I’ll start out by saying that I probably entered ParserComp for the wrong reason. I wrote a Twine game last year, HUNTING UNICORN, that kinda slipped through the cracks. This was before I knew much about the IF community. Once I learned more, I realized how important it was to release games in competitions, which is what I should’ve done with my first game.
I found out about ParserComp roughly two weeks before the deadline. One of those weeks I was busy, which left me with the other week to design the game. And to learn Inform, since I’d never written a parser game. But I decided to do it purely for the sake of entering the competition. That’s what I mean about entering for the wrong reason.
This time-crunch heavily influenced what I produced. I figured I would only be able to make something short and rudimentary, so my goal was to write a pulpy adventure like you’d find in an old comic book. I’d also recently played La Lagune de Montaigne, which made me decide to focus more on setting than story… or character… or anything else!
The Mesoamerican flavor came about because I’ve been doing research over the past two years for a novel about Moctezuma II. I had feathered serpents on my mind. So I grabbed one. The monster isn’t specifically Mexican, since various cultures have various feathered serpents, but I didn’t want to just use a giant snake because, well, I like feathered serpents more. They’re more awesome.
As for the serpent’s stomach problems, those came about because I myself was having stomach problems! Again, it was on my mind. So I grabbed it. Besides which, I’m always returning to consumption as a theme.
Then I jumbled everything together. As I was coding the game I felt like I was plugging holes in a sinking ship, always discovering some new obstacle with Inform. Halfway through I realized, hey, games are supposed to have puzzles, aren’t they, people will demand puzzles, so I smacked on a few puzzles. The whole structure felt precarious, as though the game would topple if you poked it with a stick, and it still sorta feels that way to me.
I didn’t change much after the beta-testing phase, but I did add one new ending that happens if the player eats the flame. I originally hadn’t even considered that players might try interacting with the flame, which shows how blinkered I was during the development process!
Now, what I learned from reviews:
Other people do not play parser games like I do. I like to examine everything, so I wrote descriptions for almost everything in my game, with the idea that people would examine things to uncover clues. However, many people didn’t seem to do that, so they missed clues for the puzzles if the clues weren’t placed in the general room descriptions. In the future, I cannot expect other players to share my devotion to examining the scenery, unless I give explicit instructions that this should be done (which I’ll most likely do, because I love the mechanic of examining things within things within things).
Other people do not think of pulp the same way I do. This game was never meant to be too serious, and yet almost every review talked about horror or body-horror or even Lovecraftian horror. I hate Lovecraft! Grossing out the player wasn’t my intent either. I wanted to use over-the-top and bizarre imagery to create an interesting space to explore. But it seems many people were just grossed out, or imagined that was the game’s purpose. This indicates a big miscalculation on my part. It tells me I don’t know my audience well enough.
I shouldn’t rush a game out for a competition. Especially not if I’m doing impromptu design-work for it. Other people spent lots of time and effort on their games, and it’s not polite coming to the party if you’re not bringing something more thoughtful yourself.
Don’t add puzzles just to add puzzles. This probably means, for me, don’t add puzzles. I’m not nearly as interested in the puzzle-solving aspect of interactive fiction as I am with its potential for creating atmosphere, or for warping a narrative’s meaning with dynamic text. Those are what I ought to focus more on.
I still don’t know if it was a good idea to add the extra ending after the beta-testing phase. Some people found it naturally; others thought it was obscure and unfair. But I don’t consider this game to have a single “right” ending anyway, so if people miss a few endings, that doesn’t bother me. It might bother them if they’re completionists, but I don’t want to cater to a completionist mindset.
I disagree with the assertion that “chunderous” is a 25-cent word! And if it is, then the price ought to be reduced so that anyone can afford it! (Not to mention it’s slang. I didn’t think slang went for 25 cents.) “Chunder” is such a great term for “vomit,” and “chunderous,” well, you’ve got thunderous chunks with that one! Alternatives like “puke” and “barf” are just so weak, and even “vomit” lacks the force behind “chunder.” It gets right down into your throat! Yeah, it really needs more love.
In the end, I consider this game to be a rather undercooked experiment, but a good growing experience. I have to thank all the reviewers for their detailed feedback, which has taught me a lot about how other players digest parser games. Hopefully my next game will work better than this snake one, but we’ll see! The Spring Thing deadline is fast approaching and I’m once again scrambling to plug holes in another sinking ship. Nevertheless, interactive fiction is an exciting new medium for me, and I’m eager to keep working at it!