Ether postmortem (spoilers)

The results aren’t out yet, but I thought I’d do this now.


Ether got started because I had trouble with a different proto-game. A few months ago, I had just downloaded Inform 7, and I spent a couple of hours putting a tiny game together. It was about climbing a mountain; it had a bear with random actions that would follow you, a pile of rubble with gloves you’d find to help you climb the final cliff, and an angel you could talk to about a lot of things before going up to your father’s tomb, who you found out was Abraham. It also took you to the dragon from colossal cave adventure if you typed xyzzy.

I posted it as mathbrush on this site, and a couple of people tried it out for me. Noone found the gloves, and they missed most of the game! I was really bummed, and felt like I had no idea how to clue puzzles.

So I changed my name (to craiglocke) and resolved to write a new game where noone could ever miss an object. I would put everything in one room, with everything visible at the same time. The open sky had nowhere to hide anything, so I decided to make my game a flying game.

I picked a nautilus protagonist because of my frequent trips to a small dinosaur museum. I’ve always enjoyed the 4 western elements or the 5 chinese elements, so I thought I’d make a game with 4 new ‘elements’ (i.e. the states of matter). I’ve always associated elements with creation, so I decided they’d be making a new world.

I worked up a first beta, and sent it out to testers. They hated it! (except generic geek girl). None of the sentient-world storyline or powerups or diagonal directions or GO TO or the shadow nautilus was there. You just collected things, then teleported to the water in a new world.

That started the first of three rounds of beta testing. Testers like Sean Shore and Andrew Schultz suggested I add more story, more directions, and more interaction between different objects.

Near the end of testing, the game was getting much better responses from new testers. But everyone (including me) new it was pretty short and easy. However, my life experience suggested that it would be better to have a very smooth game that was too short than a complicated, choppy longer game. So I cut my losses and stopped expanding.

Final result

I was pleased by the reviews, because they seemed fairly accurate. Most people agreed that the story and puzzles were okay-to-weak, but the underlying mechanics/game engine were well done and interesting. Because this is the first thing I coded and spent the most time on, I was happy with this reaction. After all, the story was simply an afterthought, and the puzzles were limited by my commitment to ‘everything-is-visible-all-the-time’. The other authors have given me some advice for some more difficult puzzles in a post-comp release.


I thought it would be interesting to depict my wildly swinging hopes and aspirations about the game. Before I started the game, I hoped to place in the top half and get above a 6 or 6.1 average (which historically means a pretty good game). Here are some other (conflicting) hopes I had:

top ten
top three/first place (the high point of my hopes)
not bottom 10
not dead last (this was my low point, after several negative tester reviews)
XYZZY nom. for Best Implementation, Setting, PC or NPC (because it sure wasn’t going to get Best Puzzle, Story, Writing or Game)
Top ten
7th place
Top half and 6.1+ average (back to my first hopes).

So no matter what place I’ll get, it will be one that I hoped for at some point!


So why make a game? After reviewing so many games, I wanted to connect with the community more directly, and I have. It’s been fun getting to know the authors and people. I wanted to give people a way to ‘strike back’ against any critical reviews of them I had written. It was a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed your game. I think it will place well.

One thing I forgot to add: I specifically wanted to write my blurb so that people would know all the potential problems ahead of time, and pass up the game if they weren’t interested. I really feel this helped, and I know Stephanie Cherrywell did the same thing.

I’m very pleased with tenth place, and I’m glad that everyone above me wrote an outstanding game. I’m especially pleased that Final Exam got up there, because I just LOVED its other ending.

I fell head over heels for “Ether.” It was my favorite of all the comp games I played. I found it well implemented and the environment was gorgeous.

I think Ether is a perfect “gateway” parser game: intuitive, gorgeous environment, well-cued and implemented, immersive and (I’d imagine) easy to get the hang of quickly if you’re not used to this sort of thing. I’m not at all shocked it was made by someone who’s spent so much time anatomizing various strengths of the genre.

I feel the same way. This might be the most user-friendly parser game I’ve encountered.

As someone who struggled with most of the parser games I tried to play (sometimes reaching levels of frustration usually reserved for the voice commands on a bank’s 800-number) I just want to say THANK YOU for this game. It was fun and enjoyable for me and made me feel smart when i figured out the puzzles [emote]:)[/emote]

You guys are very nice! now I just need to find a way to get more content into the nice interface…

FWIW I really enjoyed the skeleton of a creation myth in there. It made me wonder just what kind of society might have that nautilus as a deity, and what that might mean. I REALLY wondered what its old world was like, and how many times this had happened.

So maybe the answers to those questions could lead you somewhere.

Yes, more content! I didn’t end up playing Ether until today, when the comp was already over (just too many games to play during the comp window), but I’m glad it ranked as high as it did. The descriptions are wonderfully vivid, and the navigation was very smooth. I just would have liked it to be longer and more involved, especially with building the new world and using the new skills after breaking the second round of objects. I really never used the new skills until I ran into the eye, so one more round of collecting and using objects (maybe with each other, or taking an object somewhere to turn it into something else) would help the pacing a lot.

That’s how it always starts, with the friendly nautilus. But before you know it, you’re worshipping Cthulhu!


Actually, you become Cthulhu if you just type SD over and over again at the beginning.

It’s kind of fascinating that the story was an afterthought! I found it to be really powerful. The idea of getting bored with your environment and deciding to create a new world to move into, only to discover that the old world loves you and will miss you, but lets you go anyway is profound, and can be read on a number of different levels. It happened to somewhat parallel my own recent past, which hit me particularly emotionally, but it feels almost like a Jungian archetype.