Bullhockey! postmortem

ifcomp2018-game

#1

My first-ever IF effort. I wanted it to be big, and I wanted it to be challenging, because I like to be immersed in such games. And I want it to connect to other players who like that kind of game.

My Background

I started with IF back in 1982, with Infocom’s Zork II, I was 12 and it took me a year to solve. I moved on to Zork I, which took about 9 months–granted, I was still working on Zork II while also doing Zork I. I did not yet ‘get’ these games, but at some point, they ‘clicked’, and I was moving on to Infocom’s other titles. I was enjoying the hell out of them, not just for the puzzles and the challenge, but also the good though concise writing that went into them. I also loved the Invisiclues and the smart writing that went into them. Often when I finished an IF, I would ‘write’ an Invisiclues manual for it, just for fun. By the end of the Zork games, I had become accustomed to very diligent examining and trying everything I could think of with a puzzle. I would have detailed maps and object lists, in a notebook. Even puzzle lists and problem descriptions.

I started having ideas for IFs of my own…

But then I had to focus on college studies, and I did not own a computer, so my involvement with IF dropped off considerably. My major had nothing to do with computers–my Dad was a computer enthusiast (still is; he built mine), it was all he talked about, so I left him with that. Between 1992 and 2005, I had absolutely no IF involvement whatsoever–I travelled, had relationships, etc etc. It wasn’t until 2016 that I came across Graham Nelson’s games, and Inform 7–plus Dad built me this computer.

I felt like a kid on Christmas. Not only did I have a powerful computer, and could play these games again, I could now write my own games. Watch out world! (Computer and IF World, that is. It all conspired to reduce my involvement in my real world, as I spent more and more time creating–my fault entirely.)

My Game

Mathbrush was right in his review of my game on IFDB. I was an Inform 7 flat-out beginner when I started on ‘Bullhockey!’, and the now ‘infamous’(?) Apartment Area was the first set of rooms I ever created. It’s based on the layout of my actual apartment. If you have played my game, and wondered how I ever came up with the ‘fan-stairs-bookcases’ problem–I wanted the overhead fan in the living room to be a solution to a problem. I was creating the Apartment Area, and I thought, 'Why not have an obstacle–a problem–here in the apartment? I would create my first puzzle here. It seemed reasonable to place an obstacle at the bottom of the stairs, such as bookcases. The stairs here–and the way leading to them from the initial room–are very narrow, and having bookcases at the bottom seemed obstacle enough. I wanted the player to vault over the banister in the initial room, and jump onto the fan. I got mixed reviews about this, but I’m leaving it in the game, it was my first puzzle.
Also, if you encountered any seeming confusion regarding directions in the Apartment Area–there was no mistake–that is the actual layout. You do have to go SW to enter Natalie’s Bedroom, and then go NW to exit–that is just how that door is situated on the wall, near the corner of either room. And you do go NE to exit the Loft Bedroom, and then S to go back in–the Room Entrance is quite narrow(so you are actually going south to re-enter), and I wanted to illustrate that it goes along the east wall, past the fan for the lower room, which is actually due north from the Loft Bedroom.
I know that this falls into the ‘My Crappy/-- Apartment’ category, but I just HAD to do it. I really did not mean to enter it into the Comp at first–or for a long time–at that stage it was just an ‘experiment’. And I thought that having my girlfriend (probably another ‘trope’) involved–‘she left me/the player–I want her back’ kind of theme–would be another good idea.

And she threw away the player’s work shirts–another theme–the shirts need to be found, before starting back to work the next week. Strict dress code, the boss is a neurotic about that. I had a list of items and a pressing reason to find them. Therefore more game to create. Five shirts seemed ideal–five days in the work week–five major scenarios to create. I would make the shirts five colors, to distinguish them from one another, and they would each have their own ‘situation’, part of which you would notice when examining them–’…Completely clean, except for the grease spots covering it, etc…’ They were all washed before being deposited. I started with that idea and went outside the apartment to build the scenarios. Looking out the back window would link the player to the first one–the red shirt on top of the building across the street from Brockwood’s, visible through the back window of the apartment–which by some elevation anomaly here, is at the same height as those buildings–would be the link to getting out of the apartment. Five shirts, five self-contained (mostly) scenarios.

