“Paintball Wizard” follows Romeo, a pledge in a fraternity of college-age wizards who live in a society which doesn’t respect wizards, but at least they have each other.
I am proud of having written this game, which placed 13th out of 74 games in the competition, but also had relatively fewer public reviews or total votes cast compared to other top games. I hope to remediate that by encouraging others to play the post competition version now available on-line at IFDB.
This post-mortem assumes you have played at least the opening scenes of the game, but if I write anything spoilery, I will blur it.
I got the idea for “Paintball Wizard” about eight years ago. I wrote much of the first half of the game during that development period. I started coding it in Inform, then in Quest, then briefly looked at Texture. I wanted it to look like a Robin Johnson game. If I’d known about gruescript, I would have tried that.
During the 2022 competition, I was inspired by the top two winning entries: “Grown Up Detective Agency” by Brendan Patrick Hennessy, and “The Absence of Miriam Lane” by Abigail Corfman, both written in Twine. I was also inspired by the work of Agnieszka Trzaska, most significantly “Chuk and the Arena” (2019) which I had beta tested. From these influences, I was motivated to gather my old writing samples for “Paintball Wizard” and in November 2022, began translating it to Twine.
The central mechanic of having a two syllable spell-casting system was something I invented when I began coding in Twine. The two syllable spell casting offered rich opportunities for puzzle design, but I couldn’t possibly have the reward for every solved puzzle be new magical powers; the game would become too complex too quickly. So I introduced the side quests for presidential icons; odd little collectables which provide some world-building but serve no other purpose.
Development went on from November 2022 until the end of August 2023, with an alpha testing period in January and beta testing in August. The last sections I coded were the end game, the phone booth, and Romeo’s backstory. Embarrassingly, Romeo had no backstory at all until a beta tester pointed out to me that he needed one. There was one little kernel of a memory I had written early, alluding to Romeo’s older sister who attended Princeton, and who was favored by their parents. The rest of the back story grew out of that. To the extent that Romeo’s confession feels about as authentic as the big reveal in a Scooby Doo episode, that’s probably why. “So that’s how I spoiled my sister’s Princeton interview, and I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
Next spoiler about late game spell mechanics:
From the time I started writing “Paintball Wizard”, it was my intent to add a third syllable to the spell casting system. I had coded the spell casting system in a way that would allow that to happen, but it was still an effort to finish the task.
I completed the in-game graphics while I was on holiday at the end of August, and didn’t make too many changes after that.
Going in I knew there would be limited Venn overlap between people who donate to the IF colossal fund, and people who donate to fraternity endowments. But I really had no idea that hashtag #fraternity would conjure such negative preconceptions from the blurb alone. Not just from one reviewer, but many, and people who wrote privately as well. One review begins “Cover art and blurbs caused me to not even try [it].” Then ends “So…yeah, it’s themed as frat-boy wizard paintball. But it’s not that objectionable,” Then in the body of this same review, this person compared the game’s magic system favorably to Suveh Nux; a complete subversion of the praise sandwich paradigm.
I’ve shared my own inspirations for the theme of fraternity in another essay (top of this thread)
The rest of this essay I’ll format as Q&A
“How much was the game influenced by Harry Potter?”
I loved those books, but this is not fan fiction. “Paintball Wizard” mentions none of the characters from the series, and is set in a world so distinctly different from JK Rowling’s books that I didn’t think anyone could find a resemblance.
“Muggle Quidditch” was the name of a real world college sport when I started writing this thing, rebranded as “Quadball” in 2022. The words were part of the common lexicon. But I think it was probably a mistake not to come up with my own word for muggles in PW.
“Why does the tone of the game shift so often, from frat-house comedy into these dark backstories?”
SPLACK (a spell) is a collaborative exploration of another character’s heroic journey. The spell is compared to hypnosis, a state of altered consciousness which cannot be forced on another person. I was saddened to learn that a player experienced this differently, and in response to their review, I improved the in-game content warnings when talking to the other characters before critical moments of transition.
The frat-house is their safe-space. The memories reflect the outside world. My beta testers helped me to keep the dark back-stories in check. My earliest drafts were even darker.
“What group do the wizards represent? Is being a wizard more like a racial identity, a religious identity, a gender identity, a vocational choice, or an affectional orientation?”
Being a wizard is being a wizard. Does it change your interpretation of the story if you substitute any of these other identity labels? If you reach the end game, Stirling asks this essential question: Is identity something we define for ourselves, or is it something which others project upon us?
I have a teen child who identifies as gender non-binary, so that was certainly on my mind as I was writing this, but lots of parts of the story don’t make any sense if you fixate on that interpretation. I had wanted my child to draw the art for this project, but by the time I was finishing it up, they were busy writing their own novel and no longer interested. They did take the time out of their busy schedule to teach me to use Procreate drawing software and help me render the graphics myself.