Space Punk Moon Tour postmortem

ifcomp2018-game

#1

Space Punk Moon Tour is the first game I’ve made. This shows, in pacing, execution and in what seems to be a lot of errors players found (if peeps want to specify where those errors were, I’d love to be able to fix them).

I fell in love with the world and the characters, and just the process of trying to make a game. I ended up working a minimum of twenty hours a week on this game for a year. I only took one week off, and the last month I was working forty hours a week on it. I was so exhausted by the time I finished it that I never really had time to step back and fully look at the game. So, this will be spoilers and commentary look back on everything.

Idea
I wanted to make a parser game where players were rewarded for creatively interacting with the world, and where every game play was unique for each player. This involved things like descriptions being randomized, as well as having different secondary plots based on choices that the player made (particularly through the first three rooms). I also wanted the choices you made to impact the characters around you.

Some of these are small variations

If you choose to draw, and draw often, that grows memories through your artwork and grows Tina’s art skills in the game. If you fix things throughout the game this skill set grows. If you steal things you can have the option of stealing things later.

I also tried to put in surprises for people who just interacted with the world in fun ways. The more objects you read with your phone, the more memories you collect. You can ask the psychic seven ball about plot elements. You can give TJ Sam’s number and then steal it back. You can flirt with most people, terribly, through really shitty space puns. You can hook Sam and Nadir up as flirty text buddies. You can learn cool dance moves from TJ, or almost lose your cat in a bathroom fire. These are just a few examples of hundreds of small variations

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be executed as well as it could be. I also didn’t think about the fact that people are only going to play the game once, so all the time I spent in small variations of descriptions and interactions don’t matter. No one is going to know there there.

Some of these are big variations

The subway is where the secondary stories begin to branch out. I wanted the world to feel tight, and for the choices you made to ripple through the other characters and the plot.

The pregnant woman on the subway is an undercover cop. If you read your newsfeed you have the number for the police. You can call the police on the hacksters who sit across from you. The black- haired woman’s sister is Yebin the bartender on your space flight. So, if her sister is arrested, Yebin will quit her job to go bail out her sister and you will have a male bartender on your flight -Nadir. If you don’t call the police this is left up to chance.

Sam, your friend from the Frayed and Fried where you worked with Jantasha, used to date TJ – who you can take a delivery job from. Sam is on his way to an interview, he rented an expensive outfit, but his shoes were stolen, if you give him shoes you guarantee he gets the job at the Cobri archival library and you can text him on your flight to get more information about Cobri and the factory fire that happened nine years ago.

Han’k (the customer service representative) has a son who is on your space flight. The son, Theo, has done work for TJ (which is how he got enough money to take a flight). If you don’t take the job from TJ, Theo does - and he will be at the party making the delivery.

The posh woman from the underground is also on your flight. If you do the puzzle in which you give her the pads, she will be your friend at the party and give you a lot of information if you talk to her. She was also the editor on Anger and Other Ways of Grieving (the novel written by Lisa Morse’s family – one of the victims in the Cobri Factory Fire).

Depending on the choices you make in the first three rooms the secondary stories affect how you get to the party on your space flight.

If you are working for the police, you will have a timed puzzle to get to the party. If you are doing a delivery for TJ you will have a timed puzzle, also. If you were given a tattoo by the hacksters you will have to go see a doctor and the doctor will take you to the party (and he will introduce you to Om who gives you a bunch of information about the hacksters and the wire drives). If you got the recipe for soup from your grandma you will do a cooking puzzle for the party, and otherwise Theo will take you to the party.

At the party, the choices you’ve made change what puzzle you have to do for Bradley so that he fixes your photo album. These puzzles range from a dance puzzle to a story telling puzzle. There are about six variations of puzzles you can get depending on how you played the game.

None of this really matters. I didn’t think about how people don’t want to play a game more then once. If certain information is only available through certain choices – other players will just feel like they’re missing things. And all the fun surprises that each player finds will just seem like how the game always plays because there is nothing to compare it to. It also makes it really hard to have a straight forward hint system.

Plot
The main story follows Tina Tessler. Your mother is dead, and your father is missing. Each section is split by a dream sequence that gives you more information about what it is going on.

