Concepts for secret unlockable and auto-timed game content

Hi folks!

As some of you ifcomp players had noticed last year, I used normal and secret contents in my last game Dead Hotel. The secret content became unlockable once the competition ended and the pre-defined date and time was reached. You know, it’s like playing two games in one. One without secrets and one with secrets, easter eggs and so on.

This is a new technique I used for the first time and which I’m going to use in my future CYOA adventure games. The receptions for this had been good so far. Personally I think it adds a whole new dimension to gaming which most game designers haven’t explored yet, especially because this is about game content which automatically unlocks itself at certain dates and times when the player runs the game.

Only now I intend to make it more complex and hopefully more interesting for players who like unique replayability features like that. I have already started to write the proper sourcecode. It’s a little fun challenge of mine with which I want to expand my programming skills anyway.

So here’s my current concept pasted from my text files:

[code]CONCEPT 1
Secret Mode for a 2012 Text Adventure Game:

  1. from a pre-defined date on (e.g. after end of ifcomp schedule November 15th), so-called “Secrets” (e.g. easter eggs, secret items, secret weapons, even secret locations) are automatically unlocked, but the player also needs a password to unlock them.

  2. password can be obtained when the player finds a secret item in the game (normal mode). a book, for instance.

  3. player reads the book in the game (command: “> read secret book”) and the password or passphrase is told to him.
    (use lite text encrpytion, such as rot13 or rot47, to conceal the password inside the gamefile to avoid it being spoiled by cheaters)
    [/code]

Feel free to comment on my concept or post your own ideas, suggestions, concepts, etc.

  • Comazombie // Emilian K.

In a wholly different context, Sid Meier used a similar idea in his Pirates game. If you play the game on September 19 (which is National Talk Like a Pirate Day), all of the messages which you get are in “pirate-speak” (Harrr!)

What made it work was that the date-specific behavior was not advertised in any way, but came as a complete surprise; the only way to learn about it was by accident (i.e., if you happened to play the game on the magic day).

Robert Rothman

If I remember correctly, I believe the roguelike game Ancient Domains of Mystery modifies your states depending on the date that you create your character. For instance, I think if it happens to be Friday the 13th, your character starts out cursed.

Your idea sounds good. It would be especially helpful for a game with multiple paths or endings. It would be a good way to get players to come back and see the other possibilities. I liked the way it worked in Dead Hotel, but I think it would probably be best to include your best content upfront, especially if you’re in a comp.

Another thought – this could tie in to a sort of meta-puzzle or meta-adventure, like the hat thing in a few of the Comp games this year. You have to play the game on a specific date to get a special clue. This could be a clue to find more Easter-eggs within the game itself, or it could send the player on a hunt through the web or something.

Will there be a sequel for Dead Hotel? I think it is a good candidate for a sequel.

That’s true, and there’s more in ADOM:

Start on any Monday and your character is “slightly exhausted today,” low on HP. If you play on New Year’s Eve, you start with 6 bottles of booze, and you get a message “You feel well prepared for the coming year.” Start on Christmas, and your character is lucky. If you play on July 2nd, Thomas Biskup’s birthday, you start out with Lucky AND Fate Smiles, which is extra lucky! This could be scammed simply by adjusting the time/date on your computer, at least in Windows.

Tweaking game effects based on real time is a pretty cool idea, but for IF games, I do wonder: if you want to add easter eggs later, why not simply make a second version and release that? With typical commercial software, people buy it once and then never talk to the merchant again, but in this small community, where most software is free, new releases have a good chance of reaching earlier players.

If you did want to go ahead and do it, an extension might be the way to go. Is there an extension that lets an IF game “read” the user’s computer clock?

p.s. Passwords are commonplace; they’re a standard puzzle type, just one step above a locked door. The timing thing is not so common, and would probably be slightly tougher to code. In IF games, there’s frequently an AMUSING command unlocked after a win, which reveals all the easter eggs in the game (or just some of them…)

Thanks for your feedback so far, guys.

Ofcourse secret dates, which the game may check for, won’t be spoiled or advertised by myself. The only thing which I will inform players upfront is that secrets or easter eggs unlock themselves when the game is being run after the IFComp ends on its usual date November 15th. So it’s all bonus.

