Making a "Gone Home-esque" style Horror text game?

This is my very first attempt at trying to make an interactive fiction/text game. The idea for this game came about because I wanted to try out a few different stories using the same settings, characters, backgrounds, etc. But I was trying to do that with a few weird fiction ideas, in the form of a few short stories/novellas.

Unfortunately I had a hard time trying to make it work in a linear narrative form so I decided it would be better suited for a text game. But being that this is my first attempt, that might prove more difficult depending on how big or complicated I wish to make it.

So far I’m starting off with a game that would sort of be like “Gone Home” but in a text game format. Basically, you the player/character, would search through your friend’s/brother’s house to find clues regarding his disappearance. But you wouldn’t leave the house and the game would involve the player in more passive interactions with the objects inside. So in other words, no puzzles or enemies for the most part.

The clues would mostly be things like pictures, articles, diary entries, etc. From there the story would give you a hopefully a very bizarre impression of the town, the stories, the characters, and everything else around the home you’re searching through.

But my concern is, should I consider making a game that involves a little more interaction on the player’s part? Maybe change the setting to a mental hospital, add in enemies, puzzles, and stuff like that. I figured I’d do something like that anyway, but only after I got used to making text games.

What do you guys think?

Gone Home had puzzles, but easy ones. (Opening the locker, finding secret doors, getting into the attic.) The design of the house was intended to help you do some stuff before other stuff, to help the narrative unfold in roughly the right order.

If you know you want to work your way up to puzzles, put in some puzzles, but easy ones.

Text adventures can be a great way to simulate the same type of exploration as Gone Home. Don’t feel you need to include enemies if you don’t want them You can certainly do all kinds of things with opening drawers and containers and reading documents and hiding things under other things, locks, keys, player knowledge… Since you want the player to investigate thoroughly, you’d be committing to writing lots of text and implementing objects with high levels of detail.

Good point, I’ll probably try this out.

This was the original plan.

Tangential, but at the moment EctoComp is open, and it’s a very informal and easygoing competition for short horror games. A lot of people try to write a new game in three hours for it but that isn’t an official requirement this year, and it might be a nice place to get some feedback on your work. (A lot less pressure than the IF Comp, for example.)

Whatever you do, don’t cram in puzzles and enemies just because you feel compelled by genre convention. Many potentially good games have been ruined that way. Would Gone Home have been better if it had been a zombie shooter?

I agree with Juhana–if you’re not enthused by the idea of puzzles or you don’t have any puzzles in mind for your game, don’t put them in just because you feel like the player will expect them for interaction. It isn’t even a genre convention–there are lots of puzzleless text games, or text games where the puzzles are just “explore things under other things and maybe find some keys,” where the interest is in finding out the story, etc. The Blind House is one example of it that leaps to mind (especially because it’s specifically about a house). (EDIT: Looking at the reviews it may be more puzzly than I remember. But note that the reviews that mention the puzzles say “I wish there were fewer puzzles!”)

For quite a while now, puzzleless IF has been accepted and well-received (when it’s well done, of course). It depends on what you count as a puzzle, and it depends on what you want to do.

I would recommend Photopia, Rameses and Constraints for three good examples of how to do puzzleless. One scenario in Constraints does have puzzles, of a sort, and Photopia does have one single solitary thing you could call a puzzle. But these arise from the situation, rather than being tacked on for the sake of prolonging the player experience.

All Roads is not puzzleless, per se, but it’s also a nod towards it, focusing on atmosphere and a crazy patchwork quilt of a story.

Blue Lacuna has a few goals but is mostly puzzleless, with an exception or two can can be configured to make it more or less puzzly anyway.

Condemned, come to think of it, is also a puzzleless game, it’s pretty much on rails, but I’d hesitate to recommend it.

My Angel is not puzzleless, but one feels the puzzles are entirely secondary, and the game is happy to prompt you along so as to keep the story going.

My point is, there’s a lot more that you can do with interactivity besides tacking puzzles on. If you don’t think you game warrants puzzles, then don’t include them. Don’t feel pressured into adding them. Make the game you want to make. dfabulich brought up a good point, which is the easy puzzle (hardly a puzzle at all) that exists solely to ensure a certain flow to the game, making sure the player can only do some things after having prviously done others. It’s a good example.

Thank you, I’ll have to check these games out.

Now I’m trying to decide between a house or a mansion to set the game in. I started the project, took a break, and then came back to it. :stuck_out_tongue:

Make it a house that BECOMES a mansion when the player goes in, or vice versa! Spooooooooky!

