(Prototype, 100k words) Tunnel, "open-world" IF based on exploration

I’m new here, so let me know if this is the right place for this, but I’d like to use this topic to post regular updates (maybe once a week) on my project, Tunnel. It’s an exploration-focused “open-world” game. I’m always looking for testers, but I’m not looking to submit it anywhere or finish it anytime particularly soon (the goals of the project will require it to have somewhere in the millions of words anyways), which is why I opted not to post in the beta testing thread yet. If I get to a point where it’s at a certain releasable “version”, I may end up posting there, but right now there are too many loose ends. Still, testers are always welcome.

I’d like to use this first post to explain the what and why of the project. To start off, it’s not quite a story. There’s no main narrative thread, even if there are several side-threads that open up as you go along. The focus, rather, is on the exploration. I want something like “A Dark Room” or “CandyBox” where options open up almost exponentially, revealing a vast world around you. And I want something bigger than these two games as well. Something where a reader never has to worry about “finishing” the game, something that feels endless.

But why would I invest so much time and years of my life into that? The short answer is “discovery”. I’ve always loved exploration. When I was a teen, I would walk tens of thousands of steps a day just to see what the world around me looked like. Unfortunately, walking like this isn’t always super accessible due to weather or time constraints, and even worse it got “same”-y after a while. You eventually notice all the patterns in buildings and there’s no intrinsic reward to discovery. Just, hey, look, you found another panda express! But in a game, you can build that diversity and those rewards. You can stimulate the discovery process so that it continues to be rewarding.

I want to enable that discovery process for people and build a world for them. Something massive. Right now, though, the project is quite small - only 100k words. And there are problems. I’ve already been told that the world doesn’t appeal to the senses enough. It’s hard to imagine what things look, sound, and feel like, since it’s never said. It’s not nearly in a “releasable” state, but I still want to put it out here to catch problems like what I mentioned. I want to make sure I’m creating that experience of discovery for people.

If you want to help out with the project with feedback, leave messages here, on itch.io, or via a dm. Any feedback helps, but right now I’m rather limited in my technical abilities to improve the UI, and if you want more sensory details, knowing where to prioritize putting those would help. I also always love when people want to know more about a specific part of the world, because it means that if I write that part they will want to go out and discover it. I fear some parts of the world require reader actions that may never happen, so knowing where my efforts would be best spent to make it the most immersive for the most people is awesome.

That all being said, I don’t expect any sort of contributions even with this thread. I just want something out here, a sort of home base for the story. I know it’s in a rough state now, but I hope one day I will be truly justified in calling this project a world rather than a game.

Here’s the itch.io home page btw: https://exfret.itch.io/tunnel


I played for a short while and I think I’ll give some feedback, even if you didn’t expect it :wink:

I really like exploration games with worlds that open up as you progress, so this is right up my alley. Gatherings/exploring/selling to increase my stats was fun. I don’t think I’ve seen enough to make up my mind about the world. The concept of the Tunnel seems intriguing, but so far I’ve only seen layer 1. I admit sometimes I only skimmed the descriptions and focused on the choices. It’s partly a „me problem” and partly likely the result of how Choicescript shows the selectable options: they immediately drew my sight on each screen.

Speaking of Choicescript… oof, I felt like I was constantly FIGHTING the UI while playing. It seriously detracted from my experience. The „select then confirm” 2-click style of play may be good for stories with large-scope decisions („go to war or make peace!”), but in this game, which is very much about repeatable actions, everything felt really slow. Like going shopping, where I had to select Go to town → Go shopping → Go to general store (2 click for each option) every time, even though the General store is so far the only one unlocked. Going through the menus or exploring the options in the orphanage was a slog as well.

I also wish the basic stats were visible on the main screen, but I guess this may not be possible in Choicescript? (I had trouble finding some of the stats, and when I took the employment test which asked me how many lemens I had based on the inventory screen, I could not find the answer. I had to estimate the amount based on how much I gathered).

Speaking of stats… I’m not against having energy as a „currency”, since it’s part of the game loop, but unlocking it as your first „reward” for gaining experience did not feel good („Great, I levelled up and now there’s one more way the game restricts my actions!”). Maybe the energy could be unlocked right from the start?

So overall, I had fun exploring for a short while, but – to be completely honest – with the current UI, I’m not sure I would play Tunnel for a longer period of time. I wonder if Choicescript is the best tool for the game. I’ve played some games with game loop based around improving stats/repeating tasks made with Inform and with Twine, and the experience was smoother, in general (Skies Above comes to my mind for Inform, and Seedship for Twine). I may give it another shot, though, because I feel like I want to learn more about the world and explore it (I just stumbled upon a mention of the Squirrel Wars… what?).