While doing this, I was able to use one thing that I am very good at–an ability to think of every possible obstacle to success, to finding and getting the shirts. I didn’t want to make it too easy. Unfortunately, for some who have played my game, I overdid this aspect.I did not start with a detailed ‘plan’ of where and how I would hide each shirt–just a rough outline of the story. I made up everything as I went along, in this part of the game. I would have an idea, and however insane or complex it was, I would not cancel it out, simply because of the difficulty in implementing it–I really wanted to learn the Inform 7 design system. Probably the most difficult part of the game, with respect to this, was the yellow shirt scenario, which involved an ‘incendiary device in the shape of a pipe’ (we won’t use the word ‘bomb’, here), a time limit and some complicated interactions–that was a number of long rules, as was the red shirt scenario. The others weren’t too terribly difficult, the blue shirt scenario was just a matter of being in the right car, the white shirt was your basic giving the right things to the barber, the green shirt was about simply being frank and friendly to a down-and-outer.Most of the interactions with people in this game were about getting the shirts. It’s probably not hard to notice that each of these characters has or has had difficulties with addictions or mental illness–this was not an intended statement, except that being friendly with them, while not pandering to the habit, can lead to rewards–but even this message was incidental. These characters were based on some of the colorful personalities I have worked with in the past. I have been criticized for this part of my theme, particularly the one about Walter, and fooling him with the bottle of water. That was merely a solution to a problem–not meant as cruelty–he was intending to get drunk and the player was not intent on helping him with that. The same with Brockwood, from whom the player takes the bottle.I have learned a lot from these people, their kindness and compassion.

Once the shirts are found and obtained, the story takes a big turn. This would be my ‘plot twist’–however I did drop some not-so-subtle clues that she, at least, had not really left of her own will. I knew that I wanted to make Natalie’s leaving into a kidnapping, but I didn’t, at the outset, know how I was going to work it out. First, I wanted the player to find the shirts–and that would lead into the player finding Natalie. But not so directly, hehehe. Or obviously. This was Part II of the game. Magic steps in rather abruptly. I’m going to leave off discussion of the rest of the game, except to say that this part was very fun and entertaining for me to write, though it was quite a challenge to get it to work. Probably the most fun interaction to design was the one with the two Natalies.

The Wind-up

When I finished the rough draft of the game, the source code was only 81,000 words. During the making, I had tested it to make sure it ‘worked’, and, satisfied that it did, I moved on to making–and ‘finishing’ the somewhat less rough, more informed draft of the sequel, ‘Bullhockey 2: The Return of…’. I wanted my first game tested, before I submitted it to ANYthing, so I had Mogwai playtest ‘Bullhockey!’–he ran into problem after problem, bug after bug. You wouldn’t believe it (or would you?). He had to take a break from playtesting, so I took the time to go over the manual in detail and re-do my game from top to bottom. Probably the most frequent thing I did was improve upon certain routines that could have been done better or more succinctly and efficiently. I also added more clues, more embellishments, more description to the quoted text, more things that would be helpful to the player. Mogwai was ready again by the end of this process and he was impressed with the greater polish. Mogwai was very helpful and had a lot of useful tips and suggestions. And my source code had increased to about 133,000 words.

I thought it would be good to have another set of eyes to take a look at the ‘finished’ product. Of course I went over it again myself, as a player, and played it through–making comments in transcripts just like a playtester. Mathbrush kindly offered his services, despite his own busy work life, as a playtester. Though we both knew that this game was a long one. He gave me a lot of great advice and continues to be helpful. He helped me solve at least a couple of major logistical problems within the game.

It was at this time I decided to enter ‘Bullhockey!’ into the IFComp.

The Pitch

I knew the Comp was for much shorter games, and the votes would be based only on the first two hours of play. My goal was this–to have my game seen and played. And ultimately have it connect with someone who likes long, ‘puzzle-y’ games. I do not need to have won the Comp to meet these goals–which goals, according to some reviews and feedback, I did meet.

Of course, reading some of the reviews, during the Comp, I felt as if I had touched some nasty thorns, but, you know, playing someone’s game, having someone play your game, is an interaction. Like any other, it’s not always going to be smooth. I still expect players to find some bugs–one player emailed me about one involving the computer desk in my game–if you examined it, the game would ‘crash’–what was wrong was that I had a rule in the source code saying ‘Instead of doing anything other than searching with the computer desk: try examining the computer desk.’. I had forgotten to include ’ or examining’ in the rule–I had completely missed it while coding and testing the game for months. It was easy, I think, for me, the author, to overlook, because the computer desk plays such a tiny role in the game and is completely non-essential, but I understand how it would not look that way to a player. The player (judge?) that emailed me may have been the one who left the anonymous feedback about this bug, which said that s/he was able to use it as a good excuse to quit–which I understand completely.But a review is also valuable feedback, even if thorny.

Therefore I thank all of the playtesters, the judges, and the reviewers, anyone who has played my game. You have seen it, played it and I hope you appreciated it and got something from it. At least a chuckle or two. If so, I have truly met all of my goals with this game.

And thank you all, on Intfiction.com, for your valuable advice and help during the making of my game.

Oh, and I almost forgot–I am also grateful for the invaluable help of my real girlfriend–she who must not be named. She gave me a lot of useful ideas about my story and our years of interaction have also contributed to the humor.


#2

It’s really interesting getting to hear the process behind this game, particularly from the perspective of another IF first timer. Are you thinking you’ll make game for next year? I’m excited to see what you do next.


#3

J_J,

Thank you for your interest! I do have a ‘Bullhockey 2’, it needs editing and playtesting, I’ve been so busy with other things, so a bit concerned whether it will be done in time for Spring Thing. It’s another long one! 150,000 words–before the edit!

Thanks for the compliments!