Red Dot Collection

In three locations there are leaking Red Dot air filters that were recalled. As the story progresses you read in your newsfeed about how they were recalled nine years ago due to the Cobri factory fire – with hints that leaking wasn’t the reason they were recalled. You can collect wires from the machines and these wires have Athrin written on them. You can discover that some of the Athri workers were hiding messages in with the wires on the production line.

Factory Fire

In your newsfeed, on the computer, on TV, in the red book, through conversation, from the photo in the bathroom – a bunch of sources give you information about the Cobri Factory Fire. You find out that Athrin workers were the primary victims in the fire. Lisa Morse, a wealthy on-planet victim becomes the face of the protests at the time in an attempt to implement safer regulation for workers.

Father Death and Cat Statue

As you piece together more about your father you realize that he isn’t missing he died, and he died on Athri. You have memories and dream sequences that indicate the cat statue was important. You remember your father working on a machine using glass like the cat statue while working with Athri families who had lost members in the factory fire.
If you collect the secret keeper, you can make a machine like your father did to channel memories from the cat statue. You can find out that your father was murdered on Athri.

Lost Pirates Series

There is an Athrin book series about pirates that talks about a grieving ceremony done on Athri channeling spirits using Lathe, a special kind of glass. You discover that your mother thought she could use the glass to bring back your dead father.

Ending
The game concludes with a final dream sequence. This was one of the things I was most proud of in the game, but I don’t think any players actually made it there.

Instead of a cut scene, this is a timed puzzle. It incorporates the style of puzzles you’ve been doing up to this point. You have three minutes to do this two-room mini game where you have to escape a sinking space camper. Each minute the animation changes as the camper becomes more and more filled with water. (if you just want to try this puzzle you can use: last dream cheat).

If you fail this puzzle all your mistakes compound for a bad ending. If you are successful you will always have a happy ending. The game then summarizes all the information you’ve found up to this point (and indicates where you missed information if you want to replay).

In the end you realize that your mother didn’t drown in a flood, but committed suicide and plunged the space camper into the Athri ocean, which you had to escape.

In summery. This game was a mess. I don’t think people were able to follow the plot – because it’s all over the place. The first two days of the game are really clear in what you have to do, but the last day gives you time to explore whatever you want to. Which makes the pacing weird, and everything drag. I also arranged the puzzles in a confusing way and should have had more beta testing. Some scenes of the game are first drafts because I was working up to the last minute to get it all done.

Conversation puzzles were confusing for players. There just maintaining a conversation, but because you have to guess what to ask about based on what you know about the people you’re talking to I think it was really obnoxious for players. It was also really complicated to design because if you say things that offend people (like trying to flirt with Han’k after he’s told you his wife is dead) you can lose rapport and then the puzzle gets harder. It was also difficult to make sure the character’s remembered conversation pieces to grow the conversations authentically.

Because there are different ways to play the game it was also frustrating to players because things would exist that weren’t for their storyline. The end result was that everything just seemed poorly implemented. Some things were poorly implemented, and some things had changing descriptions based on what storyline you were on – but for a player only playing once there is no distinction between these.

Things I personally liked about the game
I’m really proud of the last dream puzzle, and of a lot of the game design. I liked how inventory pictures work and how texting and your newsfeed function. I also put a lot of time and care into the artwork. Most rooms have a puzzle that will change the artwork (like giving Sam boots, or starting a fire in the bathroom). I also used the artwork to echo elements in the story dealing with Tina’s fear of water. As the story progresses Tina begins to have visions from her dreams during waking hours – things like a crashing space camper in the artwork at the party, or the skeleton artwork at the doctor’s officer and the vision of drowning in the flickering lights of the hallway.

In terms of world building I really loved the idea of a world where a black market exists for people who can’t afford health care, and how people end up joining hackster families to try and pay for medical work done illegally. I loved the silliness of people indicating class through ridiculous expensive hats. I really liked how I set up the money system so even if you own something like a stove you can’t use it unless you’ve bought credits. Then, internally, the game is set up to make it difficult financially. If you do poorly enough you can overdraft your bank account and you can’t buy anything anymore. I also loved all the weird advertisements I wrote for name brand products you can read with your phone. One of my favorites is the protein packs on your space flight. I also had a lot of fun writing in commercials on the TV when you change channels, and the first day of horror movie you can watch in the rec room about snake attacks is just purely for my own amusement. On that note – this game was probably too self-indulgent.