Sadly, I ran into a bug where I get stuck on a screen with an error pop-up (see screenshot below), and I can’t even load the game (none of the buttons function). I’ll see later if I can load my save after re-loading the website.

error screen

Good luck with this ambitious project!


whoa! The “two clicks” per turn is exactly what i also wanted to say;

I think this is because the game has, what i call, a high cadence. ie short text per choice. That means two clicks per choice is annoying (as noted by @agat).

This might be a ChoiceScript thing, with which I’m not so familiar rather than something you can easily fix.

Regarding gameplay and open world, i think that exploration/discovery and odyssey are integral parts of entertainment. Odyssey being the visual side. So having a game without a central plot but lots of exploration can work. But at the same time, it will feel increasingly lacking in direction over time.

Good luck with the project.

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UI has been the biggest feedback by far. I’ve looked into Twine and Ink, but decided just to make my own engine (it will be a while before we get the nicer-looking shiny engine though haha). While I’ve been told that other engines have the logical/story-flow capabilities I’m interested in, I recall learning how to accomplish these flows being much harder than it “felt it should have been”, and more importantly for a project like this, just not fun. So while choicescript’s UI works against the project, the “backend” has actually been much better.

Still, the UI has been the worst part of the game for a while. I’ve slowly dissected choicescript enough to start adding some custom elements. I have a stats column just like you mentioned already in the works. But at the end of the day, the large changes will be slow (and this is part of why I don’t expect much interest). If there are small changes I could make that would improve the experience, let me know. Logical things, like being able to configure some set of actions or places for “quick travel” and adding these to the set of choices would be easier than even just a button elsewhere on the screen for movement.

If you have any ideas for very small UI changes, or even large “logic-based” changes that would improve the experience let me know. If it’s not in a workable state for you right now, I hope you can check back maybe in a few months to see if I’ve managed to figure that out since it is definitely something I’m looking to change!


Thanks as well for the reply! Since I already responded with respect to the two clicks per choice (if you have any suggestions that would ease the awfulness in the interim do let me know though), I’ll just mention that with regards to exploration I didn’t mean to imply that my work was unique in having exploration. But I’m hoping to justify the existence of this simply through its sheer scale, in addition to hopefully being a charming world to navigate.

As I said, I like the concept of the game, so I’ll probably check out an updated version. For now, I managed to reload my save, but I had a strange issue where going immediately to any stat screen right after loading made the game unplayable again, as clicking “return to the game” caused the error pop-up. Fortunately, moving to a different screen fixed this and the stats are working again.

As far as small things go, I think the concept of “higher energy = likely special encounters” could be explained earlier. It took me a long time to discover these encounters, which seem to be quite varied and powerful (like finding enough flowers to get the blue pass and have some left), because the first time I chose standard exploration I was low on energy and nothing interesting happened – so I decided to stick to lemen expeditions because I was strapped for cash.

I think you could get a lot of mileage, at least until you finish your new engine, by reorganizing the stats screen. Right now it’s full of sub-menus with sub-sub-menus that make it cumbersome to navigate. I’d prefer if all the information was on one screen, or maybe split across just two (“important things” with the option to proceed to “everything”).

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Sounds good. There turn into being a lot of things to put on the stats screen, but I suppose I could still put more things on the “main” stats screen. Like, lemens don’t stop being relevant for a while, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to put them there for now.

EDIT: Would some feature to pin certain stats to the top of the main stats screen help? Maybe you’re on the squirrel quest and want to know how many nuts you have at a quick glance so you pin that, but later are venturing into the second layer a lot and want to pin how many lemens you have since that’s required for going there.

Personally, I don’t think I would use the option to pin certain things (or I would use it once and then forget about it). I would prefer if the quest-realted stats were displayed automatically for active quests, but as you can be on multiple quests at the same time, I guess this could be difficult to do without flooding the screen with stats in some situations.

It would be great though if the “Objective” section of the stat screen showed the requirements for each quest if you already know them. For example, I am on the blue pass quest now and I’ve already talked to George, but the summary only reads

Blue Pass: Get a Blue Pass from George (go to “Visit someone else’s room” then talk to George).

and doesn’t mention the items and EXP required to actually complete the quest.

Side note: How time passes in the game is a little amusing. I’m 181 months in, haven’t even reached the second level of the Tunnel and I feel like I’m still in the introductory part. I wonder if my character can die of old age?

Awesome suggestion! I can definitely implement that! Also good input on the pinning, I’ll try to focus my efforts elsewhere then. Unfortunately, things really do “open up” as you go so I can’t just add each quest’s necessary items. In fact, quests are sort of persistent in this game - they are not just “fetch 4 acorns” and be done but rather their own mini-storylines, so it is almost certain actually that as a person goes along, this would end up putting all the quest-related items on the main screen and cluttering it.

