The Bones of Rosalinda Post-Mortem

(Side-note: I usually don’t like the word “post-mortem” applied to post-release discussions of games, but this time my game’s protagonist is dead, so it’s weirdly fitting and I’m going to use it.)

First of all: thank you to everyone who played and reviewed my game, and nominated it for Audience Awards (I wish I could pick more than three to display, as they were all very nice – sometimes nice and surprising, and sometimes nice in a “I really hoped someone would nominate my game for that!” way). Spring Thing 2022 was a great experience and I already can’t wait for the next year’s festival.

Very special thanks go to my beta-testers who helped me polish the game, eliminate many bugs and modify some of the puzzles so that they make more sense.

Here’s some thoughts/design notes for my game I wanted to share.

I’ve wanted to make this game for years – that is, a game titled The Bones of Rosalinda and featuring a skeleton in parts that can move independently. I would toy with this idea, abandon it, return to it later in various forms, but I never got any farther than taking a page or two of notes, until last November. Then, after finishing (for the time being) working on and updating my IfComp game, I decided to write something smaller and quicker. I was inspired by Beneath Fenwick from the 2021 IfComp (which I beta-tested) as well – it was the game which showed me things like persistent room inventories were possible in Twine. So, I looked through my Rosalinda notes, decided I didn’t like most of them, and started working on a brand new puzzle game, keeping only the title and the protagonist.

Gameplay

The underlying mechanics – inventory management, movement and switching between the characters – were the first aspect of the game I started working on. As a person with no background in coding, I have a tendency to write my code in “the simplest possible way that works” (especially when I’m in a hurry to start implementing that awesome scene or puzzle), and when I later build upon that, it leads to a lot of repetition and sub-optimal solutions, so this time I decided to actually take my time and do it right. It wasn’t always easy – I had to scrap the entire movement system once when I realised I could write it in a much cleaner and more flexible way – and I’m sure there are still things to improve, but compared to my earlier Twine games, the coding here is quite solid. From the very beginning, I wanted to make more than one game about Rosalinda, so I’m happy I have the code foundation for the sequel in place. Starting with that aspect also meant adding new items, rooms and interactions to the game was really simple, as I had templates for everything. I think I’d spent more than month on this project before I started implementing any of the story and puzzles, but that helped a lot later on.

Puzzles

I’m a fan of classic, point-and-click style inventory puzzles, so I designed some of those. But I also wanted the puzzles to heavily feature my multiple protagonists setup, and require switching between the playable characters. Rosalinda’s independent body parts, Piecrust’s small size and love for food – those were nice starting points. With the basic story and setting ideas in place, it was actually quite easy to come up with most of the puzzles – they came to me naturally, as things that would make sense in the context (I really like puzzles grounded in the game’s world – I scrapped several puzzle ideas where you had to use object A on object B, but I couldn’t answer the question of “How did these objects end up in the catacombs?” in a satisfactory way).

One type of puzzle I wrote the underlying code for, but didn’t use in the end, was using an object on something you dropped on the floor earlier – though you can use inventory items with dropped objects, it only leads to flavour text. I was a little disappointed I didn’t use the mechanics, but I just couldn’t figure out the right puzzle for it. Well, I have the code, so it’s possible it will appear in the sequel!

As for the puzzles that actually are in the game, I was mostly worried about two of them – the maze and the candlestick. I know that mazes in IF are disliked in general, but I also had this idea for a maze that’s not really one as long as you make use of Piecrust’s sense of smell, and I really wanted to implement it. Judging from the reviews, at least some players didn’t discover the option to easily solve the maze with Piecrust’s help – maybe I should have clued it a little better.

As for the candlestick puzzle, I expected players to find it harder than the rest of the puzzles in the game. The main difficulty stems from the fact this is the only time you’re required to add one of Rosalinda’s body parts to your inventory and use it like an item. I tried to clue the player by describing Gustav’s actions whenever Piecrust destroys a candle in his room, but I now think adding an early puzzle which requires using a body part from your inventory to do something simple and obvious would be more helpful. In fact, I had a puzzle planned which would require grabbing one arm with the other to reach for an item (the pie) placed on a high shelf in the pantry, but I got rid of it, as the first time you reach the pantry Rosalinda only has one of her arms, and I didn’t want to force the player to go back for the pie. I now wonder if I should have kept this puzzle in the game.

Story and characters

I love fantasy, and I also love stories that are light-hearted and humorous without being zany parodies, and can have some serious stakes as well as more dramatic moments – so that’s what I was going for here.

