The Incredibly Mild Misadventures of Tom Trundle Post Mortem

As the blurb suggests, Tom Trundle has, as its root, a defining moment of my life. However, Tom’s character does not represent me, but my opposite.

I wanted to somehow address this moment in an IF. And I wanted to somehow do it through the eyes of someone whose personality was completely opposite to my type. Both because I thought this would be fun (it was more fun than I thought), and because it would help me to understand that things weren’t all roses from that perspective, either.

I also wanted to write a multi-level, classic adventure—this is represented by the school building with its three halls, multiple secret passages and red-letter note motif as a means of marking progress.

Will, Tom’s best friend, represents me, as I was, in High School. Totally stiff, diligent in schoolwork to a fault, little self-confidence—though he got a little more, due to the fact that he had just turned 17, as I did. Though Will still had every preconceived notion of what relationships were and how an attraction should be handled, including ‘I’m attracted to her, so she should be equally attracted to me. And if not, I can MAKE her interested in me,’ etc etc. And not enough confidence to face Liz and deliver his note, or better yet, try to interact with her in a mature and considerate way, and let things go where they may. He could not get past the ‘gee, I’m attracted to her,’ stage, feared what was really there, and needed Tom to intervene.

Tom, on the other hand, knew that relationships and interaction carried one thing that he would take only on occasion—responsibility and obligation, respectively. Tom knew that, for a relationship to continue, there must also be commonality of interest and fun, to at least balance out the responsibilities. When Will saw only his attraction to Liz and how things ‘could be’, Tom saw a host of inequities between them, and that Will barely had control over himself, much less the ability to handle the obligations that relationships entail.

Not that Tom didn’t have his own problems and weaknesses. After all, Tom was in a deadly secret relationship with Anne, a prostitute twice his age. And that relationship carried absolutely no obligation with it whatsoever. Not for him, not for her. He could visit her on any given Saturday—or not. He certainly did not have to go every day. There was no monetary obligation—she had everything they needed. Either of them could have opted out at any time—and apparently one did. Anne made sure that Tom knew this at all times. Tom was even free to explore attractions to other young women, which he obviously felt—and knew that other girls felt that for him (which he fails to mention in the game, probably because he didn’t think it was a ‘big deal’, though Will would). Anne could live without Tom; Tom had to learn that he could live without her. And that he, himself, could take on the responsibilities of a real relationship.

Anne is an emotional ideal, the Queen of Hearts, the mature older woman who can help guide Tom through his feelings. Her prostitution was really kind of a ‘footnote’ in the game, however it can also be seen as Anne playing that role for many other men. So she is symbolic. Now Tom will have to do this for himself. Rescuing her is itself symbolic. This is Tom rescuing his own capacity for understanding himself.

I did not have a Tom in my life, a best friend like Tom; Tom, in the story, is an amalgamation of other young men I knew. I admired them for their self-confidence and relationship skills. There were a few guys in my school that just seemed to command ladies’ attention, without even trying. The guys I admired most were the ones who did not have to be ‘manly’ (such as be in sports, or be over six feet tall and muscle-bound)—totally honest, earnest, down-to-earth, said what they needed to, and put their hearts into their interactions. They would just exude confidence. Or so it seemed. But they just had a way of making girls want to be with them. They weren’t ‘driven’, like Will (=me), who always has to prove himself academically; he hid behind a shield of intellect, afraid others might see his immaturity. Tom, on the other hand, didn’t care what others saw of himself. He was what he was, and wasn’t what he wasn’t–though heaven forbid others might find out he’s seeing a prostitute! So yes, maybe those guys really weren’t as ‘together’ as I thought. And maybe it wasn’t so hard, as I thought, to be like them, after all…??

Also, some of these guys had a certain humility about them that I admired. Tom doesn’t exactly live under the most extravagant situations—his room is a metal shed in back of a trailer. He does not even own a bicycle. But he, and his parents, like it just fine.

Mr Fendwhistle is the more mature Will, at least, Will, if he is allowed to continue on his own destructive ‘hard work/intellectual shield against emotional understanding’ path. Will admires Fendwhistle as the intellect being the way to success. He is willing to try anything to get a woman to admire him, and he thinks Fendwhistle has the key, or will help him get all the love and admiration he needs. Then finds that he was so wrong, and that this was the wrong way to go.

The school (Horace Lamb High School) in the game was loosely based on my own, of course, Watson Chapel High School, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I never met a custodian that I didn’t like; however, each of the custodians in the game are based on people I have worked with. Ulmer is based on someone who actually was a custodian.

Liz is based on a girl I had an obsession with, myself, and the date mentioned at the beginning of the game was when I realized my attraction to her. Liz bore an odd resemblance to Will in some respects. She, too, was shielding herself. And, like Tom, had an illicit relationship. Only this one took a disastrous turn.

Allison, Ulmer’s daughter, is based on some young women I have known. I think Allison can be seen as the kind of young woman Tom should be with, and her appearance in the story was more of a signal to him of who he might like to be with. But she’s a bit older, perhaps more mature, and not quite so available emotionally. Enter Jackie—at the very end of the game. Jackie is much like Allison, but available, interested, readily interacts with Tom, and with plenty of Allison’s whoopass. This is Tom learning that what he needs in a relationship was just around the corner all along, and it didn’t have to be an older woman.

