrough. The spoon was a deliberate design choice for three reasons:
It’s effectively the tutorial phase. Explaining basic visual novel mechanics to someone who hasn’t played IF since the early 1980s turns out to be tricky, so I wanted to space out introducing other mechanics. I want players to have confidence that they understand how each thing that needs to be done before either introducing more things, or increasing the difficulty. That’s why a player can only hit zero spoons in the excerpt with considerable effort. Confident players are more likely to explore different options and generally persist - both things a solo traveller needs in reality and IF alike.
For plot-related reasons, having some consequences of spoon failure during the excerpted element would have different consequences to what they would be later - and I haven’t done enough research to know how some of those places would handle it.
Some of the potential consequences may well take longer to code than the excerpt I submitted.
Both of your hypotheses have some validity here. The tutorial is designed that most players won’t lose all their spoons because it’s designed so players following its advice will opt for one of the many paths that means at least some spoons remain by the end of the excerpt.
Running out of spoons once, by itself, will never exit the visual novel (now or later). (spoiler for this excerpt) There is one point in the excerpt that will lead to an exit, but that’s due to a bad choice advised against in-game. It happens before spoons are introduced as a concept, and there’s a choice to go back and pick differently. In fact, hitting zero spoons, and then returning yourself to positive spoons before you need spoons again, will often have no consequences at all. For anyone who isn’t familiar with spoons, it’s a bit like how the bank will allow you to have nothing in your bank account - as long as you don’t have further expenses coming in before payday. (There needs to be a consequence coded in for negative spoons, for the same reason that overdrafts generally have interest …but if I’ve calculated correctly, the excerpt doesn’t allow negative spoons, so that can go on next phase’s task list).
If you reach zero/negative spoons, and then hit a point where you need spoons, consequences will vary according to the situation. Sometimes the effect will be minor, like having a conversation play out differently. Other times it will radically change your experience of the game (spoiler for future element) up to and including medical treatment - that will itself include choices to make and things to explore. And yes, it will be possible to get from that part back into the primary path.
There will eventually be ways to completely exit the game in ways that partly involve spoon loss, but that will require several things in succession to go wrong, and it will be obvious that a player is on a path to completely exiting while there is still time to do something about it. I’m hoping that in these cases, I can program in a choice of return points, depending on which part the player wishes to explore further. It’s an area that I feel warrants more handling than, “Oh dear, out of spoons, please start again”.
The spoons were supposed to be visible on the excerpt, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it in an accessible way in time. Rather than half-implement the feature, I opted not to add it yet. Clearly, I need to implement it before making serious consequences of spoon loss possible. (While the backgrounds will change in response to spoon state in later excerpts, and indeed do so in the later part of this one the fact they don’t for most of the excerpt is plot-driven, I’d prefer to also have the number there for people who either want more precision, or simply cannot see the background change).
There are ways of restoring spoons via choices already (though the visual novel doesn’t spell out when that’s happened. Long Live The Queen is an example of a visual novel that optionally allows state changes to be revealed, and it would be cool to implement something similar). I also want, eventually, to have methods of spoon restoration available that are readily accessible and only cost time, provided the player has opened up access. Paths to two such methods can be started during the excerpt, but not progressed far enough to get the readily accessible spoon restoration method.