One aspect of Bones I’m not so sure of is the intro and ending – I just have a tendency to make these bits really long and non-interactive, which I know puts some players off. I guess this may be because I play a lot of non-IF video games, and I’m used to having intro and ending cutscenes for dealing with most of the story! I’ll be working on making my future intros and endings more interactive. (For a short while, I considered an opening to Bones in which the player is the Necromancer, performing the ritual and resurrecting Rosalinda – I came up with the idea purely to increase the interactivity, but I wasn’t sure about giving the player control of a character, an antagonist at that, for a single scene only).

The characters were a joy to write. Most of them are nice and I just enjoy writing nice characters! They may not be very deep and complex, I’ll admit, but I tried to give them distinct personalities that would fit the setting and support the puzzles.

Rosalinda was, I think, the easiest to write. I wanted her to be a mostly typical hero protagonist – brave, willing to help, ready to face any obstacles – just a little confused because of her current situation, and feeling “in over her head”. All in all, she is a character who would try to save the city just because the city needs saving. I wanted to add some personal motivation for her as well, though – so she has to stop the Necromancer or risk losing her free will. Her biggest challenge is getting back her body parts and convincing Piecrust to help her. I want to develop her personality more in the sequel, giving her more of a backstory (which she will have to re-discover). I just thought there’s no place for that in Bones , which is relatively short and has a story with a clear end goal for the characters, as well as some sense of urgency.

Piecrust/Theodore, even though more of a sidekick character, is the one who actually grows the most during the events of the story. Originally intended to be more aloof and sarcastic, he quickly turned into a conflicted character with a two-part personality – the Mouse and the Wizard, who (being Gustav’s former teacher) feels partially responsible for the current crisis, but also tries to run away from any responsibility/involvement. He can be a little pompous at times, when he remembers he used to be a great wizard, but most often he’s just a mouse, concerned with avoiding any danger and finding food. He changes a lot by the end of the game, regaining much of his self-confidence.

Albert, the grumpy, but loyal servant, Tekla the kind-hearted ogress and the naive guardian demon are minor characters, with personalities mostly tied to the puzzles, but I liked them a lot (and tried to make them likeable – even the demon, who is just trying to do his job after all!).

Gustav was the most difficult character to write. I wanted to make an antagonist that is threatening and somewhat pathetic at the same time, and who is clearly evil, but maybe – just maybe – can be sympathised with a little. Perhaps not in a “he’s the real victim” way, more in an “under different circumstances, he could have been a better person” way. That’s why I included the mirror demon – both as the voice urging the Necromancer to be cruel and ruthless, fuelling his dream of conquest, and as the source of his power, so that the heroes can defeat Gustav without killing him.

The sequel

As the game’s ending suggests, this isn’t the last of Rosalinda’s and Piecrust’s adventures. I have plans for a sequel, tentatively titled The Trials of Rosalinda. It will take place soon after the ending of Bones , up in Greywall, and feature many of the same characters – other than the main duo, Tekla and Albert will be making a return. We’ll also see more of Light’s Chosen (the holy order Gustav didn’t like all that much) and possibly meet some relatives of Gustav’s. Piecrust will, of course, try to return to his human form, and Rosalinda will attempt to remember more about her past – those are themes I originally wanted to explore in more depth in this game, but eventually didn’t do it because of time constraints, and the feeling I should limit the scope to make the story more focused.

Gameplay-wise, the sequel will build upon the bones (sorry, could not hold myself) of this game, with similar movement and inventory options. I’ll try to make movement around the map easier, though (possibly – as suggested by some players – through adding an option for one body part to immediately travel to the location of another, if nothing blocks the way) and limit the amount of clicks needed for certain inventory actions. I’d also like to add more puzzles involving magic spells, since Piecrust now has some of his magic skills back.

Right now I’m working on a big update for my Twine RPG 4x4 Archipelago <ad>(which will feature perks, underwater adventures, companion quests, super-bosses and more!)</ad>, but my next project will almost certainly be the Rosalinda sequel.

Whew, this turned out to be much longer than I expected. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all in the sequel!

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Hooray! I loved everything about tBoR and I can’t wait to play (and hopefully test) a sequel. I think Rosalinda and Piecrust are some of the most memorable characters of any game I’ve played this year.

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Woohoow! I was waiting for this sentence!

(One step further: you would make me very happy with a “Bake Off”-spinoff hosted by Tekla…)

I for one really enjoyed the long intro and outro. They made the game and me, the player, feel like part of an overarching story.

Count on it!

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Congratulations for the prize and for this exahustive postmortem.

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I liked this game. I’m looking forward to the sequel!

I did find the ending kind of long, though I did read all of it :slight_smile:

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