Clusterflux Postmortem

One thing I’ve learned about crafting a work of interactive fiction is to “narrow your focus”. I’ve always wanted to write an entire IF city that a player can explore to their heart’s desire but the story would be thin compared to the setting and I’m thinking IF players nowadays might be looking to play something more punchy and streamlined; a story in which they can take part and not a gigantic literary world in which to find your own fate. I’m not saying players who like the latter don’t exist, and I’m not saying I’m never going to create such an IF world, but for now, and for competitions’ sake, I felt I needed to make just one “movie” and not a “cinematic universe”. That can always come later.

So, instead of a whole town, I focused on one house. Sure, it’s big house, but nothing takes place outside of its yards. It is a boarding house and the player lives in the third floor apex and the adventure is basically the players trekking downwards from attic apartment, to the second floor, and then the ground floor. Before the end, however, the player must also venture into the basement, a place he barely knew existed occupied by a man he didn’t know lived there.

The story is, the man in the basement has created a crude but functioning time machine with which he uses to exact brutal revenge on people from his past, especially his childhood. His technological revenge scheme, however, quickly took a toll on reality and it began breaking down the more he used his machinery. Housemates began disappearing and strangers from other places and times started showing up.

Two such individuals are the player’s companions throughout the game. A talking mongoose that looks like a cat to everyone else appeared and became the player’s pet. And as the story begins, the player meets a young woman who seems to be from someplace and some time other.

To date, no one let me know that they noticed these two characters are based in real life:

Check out Gef the talking mongoose and Barbara Newhall Follett.

Another fun fact: The Wasp Puzzle comes almost verbatim from my real life. I was living in a party house in the 90’s with my grunge bandmates and slowly, I started noticing a wasp or two in my room. I would take care of it but then a few days later, even more wasps were hanging around. I had no idea where they were coming from. I was on the second floor so likely, they made a nest somewhere outside a window and they apparently had easy access into my room, and only my room. I was pretty busy back then, both working a lot in a restaurant and playing in my band. I let the problem keep exacerbating itself and, out of laziness and fatigue, I began crashing on the sofa downstairs. Before too long, if you opened the door to my room, you would be greeted with a scene from a 70’s horror movie. The windows were crawling with countless wasps. It was truly a nightmare.

So, I had to armor myself up. I put on my hoodie with hood up, jeans, boots, gloves, goggles and a scarf. I charged in with a vacuum cleaner and other implements of insect destruction. The battle commenced.

Finally, it was done and I vacuumed the bodies of dead wasps for the rest of the day. Honestly, I don’t remember how I stopped the incursion altogether but the big battle was the tipping point in my favor.

So I decided that would make a good IF puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, I was happy to read that people were complimentary of my puzzles this game because I’ve never been great at making puzzles but I really made that one of my focuses this game. That was my main challenge this game; making sure the puzzles were well clued, integrated, and satisfying. I’m not saying everything in there is good, but I’m happy with the positive “buzz” I’ve read. (Pardon the pun).

My apologies for the kinda-annoying Hoosier cabinet puzzle. If you want to avoid it altogether, the exact solution is in the walklthrough.

As for the antagonist of the work,
Blaine Wyatt aka “The Angriest Man In The World”, I wanted a villain who’s motivation is pure, unadulterated, abject hatred and brutal revenge. I also thought about what the time-travel ramifications would be if a man traveled back to his childhood where, say, some sort of abuse or humiliation happened to him at the hands of some adult; maybe a teacher. As the past event unfolds, the adult version of the child in the event (Blaine Wyatt) shows up to exact immediate revenge on the teacher. What would either the child or the teacher think at that moment? What sort of chaotic nightmare would that be? Sure there’s a visceral moment of almost-justified violence, but then how would they be left? What would the child think just happened? Who was this violent savior? Basically, it’s a bad idea. And doing these acts of temporal revenge chipped away at his sanity, both past and present while at the same time, his impossible machine in the basement began dismantling the rest of reality around the house, and, soon it will spread to the neighborhood, the town, and beyond.

What would you really do with a time machine? Would you go watch Lincoln deliver his Gettysburg Address? Or would you go back to finally punch in the mouth that bully of a gym teacher that took things too far when you were a kid? I seriously wonder which I would do.

Finally, I can address something mentioned in a couple of reviews. A complaint was that there were unused rooms and unneeded details. I don’t quite get it. Even though I was narrowing my focus on one house, I still wanted to create an immersive environment. Not every room holds a clue. I don’t understand the desire to play a game that’s totally on the rails, setting up an order of rooms to explore from A to B to Z. I prefer letting the player wander a bit. And in one house, you can’t get lost. Also, for time, I had to edit some things out. And one or two rooms DID have a puzzle or situation but they were removed so I could make the deadline.

I want to thank my beta-testers “Radical” Al Golden, Neil Butters, Francesco Tortorici, Joseph Geipel, Geoff Moore, and Syman Weed. Also, thanks to Hanon for his good advice that I’ve learned is wise to heed. And thanks to the community as a whole for tolerating me and trying out my games.