As with regards to time… no the character can’t die. I used to have a timer system, but it made the game way more stressful than it needed to be and more objective-based than exploratory. The way I have it now, you can spend 1000 months working as a basic farm hand if you wanted… which is maybe counterintuitive or immersion breaking to some extent, but again the primary focus is just to make this a zone for players to discover and if that means to someone that they want to see what happens when they get that much farm hand experience or such, then so be it. Not dying is also little hard to justify plot-wise but I’m trying to just brush it under the rug for now… Also, 181 months is less than 14 years old in the game system because there’s an extra month (Octember), so even if there was a death state you wouldn’t be close to one.

I’d also say layer 2 can take up to 190 months, maybe 200+ if it’s your first time or you’re just doing other things, so that’s pretty normal. I can probably do it by like 180/185 or something if I tried speedrunning it? But pre-layer 2 is definitely still very early on. Though layer 3 is way later on, not even implemented yet, so definitely some weird pacing there perhaps?

Oh, I did want to ask if the way time passed was a negative experience. It’s such a core mechanic that I don’t know how I’d change it even if it was, but it’s good to know everyone’s feedback. If enough people say so I’ll definitely at least try to think of an alternative system!

P.S.- Maybe you’re confused since “months passed” means since your characters birth, not since you started the game. I might need to change that. You start at 156 iirc, so you’re actually only 25 months in!

You’re right, I didn’t notice that!

About the time passing in general – having a months/years counter in games without a time limit makes me feel a bit pressured (in games with time limit as well, but that’s obviously the point), or makes me think I’m wasting my time/playing poorly – at first. Then, if I realise there are no time limits, I tend to forget about the counter. I did not mind it in Tunnel. I’ve already seen mentions of the current month influencing prices of goods, so it seems like it’s an integral part of the game loop. I agree it may be slightly immersion-breaking if you hit super high numbers. Personally, I don’t think this would really take me out of the game.

As for my spending a lot (unless 25 months is not much?) of time in layer 1 - as I mentioned, my guess is it was partially due to me skipping the “normal” exploration (with its potential cool rewards) completely for a long time, because I figured out the extra experience was not worth missing out on the cash early on. I think it was only once I got the first special encounter (because I felt like I’m not progressing and finally tried that option) that the game told me keeping my energy high can result in more similar encounters. I may be misremembering that, though.

I have a new version up on Tunnel by exfret with some basic UI functionality demonstrated. The engine is not built yet, this is just a facade to show you what the UI could look like. I explain some of the new features here: The New UI - Tunnel by exfret

If anyone is interested in checking it out to make sure it’s headed in the right direction, let me know! I’m also planning to add a quick look panel for commonly used “things” but I don’t know what exactly “things” should mean here. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Note: The prototype uploaded is not 100k words. More like a few hundred haha. It’s a very basic demonstration to show what it could look like.

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I checked it out and the one-click choices are a clear improvement for me. I can see especially repeated activities like buying and selling being much faster later in the game.

I expect the Stats menu to be much more convenient with this interface, although it doesn’t seem to be working at all in this test version.

I wish the side margins were bigger and the main text remained in the centre of the screen. Right now, sometimes its entirely on the left with short line breaks, and sometimes it stretches all the way across the screen. In both cases, it’s harder to read than it has to be.

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Thanks for the feedback!

The stats button wasn’t supposed to work yet. I should have just removed it for now to prevent confusion. I’m not sure how to implement it best, tbh.

I didn’t realize the margins were so small, but now that you mention it that’s easy to fix.

Is this sort of thing in a playable state? Other than fixing the stats what would you think needs to be done to bring it to such a state if not?

It’s looking good to me so far, it plays similar to a Twine game, which is what I’m used to. With this particular gameplay loop, I definitely prefer it vs Choicescript.

My only issues with the demo so far are related to implementation, not engine. I’d like to see how much money I have when visiting a shop, without going into a separate screen (if I remember correctly it was not shown in the Choicescript version either), and what the prices are (I think they were displayed in the old version, now they’re not). But those are likely issues you’re already planning to resolve in a more complete version :slight_smile:

Some more feedback, because I decided to test it on my phone - it’s a type of game I’d actually prefer to have on a mobile device, so that I can play for a while whenever I feel like it. The current UI layout sadly doesn’t work at all in vertical mode (which is better for reading on mobile) and is not great in horizontal mode.


I think the ideal way would be to have a separate UI layout for vertical mobile screens, where the image area and the stat button are in a sidebar that is stowed by default (like Twine’s Sugarcube’s sidebar, which starts visible in higher resolutions and stowed in lower resolutions), or on top/at the bottom of the screen.