Thanks to everyone who slogged through this. I’m sorry it wasn’t more fun. I’m excited to take what I learned from this game into my next game. I don’t think I ever want to spend as much time on a game as I did on this one. It was too mentally and physically exhausting. But I am really looking forward to making a new game. Hopefully, it will suck less.


#2

Dude, no. Replayability is a thing. People LOVE to poke around at a game to see how the variations work if they do things differently … as long as they know that such variations exist. Choicescript games are really good for signalling that the story is going to do a whole lot of branching. Parser games, not so much, as they tend to be of the “puzzle hurdles on a single storyline” model; but there are ways of telling the player that variations can happen. Sometimes it’s just a matter of some later part of the story turning on an earlier bit.

Just don’t do timed puzzles. They are of the devil. Never put timers on anything ever. I hate timers so damn much.

The one thing that made me give up after one playthrough was the discovery that I had limited real time to make it to the party. I missed the party because I was, in real life, checking the scrollback to be sure of my options going forward.

SAY NO TO TIMERS.


#3

Space Punk Moon Tour is the one game I did play but did not rate, because I felt that there was a lot of cool stuff and I hadn’t done it justice by giving up as early as I did. I haven’t read your post above, because you say it is spoilery, and I want to keep myself unspoiled for the possibility of a post-comp release. Is that something you’re planning to do, or not? If not, I imagine I’ll want to play it with a walkthrough or something, just to get a taste of what I missed. It certainly seemed a labour of love!


#4

I haven’t read your entire post, as I still want to finish Space Punk Moon Tour for myself. But I wanted to say that there were a lot of things I really liked about the game, as well as maybe giving some suggestions if you make another one or do a post-competition release.

For instance, I did play enough to realize that early events affect plot branching. For instance, on my first play of the game I didn’t call TJ, which meant I missed him after getting off the subway. On my second play I did find him (which was really cool - whoa, there’s this whole scene and character I missed the first time!). Also, I could see how having found him affected at least two more events later in the game. In both cases the interaction with TJ helped me solve a later puzzle, so I’m guessing there are alternate solutions to those puzzles if you don’t find him. There were some other instances where I noticed the game’s branching, too. Sometimes it was fairly clear that I was facing a branch, and sometimes it was rather subtle. It all left me with a sense that there was a lot more to the game than I had managed to see so far.

Tina was an interesting character to play. The situations that she found herself in, as well as the other people she interacted with, all combined to create a different kind of setting than I normally see in IF. Which was fun.

I did almost give up on the game in the first room, though. (I talked about this in my review on the authors’ forum, so you can go check that out if you want.) As a general piece of IF authoring advice, you’ve got to make the player’s initial experience with the game completely smooth. There are so many free games out there to play these days (and especially when there are 76 other games in IFComp!) that you need to grab the player from the beginning and make it completely clear to them that your game is going to be worth their time. (You know it’s worth their time, since you’ve done all that work on it. The task is communicating that message from the get-go.)

My biggest suggestion with the game would be to have two or three more testers take a look at it before release. As authors who know our games so well it’s so easy not to realize places where players might get stuck or tripped up.

But, overall, I agree with Victor that Space Punk Moon Tour seemed like a labor of love. There’s just so much to the game!


#5

Thanks for the comments everyone, it’s really encouraging. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate people taking the time to play.

My hope is to fix any major mechanical issues and release one more version - but I’m also just accepting that I didn’t have the experience or skill to execute my vision the way I wanted to.

I’m really looking forward to starting a new game in a totally different style then this one. I’ve started outlining, and I’m hoping to take what I’ve learned from Space Punk to streamline my creative process and make a more coherent game. This time around I won’t be starting totally from scratch :laughing:

Question: What/where is the author’s forum?


#6

Under the “Competitions” heading on intfiction.org’s main page (index.php) you should see multiple subforums starting with “Competitions - General,” “IFComp 2018 General Discussion,” and then several more. As an IFComp 2018 author, the last forum you should see under “Competitions” is “IFComp 2018 Author’s Discussion,” with the explanation “In this forum, authors can discuss their entries in private.”

If you don’t see that, you probably need to contact a moderator about giving you access to the forum.