So when I was originally writing this post-mortem I was in a really awful mindset – chronic pain suuuuucks and it was really getting to me after an awful flareup that lasted several days. I’m better now, and while I’m not going to re-write the entire thing, if there is an air of sadness or anything like that in this, that’s why. But! I wanted to write a post-mortem for Graveyard Strolls since this was my first time participating in IFComp and I received some great feedback. Overall I have felt extremely welcomed here as a newcomer and with my entry. In the end I tied for 39th out of 70, which is right around where I thought I would place based on the reviews here and on IFDB. I’ve found this to be a very valuable experience in my still-early career as a game writer/narrative designer/solo dev and I’m already thinking of what I could do for next year that would be even bigger and better! Congratulations to all the other participants and a huge thank you to the reviewers here and those who voted.
I’ve mentioned in the forums here that Graveyard Strolls, along with the other Texture games, were written as part of a workshop I and the other authors took part in through the Work With Indies Discord server, which was led by Jim Munroe, one of the developers of Texture. This was a four week workshop, learning how to use the Texture engine with the goal of submitting to IFComp at the end. I’m glad I got to learn how to use Texture and that I was able to make and submit a final product at the end. I’m glad I was able to make this game, even if it didn’t end up at all like what I was expecting at the start. This might be due to technical limitations with the engine and time constraints that led me to take Graveyard Strolls in the direction that I did. Many of the criticisms the piece received were with the engine, the length, and the flow – with more time I would’ve definitely worked on these things more.
So I’m not a horror fan, really. I say that, but I find myself liking horror-genre things a decent amount nowadays. I don’t like live action horror at all, but if it’s animated or written I’m usually okay, as long as there are no jumpscares. That’s to say that I’m new to writing horror, but not new to making weird little things and art pieces. I was glad to see some people say that they felt a bit unsettled by some of the endings. My goal there was to make it palatable enough for myself to read and not be freaked out by – so no intense gore, nothing too visceral, just some unsettling things (like getting buried alive! Or burned alive! Or eaten by a were-monster thing! Or crushed to death! But like, not in an overly descriptive kind of way – just “you’re crushed by this tombstone and then you lose consciousness” vs describing the outcome of that in extreme detail). I’ve been going through a Chainsaw Man kick for a year, and while writing this I had just seen My Chemical Romance in concert and was listening to their discography obsessively, so that had an impact on how Graveyard Strolls evolved. On a side note – did anyone catch the two MCR references? I’ll list them at the end of this because I know they’re not obvious and no one caught them during the competition. Both of them were in Xenhortio’s story! (Also for the record, my MCR show was the one where Gerard was dressed as a cat and I just about died).
Originally, Graveyard Strolls was meant to be a game about helping ghosts move on while reconciling with your own losses. The core of that remained, but the structure is very different to how it was originally conceived. I’m working on a larger version of the game right now that will be much closer to how I originally envisioned it – no horror, no death, just helping, getting into silly situations and seeing what moving on looks like for people. I write this with the perspective of grief surrounding the sudden loss of one of my dogs last year. It wasn’t meant to be a judge-y way to say “well, this is how you should grieve” because the process is obviously different for everyone. That might’ve been how it came across to some people though.
The twist with mother was not something I imagined at all when I first came up with the idea. This seems to happen a lot – I write or come up with something I find cool and then I expand on it. With mother, I was writing with the thought that the passage about her talons sounded cool, and that maybe she should be the antagonist, drifting in the background, then in your subconscious, and so on. The ending wasn’t planned, it came up at the end of writing while I was figuring out how to end the game, which is why it might have been abrupt (as some mentioned in their reviews). The concept of mother (or just someone) being an omnipresent figure, however, was something that came from the original version of this idea. The twist seemed to work for some, and not for others. It’s something to keep in mind; however, this particular twist will not be present in the new version of the game. I will end this section by saying that I hope I depicted the subject matter of the twist in a respectful manner. It is a hard thing to process for many people – and thankfully not something I have personal experience with. However, it is a subject I am quite frankly horrified by, and one I have done a lot of reading about. What I do have personal experience with is the concept of scars/trauma from the past and how they continue to resonate in the present and future. I have this in the emotional and physical sense, similar to the protagonist of the story. It’s something I grapple with in my own life quite a bit – pain from experiences that were not my fault, but that I blamed on myself for a long time. So, again, I hope I was able to depict this in the story and its twist in a respectful manner.
From what I gathered, the main negatives people had with the game were:
- Its length
- The gauntlet structure (only win or die, nothing else – this felt a bit punishing to some, though others contemplated it in a positive light)
- The pacing
- The Youtuber excuse (a very last minute decision on my part and one I also didn’t love in the end, thinking back I would’ve changed the ending to mention this again, the intention was for it to be an excuse to visit the cemetery as you’ve been avoiding visiting your mother)
- Some had issues with connecting to the story on an emotional level and/or felt it didn’t do a great job at communicating the intended message or emotion through its narrative structure
- The engine (particularly the font scaling issue – I tried, I promise! Texture wraps text and uses dynamic scaling as opposed to letting the user scroll while keeping the same text size. There were some pages I really didn’t want to split up to avoid this, but I did try to do that with pages where I could fit breaks in naturally.)
But the positives were:
- The writing itself
- How it provoked thought – who deserves grief and how do we treat our memories of those we might not view in a favourable light (a complicated topic for me as Xenhortio’s beliefs were largely influenced by a person in my life and what I’ve tried to communicate to them)
- The variety of stories (even if people wanted more of them, I consider this to be a positive)
- Doggie! You can pet the dog in Graveyard Strolls.
The more negative points are the ones I am focusing on with the future iteration of this game, alongside implementing more developed principles of game design and narrative design when trying to build my core gameplay loop. I am very lucky to be part of a community that helps foster these thoughts, and to get feedback outside of that community from the people here and other places (such as the Work With Indies Discord) has also been extremely valuable. The full-length version of Graveyard Strolls won’t really be an interactive fiction game in the strict sense of the word – I won’t be using traditional IF engines and tools for anything more than planning how branching dialogue works. I’m developing it as more of a narrative walking sim/puzzle game, taking elements from other games like Disco Elysium, some of the social aspects of Persona, more strict “narrative” games like To The Moon, and combining these things with a branching dialogue structure I came up with for my thesis project (which I wanted to implement here but did not on the advice of one of the other workshop participants as it didn’t fit so well with the gauntlet structure). It will also include some more cute/fun mini games, and will have more of a “video game”-style presentation with pixel art and the like.
For those of you who got this far, thank you for reading! Here are the two MCR references:
- “I don’t believe in God because He believes we’re the enemy.” This is a line Xenhortio says fairly early on in his route. This is a reference to the song DESTROYA:
You don’t believe in God
I don’t believe in luck
They don’t believe in us
But I believe we’re the enemy
- “Haven’t you heard? You’re dead!” A line you say when you choose to berate Xenhortio. This is a reference to the song Dead!:
Have you heard the news that you’re dead?
No one ever had much nice to say
I think they never liked you anyway