Any other magic days won’t be spoiled directly, only through hints or talking in riddles about it. In fact, I already added a second magic date to Dead Hotel which the game checks for in 2012. I guess you all know which date that is. That’s a hint. Try to run Dead Hotel on that special date this year… :wink:

Yeah, Friday 13th. A controversial date. For some people it’s a cursed day, for others it’s day of good fortune. I like it. Definately interesting to think how the game may behave on that day.

Yes, that’s what I thought too. It’s a way to get players replay the game and explore multiple endings. And sure, I should first focus on the main content and make it as good as possible before adding any bonus/secret content.

Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s a wise choice to give the player a special clue on a specific date only and then never again. What if the player misses that specific date in the first place? He/She would probably never know that there was any clue on that specific date. See the problem?

In my opinion specific dates (for instance, March 17th 2012 or whatever) should be only used for little gimmicks, but not for game-specific elements. For instance, when the player runs the game on that specific date a short message in the game could be displayed or the game may not run on that day. This way, even if the player misses that date or doesn’t know about it, he/she won’t miss any game-related content.

I think the best way is to check for the kind of dates which occur multiple times or in a regular fashion. You mentioned Friday 13th. That’s a good example. There will always be a Friday 13th. So checking for those kind of dates makes more sense imho. Birthday dates are another example. You run the game on my birthday each year you get bonus features to play with.

And as usual I will check for periods of time and not just points in time. You know, from IFComp October 1st to November 15th the game behaves like this. And from November 16th (actually November 22nd in the case of Dead Hotel) the game behaves like that. This is how it works in Dead Hotel. And players can’t miss any game content this way. Except that second magic date in Dead Hotel which I previously talked above. But that’s just a gimmick. If you miss that date in 2012 this year it won’t matter actually, because it’s nothing game-specific.

Uhm… I haven’t decided yet. Would it make sense to make a sequel for a game called “Dead Hotel” where the objective was to escape from that hotel? I mean it’s not like the game character returns back to the hotel. He escaped from it and that’s it for Part 1. What I mean is that there’ll be no “Dead Hotel 2”. If I decide to make a sequel / Part 2 then it’s going to be released under a different game title. Otherwise it would make no sense unless I come up with a story where the character has a good reason to return to the hotel he previously escaped from. I have to think about it…

They can and they will, unless they have some other reason to play your game regularly and often.

Most IF and CYOA has fairly low replay value. You might play again to find some different endings or alternate solutions, but you’re not going to play every day for months. Most IF or CYOA games will be played for a single sitting, then not picked up again for years (if ever). There are a few games like Textfire Golf or Kerkerkruip that have a relatively high amount of variability, but even those aren’t going to be played regularly enough to make timed easter eggs worthwhile.

So, before you add time-specific easter eggs, you need to think about making a game that will keep players around for long enough that they have a chance of finding them. This means a very large game. Otherwise, you need your easter eggs to be accessible (if not necessarily easy to find) at all times.

The Inform 7 IDE has different “compiled”/“failed to compile” images on some holidays, at least including Christmas (and Easter, maybe? I remember thinking they were kind of Christian-centric). They are pretty cute.

That’s very interesting. It opens the door to add details in the game depending on what season or time of year it is in real life. That could be cool in a very simulationist kind of game, like an RPG. Of course, the setting would probably have to be a specific place on Earth, because seasons and weather are not the same everywhere. It could be used for other details besides weather, of course, such as cultural activities like holidays.

I wouldn’t have guessed that Dead Hotel rotated it’s behavior based on the date like that. I assumed it was more of a one-time switch.

I’m imagining a game as long and ambitious as Blue Lacuna that would add subtle details based on the real-world time. Or maybe the seasons in-game would advance with the date, making the in-game adventure take as long as the player needs to finish the game. That would be incredibly difficult to implement, of course, but it’s a pretty cool idea. However, I think short games can still make use of real-world time, especially if based on long periods of time, as Emilian described above in reference to Dead Hotel.

I think this is a good discussion. We could be on to something potentially groundbreaking.

Re: tove; and of course on Easter it’s

an Easter egg.

Plus a broken eggshell for failed compilation, and a baby chick for (I believe?) successful compilation. For Christmas, I seem to recall these are a broken and whole glass Christmas tree ornament.

Speak for yourself! I’ve been playing Kerkerkruip almost daily for about a month, and I’m still totally hooked…