The Last Night of Alexisgrad post-mortem

I’m still not sure I did well enough to merit me writing one of these, but a couple of people mentioned that they’d like to see it so I’ll try to be quick. I’ll fail, but I’ll try.

The Last Night of Alexisgrad, henceforth just LNoA, was 3 things for me, namely an experiment, a test of my writing and an advert. In want of any better ideas for structure, I’ll use those as my headings and then finish off with a section on what I may or may not do next. I expect the sections will get less interesting to anyone but me as they go on, so be warned that it’s not going to get better.

The experiment

I think it’s pretty clear that this is an experiment, right? I think ‘experimental’ was the most common word used in reviews of my game (okay it was actually probably ‘the’ but you know what I mean). It’s 2 player IF. As far as I can see, most of my reviewers thought I’d invented this. I tentatively thought I’d invented this, in a whole 5 minutes of Googling I couldn’t find any examples of multiplayer IF online. I didn’t invent it, as it turns out, and from what I can see my way of doing it isn’t even very different from what has been done before so I haven’t even reimagined it, but considering that it was new to me and seemingly new to most of my readers, I’m going to talk about it in that context.

I think the most revealing way I can deal with the design choices that I made is to simply state that I had no idea what I was doing. Before this year I haven’t read much IF and I hadn’t made much IF, but I was familiar enough with the concept to know that a 2-player game would be theoretically possible, although I think I really owe the inspiration to Divinity Original Sin 2 for showing me that multiplayer narratives actually can exist and be really engaging. So for many of the decisions that I made, the result wasn’t the effect of intentional creativity, but rather desperate flailing and just grabbing on to anything that seemed like it would work.

I’d had the idea of 2-player IF mulling in my head for a while but it wasn’t till I was playing a 4x game and imagining what was happening behind the scenes as I sieged the city of an enemy who had been covertly harassing me for most of the game that it suddenly occurred to me that that story would work well for what I had in mind. Specifically, it was a story that involved 2 individuals whose actions affected each other in a real but not direct way, which was important because I needed something that was connected but distinct, as otherwise I’d be looking down the hole of exponential choice expansion (more on that in a moment).

So that’s what I wanted to do: something that would be playable by 2 players, each of whom gets a different side of the story and who can influence but not necessarily directly interact with each other’s stories. I storyboarded the whole thing the same day I came up with the idea and I’m surprised to say that that original storyboard still more or less matches the final product.

In an ideal world I wanted the players always to be reading at the same time, rather than one reading and then waiting while the other one reads. Hence the code-switching mechanic, which was also my first major hurdle. The way that the majority of the game is designed (I’ll get to the end game conversation in a bit), I could only write each side knowing the previous choice that the other player had made, not the one they are currently making. In that way, each side was sort of one step behind the other in terms of system knowledge. There would always be at least one scene’s delay in responding to the previous person’s decision. This, combined with the potential for exponential growth, lead me to placing the 2 characters as far apart as possible at the beginning of the story and then bringing them closer and closer together. Ideally this would have led to a slow build up of interaction, the effects of each other’s decisions becoming more and more obvious with each choice. In reality that didn’t happen, instead everything culminating in one ‘slice’ where everything happened at once. Why did that happen? Desperate flailing.

Never forget that I have no idea what I’m doing.

While we’re on the nitty gritty, I should mention the conversation. The most common ending for the game gives the 2 players the opportunity to have a conversation. For me, this was the experiment within the experiment. I had to change the way the codes are handled, switching away from my ideal of having both players read at once to each player reading in turn. My goal was to push the idea of 2 players interacting by offering them a chance to directly converse. This very quickly got out of hand. If one player has three options of what to say, then it makes sense to give the other three options of how to respond to each thing, and then it makes sense for the other player to have three responses to each of those, and so on. This would be bad in single player writing, since within 2 player choices the writer would have had to write 12 different options (the original 3 plus 3 for each of those 3). For two players, the same 2 choices for one player generate 120 conversation options that the writer has to write. All of that for what the player experiences as a 4 sentence conversation. A good IF writer would be able to link things back around skillfully, taking those 120 and merging seamlessly into a much smaller number. I did that, but without the skill and the seamlessness, just clumsily letting the conversation grow for a couple of choices and then shoving them together. I think the most conversation options either side can pick in that section is 6 or 7, and still even that meant that that tiny end portion of the game took up a solid 3rd of the development time.

