If you like lengthy rambling about process by an author… I got you.
Here’s my thread about the writing process. As usual, my penchant for crisis and general incompetence added drama.
Here’s a chunk of my dev diary (written during the IF Comp and included with the game):
My plan has always been to repeat my “Scarlet Sails” IF Comp success—that is, to place in the top ten and then expand the game and sell it as a Hosted Game via ChoiceOfGames.com (I’m not associated or affiliated with Choice of Games in any way; I just like ChoiceScript, and I like the ability to sell Hosted Games through their system). To this day, it’s my best-selling Hosted Game.
“Scarlet Sails” was entered in 2015 and I haven’t cracked the top ten since then OR released an expanded post-comp tale as a Hosted Game! Although “Fine Felines” placed fairly well in 2021 and I am working on a (massive) expansion, adding two more cat breeds (and two more romantic interests/friends) to the existing three breeds. Which means there are sometimes more than a hundred versions of a scene. But I’ll get there eventually! It was my first attempt at a ‘cozy’ game and I really enjoyed the experience, and so did players. It also has no magic, which is very rare for me.
“Flight” is a really good game, and chronologically first out of all my magical steampunk universe tales. But I disqualified myself from the IF Comp (twice, which is seriously impressive) and then also disqualified it from being a Hosted Game. So… that arguably ended badly. But I still think the game is really good. Possibly my best game ever, even. It’s on itch.io under “Felicity Banks”.
As far as I know, the only big problem with “Bali B&B” is that I don’t have particular ideas for how to expand it. However, that’s not actually a big problem as there’s plenty of small ways to expand it. Cooking lessons with Putu? Meeting Komma’s family? Choosing to rebel against Granny more fully, eg refusing to meet her at the airport when she returns to Indonesia and/or going and staying elsewhere so she doesn’t have a key to the player character’s room? It won’t be difficult to expand it.
But first I need to finish expanding “Fine Felines”.
“Bali B & B” echoes “Fine Felines” in that it features adorable cats (although the BBB ones are skippable and a minor plotline only) and no magic, and is cozy. I made it slightly more populist by using US English and by leaving out the entire ‘disability’ plotline (or anything similar) which a lot of people found jarring. I also didn’t spend hours and hours sourcing and sorting cat photos. So I THINK “Bali B & B” will do better than “Fine Felines”… but I also feel like there was more buzz for “Fine Felines”. But maybe it’s just that I’d missed several years of IF Comp so the experience in 2021 was more intense for me. Or that people aren’t overtly ranking games this year (at least in the author forum; a few reviewers have given scores but not many). Also, I know there are loads of great games this year. As long as I’m in the top twenty, I’ll be happy. Maybe just a wee bit closer to the top ten than last year?
I already have an idea for IF Comp 2024. . .
So! Actual post-mortem…
I am shook in the most delightful way.
“Bali B&B” placed SIXTH. That is INCREDIBLE!! I’ve been writing a lot of years and I know I’m pretty good, but I’m still wrapping my head around this level of success. While also feeling my estimation of my own abilities rise considerably.
One of the reasons this was a good idea is that I’ve visited Indonesia seven times altogether, always spending at least a little bit of time in Bali. So I had lots of pre-loaded research in my brain! Theoretically! The longest time I spent in Indonesia was six months in the year 2000, when I was eighteen years old. I lived with Indonesians in Singaraja (all from elsewhere in Indonesia rather than Bali, oddly enough), and was the only English speaker. By the end of that six months, I was functionally fluent in Bahasa. However, I very rarely left the place where I lived so I actually didn’t see much of Bali, lol. Also, the year 2000 was a LONG time ago.
I love reviews (partly, if I’m honest, because they tend to be mostly positive for my work) and fifteen reviews in 2023 was a mighty crop. I have saved them all into a word file and I think I’ve managed to thank everyone properly.
I call this review by JJMcC the ‘Why didn’t I like this?’ review because it opens like this:
How can you be mad at a game that checks all these boxes?
Amiable, inoffensive protagonist
Light, character-based humor
Solid but non-urgent plot
Lovingly rendered from a place of knowledge and affection
It hurts my heart when despite all that goodwill, I cannot connect with the material in the way the author does. I am a cold, emotionless husk it seems.
The reviewer continues to talk about how great my game is and how they’re a terrible person for not liking it. While also being incredibly specific about (a) why it’s great and (b) why they didn’t like it (which is NOT because they’re a terrible person). Possibly my favourite review because it’s simultaneously flattering and also (subtly) pointing out three important flaws: lack of actual choice, lack of actual consequences, and lack of information needed for choices.
And I adored hearing that the game was, indeed, cozy, eg in Kaemi’s review they said: “I was attracted to this game’s “cosy” tag. The vibes were, as advertised, lovely.” (Thanks also to Kaemi pointing out that I’m being patronising/unfair to the teenage characters… definitely true and needs to change.) I enjoyed the idea of Rovarsson and son scatting to the title (and then saying the incredibly lovely, " Bali B&B felt like a combination of a soft hug, a warm shower, a sparkling conversation, a dip in the pool.")
The review by Kastel was the most likely to keep me up at night: “I have mixed feelings about this game because I’m Chinese Indonesian and I know Bali quite well. It’s quite strange and alienating to see the city in this foreign tourist light. I think it succeeds as a story that fantasizes what it’s like to run a B&B in this country, but it’s at odds with the Indonesia I know.”
Ouch! The last thing I want to do is write something inauthentic… let alone alienating! Especially to someone who knows Bali well! I hoped, as I was writing, to make Indonesian readers smile in recognition. So Kastel’s review will continue to lurk in the back of my mind as I look at the story post-comp. My only consolation is that my player character only spends a couple of weeks in Bali each year, so they would indeed have a somewhat tourist-ish perspective (…like me).
I also read some other reviews by Kastel and they’re the brave flavour of reviewer who will criticize games quite harshly… which hurts to read, but is extremely useful for improvement. There used to be way more “harsh” reviewers around, and the world needs them.
A lot of people (who have never been to Indonesia and aren’t Asian) said wonderful things about how authentic it felt, which was extremely flattering. That is of course what I was aiming for, even though most of my Bali experience is very out of date (my most recent trip to Indonesia was about twelve years ago, and quite short). I do plan to get an Asian American to do a sensitivity read on the final version. Ideally an Indonesian American but I’ll need to find an Indonesian Australian separately. I do know a few here in Australia, which is more relevant to the character (but less relevant to the bulk of the audience, which is in the US and is often offended/hurt/damaged by different things to Australian Asians).
It is also abundantly clear that the 2-hour time limit on playing IF Comp games for judging served me extremely well as this game is actually somewhat linear and some of the stats really don’t pay off as fully as they should… but judges couldn’t do a replay and find out. Yay? I’ll aim to be as good as people assumed I was (lol) for the post-comp version.
I’ve saved ALL the reviews in a word file and highlighted the ‘bits to keep in mind while editing’ in red.
There is a small chance I will actually visit Bali again this year, so I shall continue working on the “Fine Felines” expansion (and next year’s story, which I’ve already started writing) until I decide if I’m really going to Indonesia or not. Because obviously being there would give me loads of new plot beat ideas to play with! Maybe Putu tells you to take a day off and get out of her hair? Maybe you really do try to burn down the B&B, either metaphorically or literally? There’s a whole island to play with.
But for now, this post is long enough! See you in 2024 (and yes, I have noted that the due date is a month earlier from now on!)