On a more practical note, if you want a large geography maybe a mansion would be more appropriate. :wink: Unless your game is set in a suburban area, where there aren’t very many mansions. Then again, Stephe King’s Rose Red seemed to be in the middle of a town, so…

It all about what story you want to tell -

Manson: kitchy traditional horror motifs. Vampires, fog, dusty stairs with rats and spiderwebs, candles.
House or apartment: A realistic, believeable location.


…you could totally do a realistic mansion, and fill your house/apartment with those motifs, to make it jarring.

Basically, you do what you like, and you get away with it.

As far as the horror side of things go, the two canonical exploration-oriented (parser, relatively old) IF games are Anchorhead and Theatre. (Both of these, incidentally, get atmosphere mileage by being set in Not A House; they also rely on standard horror tropes like deep-sixing the car/pager/cell phone/means of contact with the outside world, so exploration is really the only logical thing one can do.)

If you are going to have puzzles (and I agree that they’re not necessary), I would make them based around understanding the dynamics of the house – the lives of the people who lived there. The core of gameplay in a game like this is piecing together a vision of the people who lived there from the things you find, so puzzles that depend on that are natural.

Another option is to have sort-of puzzles in the sense of having depths to the scenario, world, and backstory that takes work to uncover. This was core to Gone Home, say; you could rush through the game very quickly, but you’d miss a huge amount of the story. This avoids the unnaturalness of forcing the player to solve puzzles (which are very hard to fit in in a way that feels “natural” in a game like this), while ensuring that there’s a lot of depth for people who want to dig and explore. Even better, you can sometimes leave things ambiguous enough that there isn’t necessarily one “correct” explanation – players can dig up as much information as they can, then try to piece together backstory from that, and it’s up to them to decide if that’s right or not.

I vaguely recall a house-exploration game centered around time travel – you were a time-traveling historian sent back to a 20th-century house, exploring it to learn about the inhabitants. I forget the name, though. Chrono-something? There were puzzles and goals in the sense that you were trying to retrieve interesting information, but the core gameplay was about exploring the house and understanding the people who lived there.

If you want both exploration and a linear narrative, I suggest checking out A Mind Forever Voyaging and basing your game’s core gameplay loop on that. Give the player a set number of things they have to discover in the house (or wherever); then, when they do, they can move on to a later time-period and explore how things have changed. This lets you give the player Gone Home-style free exploration, while also advancing a narrative. (And possibly giving the player the ability to influence it in each time period.)

It could be a time-travel game, or based in a simulation like AMFV; or you could just have time actually be advancing, with each chapter set in the house in a different time period. Or maybe a ghost or someone in some odd mental world with the ability to shift between different eras or memories of the house, with new eras or memories uncovered as you sufficiently explore old ones. Unlocking new eras might help if you want it to feel a bit more “game-y” (it gives the player a clear goal) while still making the core focus on exploring and understanding the setting… so as the game progresses, they see the inhabitants of the house grow up and their lives change in various ways, if only through the objects in the house.

(I would suggest making the house empty at each point, for whatever reason – it’s only a memory, you’re a ghost and can’t see the living, it just happens to be empty at this point, etc. NPCs are harder to get right, and part of the idea here, I think, is to piece together their lives from their possessions and home.)

You’re probably thinking of either LASH or, most likely, Moments Out of Time 1.

Moments Out of Time was it! Although I also vaguely thought of LASH, too.

Here’s something from my massive next-to-read list. It is from the blog of Frictional Games. Since they’re solely focused on creating horror games, you might discover something useful:

Fun in Horror Games
Problem With Obstacles
Obstacles Continued
Puzzles in Horror Games #1
Puzzles in Horror Games #2
Puzzles in Horror Games #3
Puzzles in Horror Games #4
Puzzles in Horror Games #5
Puzzles in Horror Games #6
Puzzles in Horror Games #7
When Focusing on Fun Fails
How Gameplay and Narrative Kill Meaning
Exploring Deeper Meaning in Games
Future of Adventure Game Interaction
Storytelling Through Fragments and Situations
Where is your Self in Game
How Player Becomens Protagonist
Finding Videogames True Voice
Embracing Hardness
The Self, Presence and Storytelling
4 Layer Narrative Desing Approach
5 Core Elements of Interactive Storytelling
Unconventional Design Tips
10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games
Narrative Not a Game Mechanic?

I thought about trying this out actually. But originally I thought about it as a sequel to this game. Right now the house is focused on a person who was investigating the town, where the home is located. The storytelling is supposed to be very weird fiction-y.

Thanks, I’ll have to check those out.