Hunger Daemon postmortem

Wow. I’m pretty stunned here. Thanks to everyone who played and voted, and for all the kind and insightful words over the past six weeks. And again, a thousand thank yous to my testers: Sam Kabo Ashwell, Bob Reeves, Grainne Ryan, Steve Westwood, and especially Neil Butters, and especially especially Andrew Schultz. The reviewers praised the implementation, and that is on you guys. Also many thanks to my fellow entrants for making such great games, most of which had far more interesting things to say than Hunger Daemon did. I gave Creatures the win on my Miss Congeniality ballot, for what it’s worth. And many thanks to jmac for organizing the comp.

So yeah, I live in St. Paul, about a mile from the bistro, which has been closed for years, but is not a cult headquarters as far as I am aware. My daughter Greta had her bat mitzvah at Mt. Zion on Saturday (it was a big weekend!), officiated by the rabbi who appears in the game. I have not mentioned Hunger Daemon to him, but he’s an exceedingly mellow, sweet guy, so maybe I’ll bring it up next time I see him. I think he comes off OK. In attendance at the bat mitzvah was my Uncle Stu, who has never been a cultist. He brokers commercial real estate on Long Island.

Those who tried CONSULT TOMES ABOUT LOVECRAFT know that I’m not the biggest fan of his writing, but I do love a lot of the stuff he’s inspired: the Call of Cthulhu RPG, the Erol Otus art in the old Deities & Demigods, Anchorhead, The Lurking Horror, The King of Shreds and Patches, Slouching Toward Bedlam – all great. Still, the genre seemed ripe for some affectionate mockery, and the easiest way to do that was to filter it through my own religious experiences, such as they are. I’m basically an atheist, but I go to synagogue and try to fast on Yom Kippur anyway. Guilt runs deep. Thing is, I have the metabolism of a squirrel, and by 11 AM I am starving and silently pleading with the rabbi to get it over with. I’ve never actually lasted all the way to the tekiah gedolah, the sustained blast from the shofar that signals the end of the holiday. This year at the service (a few days into the comp), the rabbi announced a seminar entitled “Torah: Why Bother?”, which so perfectly captured Barry and Leah’s religious ennui that I added it as a mid-comp update.

I’m really gratified that reviewers responded positively to Sam. I had tremendous fun writing her. If you live in the US or Canada, there is probably some flat-track roller derby near you. You should go, if only to see the brilliant names the skaters have come up with.

A bunch of reviewers described HD as “standard IF fare,” which is of course completely correct and I knew going in that I was doing nothing that was even remotely innovative. I just hoped that enough unexpected parser responses would help make up for it. My goal was “pretty good,” or “better-reviewed than Bonehead,” my previous almost-comp-length game, which was definitely riskier, and had somewhat selective appeal, shall we say. (Note to anyone who might look at that game for the first time: disregard anything I say in the ABOUT text about how you don’t need to be familiar with baseball, and that the game will teach you the rules. This is a lie.)

The cover “art”: yes, it is truly terrible. So bad that jmac has apparently deleted it from IFDB, for which I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude. This bit from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood comes to mind:

ED (on phone) Mr. Feldman! I haven't been able to get through, so I just showed up. (beat) Yeah, out front! So, are we gonna be working together? (his face slowly falls) Really? Worst film you ever saw...? (beat) Well, my next one will be better!

Also the UK, these days. My partner is Bruise Leigh in ARRG [emote]:-D[/emote]

Very well done, Sean.

That is AWESOME.

Oops! I didn’t stop by to say congratulations (to you and your daughter–yeah, big weekend) and thanks, and it was fun testing your game. Your sending testers the update log helped us a ton. Also, having such a strong first build and taking care of so much in advance was a big help. I’m not a big lovecraft fan either, but this game won me over pretty quickly.

Also, I miss roller derby on public access. I preferred it to pro wrestling.

Thanks for the kind words. Hers was definitely the bigger and better job.

As for having a lot done in advance, I got started shortly after last year’s Ectocomp, and worked in fits and starts until about March, when I really started to develop the game in earnest. I always marvel at people who can come up with ideas in August and produce a game by Oct 1. Even if I had the free time within those two months, I just wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything under that kind of time crunch.

The original idea was that you were Leah, and the cultists had somehow taken over Mt. Zion. You had to defeat them, Die Hard-style. This approach was sort of genre-inappropriate, and also posed the question of why Leah didn’t just get the St. Paul Police Department to come and tase them. (They are very good at tasing people, as it turns out.) One possible solution was having Leah and the cultists somehow be out of phase with the rest of the world, like in a couple of Star Trek episodes. This might’ve been pretty neat, but also a pain in the ass. Another element was that Leah was going to break every one of the strictures for Yom Kippur except the fast. These include wearing leather footwear (!), having sex, washing, driving and anointing oneself with oil (the last two of which survived in the final game; you can also wash, if you like). In a nod to Sandy Koufax’s refusal to take the mound in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series against my Twins, I also planned to have Leah need to throw a baseball for some reason.

The next idea was to have the player be both Leah and Barry, one discovering the cult and screwing up its plans, the other on her trail and fixing the mess or trying to get a step ahead of her. I think if this worked out, it might’ve been better than what I actually did, but it lent itself to a more episodic structure than I wanted, and posed some thorny epistemological problems. I’d have to come up with several compelling scenes and/or puzzles that could be approached from two angles, where one PC encounters a scenario created or affected by the other, and have the player not know immediately how to resolve it. Now that I’m saying this, I really wish I had done it, but man, it would’ve been hard to do well.

So as usual, I just went with the path of least resistance. None of the puzzles changed much from when I decided on a design to the release itself. The main things that got overhauled were the driving (which is still a little problematic), and the bit with the security monitor. I added that fairly late, and tried a few different approaches before settling on putting the monitor in the stasis field. It’s a really dumb roadblock, but I had to have something in there to keep the player from solving the cave puzzles, seeing the footage of Leah, and talking to Sam before having freed Jeff. There were probably more elegant ways to handle it, but with a month left, I didn’t want to start unraveling what I had already done. The monitor slotted in easiest.

Learning the brilliantly unlikely origin of the “anointing yourself with oil” puzzle has made my day.