So, first off, thanks to everyone who played my game this year in the IFCOMP 2020. I learned as much from the beta testing and informal discussions and player reviews as I did from finally buckling down and creating my first IFCOMP entry. It is the players and reviewers, sharing their personal experiences, that keep the story alive.
There are spoilers in this post. You know the drill.
Stuff of Legend came from an idea I had a while ago of a legendary hero who earned his larger than life reputation by completing extremely mundane quests. His most challenging “Holy Grail” moment was rescuing a kitty cat from a tree. The theme at that time was the disconnect between public facades, and the real people and facts behind those facades.
This idea then snowballed into a huge design monstrosity that, fortunately, none of you had to experience: three main quests, a dozen NPCs symbolizing everything from social media to public health to religious intolerance to prejudice and racial inequities, a final violent uprising that ends up burning the entire village to the ground, blah, blah, blah. It was huge and, eventually, very grim. If you look at the details of the village of Swineford at the very beginning of the game, every one of those locations was in the original story and every one represents some fear I harbored throughout early 2020.
Eventually, I got smart and scoped back down to just the kitty cat quest, and that’s what became the core of the final game.
Game Design Goals:
Small but deeply implemented. Funny and family-friendly. Story first, puzzles second. Three act story arc. Full protagonist character arc with player option to change just before Act 3. One unusual, reusable puzzle mechanism that ties together the story arc and the character arc. At least one action scene. At least one disturbing or scary scene.
Okay, maybe the mutant squirrels devouring coconut meat didn’t come out quite as scary as I wanted it to, but I feel like I mostly hit my goals. Also, I ended up pulling out quite a few of the more difficult animal communication puzzles as well just to keep the game focused on the story first. It’s difficult to judge the correct balance between story and puzzle, but the good news is that I now have plenty of puzzle ideas in my archive for future projects.
The Idiot Hero:
Is Ichabod Stuff an idiot? Without getting into a lengthy discourse on the trinity of the player, the parser and the PC, I think it is safe to say that as long as there is an IF player controlling his moves – which I hope and pray will be all of the time – he is clearly not an idiot.
My original intention was to give him a job, a place in the social caste, that was as far away from a knight as possible. I did this to maximize the character arc and to emphasize his impulsive nature, essentially a young Don Quixote character. In fact, his original job title was “Assistant to the Assistant to the Stable Boy”, but that didn’t exactly trip the light fantastic off the tongue, so I made him a village idiot.
I see Ichabod as more of a fool than an idiot. Like, if a court jester didn’t have any royal connections, this is where he would end up. He took the job as a village idiot because it was the only career that appealed to him.
I did intentionally make the non-animal communication puzzles primarily him following specific, simple steps that the other NPCs outline for him, in an “idiot”-like fashion, while the animal communication puzzles are more solutions that Ichabod needs to figure out on his own. I wanted to show him growing in his ability to listen closely and become more empathetic, fixing his “blind spot” problem of not sensing or understanding the negative impact he has on others. That’s actually where the “communication with animal sounds that the PC/player doesn’t understand” puzzle idea originated. I had to figure out a way to get Ichabod to really listen and communicate with others even if he didn’t fully understand what it was to be them.
I don’t know. I think it was clear in my head at some point but I probably ended up doing a lot of it by feel. Now that I write it all out it looks a bit mushy. Maybe I’m the idiot :).
I think those are the main points I wanted to make. Again, thanks to everyone who played my game and the fantastic feedback you all provided.