I would have to say that I put a lot more effort behind the story (and the psychology) of this game (as opposed to puzzles, etc) than I have done in my other games. Not to say that the implementation was not difficult. This game was tough to implement, period. I wrote and implemented as I went, as fully as I could implementing each object, room, NPC. The most challenging part to implement was the rescue scenes at the end. I had to take into account that Tom might want to rescue one woman at a time, or both of them (in which case they would interact with each other). Anne was an integral part of the endgame, so I did not give Tom a key to her cell. Almost as hard as this part was the final confrontation. I allowed three ways of going about it; without totally giving them away, they are by throwing, hitting or pulling.

What was also hard was the part about the fake potion, mixing it together. I had to totally implement ‘pouring it into’ and make it work in many different cases.

What was not hard, and was actually fun, was keeping the piece ‘in period’, ie. make it true to its setting, in the mid-South in the late 1980s. I was there. I knew Star Wars was a big thing, so I added some cultural elements of that theme. Another humility of Tom: he did not own a computer. My family got our first one in 1982. You could probably say that Will’s had one. But then, Tom did not need one—he only needed his guitar and his stereo.

Thank you for playing my game, I hope you enjoyed it! Rock on!


Dude, I knew there was some kind of symbolic content that I hadn’t quite parsed out, and this is the explanation I’ve been waiting for. Loving that concept.

Thanks for the postmortem, it’s a fascinating read!


Well, looks like Tom Trundle didn’t do quite so well. (59th)

Sigh. My 5th game in a Comp, and it didn’t do as well as any of my others.

At any rate, if you don’t mind playing long games, and you don’t mind taking notes, and you don’t mind profanity, and you don’t mind making maps, and you don’t mind a long lead-in ‘on rails’(which I doubt many players got past in the two-hour limit), why not give my game a try??

I guess I am just old-school, but I love writing epic-length games (see my Bullhockey! games), and I am sorry for this. It’s just what I like doing and I can’t be anything other than who I am. I plan to enter yet another game that I am working on in the next IFComp.

Thank you for your patience through my rant.


Would be very curious what your voter feedback is. I didn’t play Tom Trundle but I saw a lot of very positive reviews for it on these forums. People who engaged with your game really did engage, but maybe that doesn’t feel as good as the scoring in the contest.

I don’t think you should apologize making the kind of games you love. I think there’s clearly an audience for it on these forums and in this IF Community. Whatever you make, people will play. As someone who’s shot games out into the abyss of I can say it’s hard to find that at all, never mind people who will write in-depth reviews and share them with you.

Sorry if you didn’t ask for reassurance. I just hope you take another look over the reviews written on here and find some real value in the connections people had to your characters and world.


I had a blast beta-testing Tom Trundle and want to get to the revised version soon. I think it’s a much better game than its scoring rank indicates, and think that a lot of that is just that the Comp timing didn’t give people a chance to see the strengths of a game that’s not Comp-sized.

You should of course write whatever kinds of things you want to write, but, speaking personally and selfishly, I hope that some of those things continue to be big puzzly games.


I certainly plan and look forward to playing it to the end soon! As I experienced it, the problem was that I was just getting to the good stuff after two hours, and I had kind of decided not to play any game past two hours until IFComp was over. I’ll post a proper review on IFDB as soon as I’ve finished it!


Yeah, just to echo others, I thought your game was a lot of fun and a breath of fresh air – as others have said, I think the length scared some folks off or made them more stressed about what they could see in a two hour period, but given how many games there are and how relatively few judges there are in the Comp, it makes a huge difference to the rankings whether you happen to get like five people totally on your wavelength, or five people who aren’t at all into what you’re doing. But clearly there are people here who dig what you’re doing. Glad you’re gonna keep working on new games, and excited to see what you do next!


Please keep writing games. I also like epic-length games and have no problem with notes or profanity or maps or long intros, and I’ve enjoyed playing your games.


I thoroughly enjoyed playing your game and it is top 10 in my personal scores. Looking forward to play your next game.


Just saw the rankings. I was totally thrown for a loop by Tom Trundle’s score (and those of many other entries). A couple observations:

  • Some voters have an alien value-system that is far beyond my comprehension.
  • With such a small pool of judges, all it takes is a couple of haters giving a 1 or 2 to drastically change the score of an otherwise well-received game.

Hypothesis: Some voters are aliens. First, they infiltrate IFComp. Next, the world.


Of course they’d infiltrate IFComp first. They’ve done their research. They know who really controls the socio-cultural landscape of this planet.


There is a sense of mourning after the competition has ended regardless of how well one places. This is because, the competition is over. You’ve worked hard to produce your epic. It was well received (but maybe not as well as you had hoped) and now your baby has left home on gone off to college (or IFDB I mean).

So mourn that closure. And then start writing your next epic.


Thanks, to you all, for all of your nice and encouraging words. I do really love writing IF, I will never stop and I will be writing a sequel for Tom. Probably for the next IFComp, or Spring Thing if not ready by then. I am already working on a bit of historical fiction that I HOPE is ready for next Spring Thing–though it might also be an IFComp game.

I think I have gotten mostly over my angst, a good shift at work last night brought back my energy. Some thoughts over the rankings–SOMEbody had to be 59th. There were 103 games, it was just my turn (along with two others) to be at that place. 1/100th of a point can really make a difference. There really isn’t much of a gap between 59th, and say, 30th, score-wise. Plus, TIMMoTT, as far as I know, still has a 4-star rating (!).

Thank you all for rating, trying or testing my game. I am glad that you enjoyed it, I hope you enjoyed playing it as much as I did writing it!