Help me pick a project

Okay, so now that I anticipate having time to work on a game, and I have three different concepts at different stages in planning/maturation, I wanted to pitch them to some people and gauge reaction before I move on. I just want some feedback on what looks interesting, what looks like it might contain some new ground, what you’d personally most like to play, and what looks more like a “first project” kind of thing. As a note, I’m using Inform 7.

  • Unnamed fantasy game: The player character is a journalist in an urban original fantasy setting, investigating a story of government corruption and magical mishandling. It would mostly be a game about asking questions of NPCs, and potentially telling them things; NPCs would have their own agendas, and act on information they’re given. There would be a handful of totally self-contained exploration/puzzle sections.
  • The Party: We open on the player character murdering the host of a dinner party that’s soon to begin. Now he must host the party himself, maintain the ruse that the host is merely ill, and keep everyone from going down into the wine cellar and finding the body. This would have multiple endings, and would be scored on the player not only keeping himself from being found out, but also protecting the Terrible Secret that prompted the murder, and making sure everyone has a good time at the party.
  • The Revolution: The player is a black-market operation in a city-state that has left a war only to enter anarchy. One of the sides in this revolution will win - the goal is to make yourself indispensable when they do. The player would at the same time have great control over the personal story of his character, and very little control over the sweeping events.

Any thoughts?

I think the Party has the best hook, but would also require the best implementation, and that the Revolution is the most likely to get big fast (though you could perhaps make the smallest story of the three ideas from this, by focusing on the personal story of the protagonist above all). Compared to those, the quality of the game made from the first idea would be most influenced by how much work you put into it.

So for a first game, I’d go with the Party, as IMO it’s the clearest concept and would be interesting from the start.

All of them look worthwhile. Best wishes on the project.

The first one is the only one that doesn’t sound astoundingly complicated, although the second one could be manageable as long as it was broken into relatively self-contained scenes.

I too like the hook of “The Party”, though it sounds like a challenge to pull off unless you break it up into distinct and well-specified threats: here’s a scene where the wine-loving guest really wants to go to the basement to check out the vintages down there, here’s one where the doctor notices what looks like a blood stain and you have to convince him it’s something else… etc. (If you do go that route, I recommend trying out Aaron Reed’s game Gourmet from a few years back. The protagonist’s motives are a bit purer, but the concept of meeting NPC needs while keeping secrets under wraps is well explored.)

Setting it up with distinct scenes was pretty much the plan from the start, although I see it as somewhat more organic - the Party would be split into large meta-scenes broadly corresponding to the parts of a dinner party (Introductions, Cocktails, Dinner, Dessert, Brandy and Farewells, for example) and within those meta-scenes, smaller individual scenes would open one at a time although not necessarily in a specific order. Most of the game’s puzzles would centre around dealing with social convention, i.e., the player has to extricate himself from conversations, or find excuses to stand up and leave during dinner, in order to put out some fire. There would be a fair bit of leeway in that the game would be winnable without attending to everything, but there would be some extra challenge in trying to make it a successful party in spite of the corpse.

Two features it would need are a system that lets the player type >GOALS in order to view the player character’s immediate necessities, and an inner monologue where thoughts that serve as clues-slash-humorous-commentary would pop up at apropos moments.

I like the party idea a lot; it seems very fresh, and there’s a lot of places it could go. (One of those places: a IF version of the movie Clue, with the protagonist as Tim Curry. Now that’s a game I would play in a heartbeat.) On the other hand, it seems extraordinarily ambitious for a first game. NPCs are challenging to do even in a casual kind of way. I’d also be concerned about making the boundaries very clear to the player: what is socially acceptable under these circumstances? I mean, when I need to get away to the kitchen, I just gesture vaguely with my wine glass and wander blithely off, or mumble something about the canapes. If there are going to be puzzles - worse, timed puzzles - everything needs to be very clear and tight, especially with so much revolving around conversation, which is not exactly what IF is known for handling well.

The urban fantasy one . . . well, honestly, I think the genre’s a bit stale right now, and that’s going to hurt. On the other hand, it’s not stale in IF - there’s fantasy, and even fantasy in cities, but not usually with the sort of trappings UF usually implies to me. Quite honestly, conversation isn’t quite how I expect urban fantasy to go; the genre implies some sort of adventure-having and werewolf-slaying (or saving) somewhere in there, but it could be that my idea of the genre is outdated.

The last idea seems like it could go either way, depending greatly on the story and how well it’s conveyed. One problem I can see is that a smart black market op would be as far away as possible from where the fight is actually going down, so delivering news of what’s happening, and making that compelling, could be a challenge. (Or you could find ways to insert the main character into major events, but unlike the other two scenarios, it doesn’t seem like the character actually belongs there.)

The Party also gets my vote. I’m a big fan of murder mystery IF. Also, I think you can keep the scope narrow enough to make it manageable as a first game. I strongly recommend you try out Infocom’s The Witness (from 1983) and An Act of Murder by Chris Huang (2007). There are some conventions in this genre that are worth following (e.g. Ask / Tell, Analyze, Accuse, Arrest…) and as such you can actually get away without too much NPC complexity. Or at least, that’s my hope since I’m also working on my first game, which is a murder mystery set in 1950, southern California.

Happy to compare notes or share code if you decide to go this route.

Well, the Party game wouldn’t be structured as a mystery - After all, you play as the killer! - and would be somewhat similar in tone to the film American Psycho - maybe I should read the book. Although it would also resemble a Clue-like farce. The plot, of course, is very similar to Hitchcock’s Rope, although I only realised this after I had the idea.

Ok, somehow I missed the part that the protagonist kills someone. Might be tricky to make this into a character that the player relates to. The reason it works in the film Rope is because the viewer empathizes with the Jimmy Stewart character, who is the protagonist.

Personally, I think it might work better if you put some mystery around who has been killed or who has done the killing and leave it to the player to be more of the good guy trying to figure it out.

Oh, I don’t know; the Tom Ripley novels do a pretty good job of this. I think Ripley Under Ground even has a sequence that involves the murderer trying to keep a guest out of the wine cellar to avoid discovery. I could be misremembering that detail–it’s been a while–but I’d highly recommend having a look at these books (by Patricia Highsmith) if you feel that your amoral/immoral protagonist isn’t relatable. There are probably some ideas there for you.


Not to mention, say, Dexter which is about an actual sociopath. Or about half of all the videogames…