I came up with the general concept for Following Me sometime last March when there was a big icestorm and my sister and I went for a walk in the woods behind our house. We live way out in the countryside where there aren’t many people so at one point we heard gunshots kind of nearby and we both got a little alarmed because what the hell could they be shooting at since all the animals were in-hiding from the ice and cold?
And that’s all there was to that real-life story: we got spooked, turned around, and walked back home. But it gave me enough what-ifs to start the idea rolling in my mind.
I chalk a lot of the development problems to me just being a pretty inexperienced writer and not having any real idea of how to maintain scope. The bottom line is that it wasn’t even close to being done and I had to butcher it to finish on time. I probably should have waited for Spring Thing but… I just really didn’t want to skip the Comp. At one point when I started getting writers block I turned to the advice of some other people in my writers forums and started writing the scenes I felt inspired by even if they were in the middle of the story. Maybe this would work if I was writing a static novel and not on a deadline, but trying this method for an IF piece was a disaster. I have a substantial number of unfinished or unused scenes sitting on my hard drive and I couldn’t include them because they wouldn’t make any sense or connection without the interim missing scenes. Maybe I’ll make them into short stories of their own.
So life-lesson I learned here: write from A-Z. No jumping around. Period.
Okay, enough back-story. I’d like to address the criticisms that I heard the most:
Problem 1: Not interactive enough.
Yep, I agree. Following Me was barely interactive, though there were a number of panels that changed depending on your choices but it was subtle changes that I think most people didn’t even notice. I can’t argue about this. It wasn’t really interactive and that’s kind of the whole point of the Comp and I know better but it just didn’t happen. Shit.
All I can say to defend myself is that it was originally planned to be much less linear. One of the central themes was that both Kat and Aria were supposed to be playable and a lot of the interactivity would come from the player being able to change girls at several points in each chapter. This would create opportunities like when they got separated Kat might unlock a door that Aria would later be able to go through or Aria would turn off the generator to help herself escape the Older Man but unknowingly hurt Kat because she’s now in the dark. I had tons of stuff like this. Pretty much anytime I specifically mentioned an item it was because it was originally supposed to be usable and have a purpose. Like the bullets & firepoker were usable by Aria, Kat was supposed to be able to steal the truck at an earlier point, the keys to Aria’s manacles which could be retrieved from the basement would unlock the tool shed and screened off part of the basement, etc etc.
Unfortunately I had to take Aria out as a playable character and with her went the vast majority of the planned interaction. I cut her out because I was getting way behind schedule and even though I’d written a good number of her scenes they were out of order and were ones that went near the end and I just had Kat more done. Also one of my beta testers took such a strong objection to her solo storyline that it made me pause and re-evaluate. In my mind there really wasn’t anything all that offensive that happened or anything that’s too far out of standard territory for thrillers but because my tester was so bothered by it, it me wonder if maybe I wasn’t crossing some sort of line with her and not even realizing it.
It’s a shame though, I thought Aria’s solo-storyline of being chased through the house was more interesting than Kat playing hide-and-seek in the woods.
So, yeah, that’s what happened with the interactivity. Shit.
Problem 2) Too long sections of text between choices.
Hmm… I’m on the fence about whether this is actually a problem or not. On one hand I can see the point that it’s uncomfortable to read large amounts of text on a digital screen and most of the Comp games have much shorter sections at a time. On the other hand, when I shared by games from last year with other non-IF writing communities the response was overwhelmingly in favor of it reading more like a book than “one of those weird clicky games” (their words). And since I want to eventually put my stuff on Amazon these other people are closer to my target audience. So… yeah, I’m undecided if I’ll change this or not. I’ll definitely consider it though.
Problem 3) That terrible fake choice thing with the cigarette lighter.
Oh mercy did I ever take some wisecracks for this one. Heck, if I had to mention just one thing in this post-mortem it would have been vindicating myself for this.
So please let me explain: that was never supposed to be regarded as a choice/gameplay element/interactive whatchamacallit. I was just making a sort of insiders reference to the movie The Last House on the Left. It’s one of my favorite horror movies and if anyone had seen the 2009 remake they would remember the scene when the kidnapped girl uses the cigarette lighter on her attacker and get why Kat decides this was a bad idea. Unfortunately apparently noone got this reference and instead thought it was just sloppy game design. I took it out of the final revision so please give me a pass on this one: it’s just an insiders joke that fell flat.
Problem 4) One of the endings was buggy and it didn’t recognize that Kat had the cellphone.
This is some sort of problem with the variable that controls if she has the phone or not. I’ve tried to fix it several times and I think I got it right in the last update.
Problem 5) The ending was a cliched mess.
I agree and I’m surprised more people didn’t call me out on how bad the ending was. In my design doc there were supposed to be 18 different endings that depended on which of the girls and which of the kidnappers actually survived to the end. It was originally supposed to be a real challenge to keep Aria alive and if she’d died Kat would have had the choice of taking on a much more revenge driven path. Because I had to cut so much out since it wasn’t finished I kind of came up with a totally new ending that at least made logical sense but was very uninspired and generic.
I guess I’m disappointed that Following Me didn’t score better than it did. It definitely had it’s problems but in general I thought that it was much more polished in both writing and plot than my games from last comp (which were also highly linear and had lots of text) but Following Me actually scored lower than them and I’m not really sure why. It got a number of 1 and 2 votes that I don’t think it deserved but there must have been something that really put people off.
So disappointing results but I got lots of helpful critical feedback and just more writing experience in general. I think that if I decide to come back next year I’m going to do something shorter and on my own engine. Maybe I’ll set myself like a 20-30k word limit and work within that constraint.
On the positive side a lot of people said the quality of the writing was good and this was a huge win for me because I really tried to improve on my technique over what I wrote last year.