And it had mixed results. Some reviewers pointed to the conversation portion and said it was the best bit, some said it was the worst. Only one actively seemed to comment on the clumsiness, pointing out that one of the players can be forced to make a decision that can be out of character. Yes, it is. But I don’t know how to fix it without opening myself up to that exponential growth again.

Part of the reason for the difference of opinions on the conversation part is because it suits a different style of play from the rest of the piece. This is something I hadn’t thought of, but Sam Kabo Ashwell does a much better job of expressing why this game doesn’t work than I think I could do here. (IF Comp 2021: The Last Night of Alexisgrad | These Heterogenous Tasks) He hits the nail on the head when he mentions that for many of the design decisions it feels like no-one stopped me to ask ‘why’? He played the game on a voice call with a friend, and I’ve realised that that is probably not the ideal way to play. Mike Russo mentions that he ‘failed’ me because he played the game over DMs, but actually Ashwell’s review makes me think that might be the ideal way to play. The large walls of text are more appropriate given that context, while the snappier nature of the conversation section lends itself better to the more active cooperative play one would want from playing with someone over a call/in person. In retrospect, I don’t think the two styles go together well.

While I’m on the subject of things that didn’t go great: the endings. For there are several. I like the idea of numbering endings (I saw a few people suggesting it on the forums here but I think the only game I saw do it in the comp was Goat Game? Apologies if I’m wrong about that), and if I were to do that I’d say that there are 5 main ending ‘sets’, with quite a bit of variation in each one. From the reviews I’ve read, 2 of these may have gone totally unseen. Why? Would you believe me if I said they were designed as secret endings? No? Fine, it’s incompetence. I made the paths to them too specific. One of them especially: there are actually 2 different ways for the Dictator to win the battle and force the Kingdom’s army to retreat (although I would count both as the same ending). But both are behind very specific choices that I won’t go into now (but if you feel like digging into the code, look for the passage in which the General sends in Major Pruefer for one and the passage where the General goes in himself for the other). Another ending which no-one talked about is locked behind a particularly unpleasant moral choice, which I’ll talk a little bit about in the next section. Only one person talked about the ending in which the Dictator escapes, although again even if the player of the Dictator chooses to try to escape at the crucial juncture, whether they succeed or not depends on prior decisions made by both players. Most reviewers simply talk about the remaining two endings (the conversation and the General simply shooting the Dictator) as if they were simply just the inevitable endings. And that’s on me. I wanted those to be the ‘default endings’ (I put a lot of work into that conversation and I was damned if people didn’t see it), but I leaned in too hard and simply made the conditions on finding the other endings too obscure. On a similar note, there is a section where, depending on the previous actions, the Dictator player is either given a set of choices which are all effectively futile, or they are given a set of choices all of which have the potential to lead to special endings. In retrospect I think this was probably a mistake: just because I know that there’s more choice and variation doesn’t mean anyone reading it would.

One final word before I move on: Alianora La Canta mentioned that it would be good to make the game playable by a single person. Yes, it would. The easiest way to make it playable by 1 person is to simply edit the ‘choose your code’ screens so they only show codes that would actually be possible given the choices that have been made so far (in some places I’ve already done this, in others I have not). I’ll be doing a little post comp update, and this will be the main change. The player will still have to choose codes randomly from the ‘other player’, but at least none of them would then lead to the game breaking.


The piece of writing

I’ll try to be quick here, but first a bit of personal background.

I’ve been writing on and off for years now, but this is the first time I’ve ever really put my work out there. I’ve barely even shared anything I’ve written with friends. If I’d fully realised the standard of the competition, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. But I wanted to dive in at the deep end and get some actually honest feedback about my writing, so here I am.

And I’m still confused. I’ve done a lot better than I thought I’d do (my aim was to squeak into the top 2 thirds, although judging by the placement of bottom third games like This Won’t Make you Happy, Taste of Fingers and How it was then and how it is now, not to mention many many other higher scoring games (seriously, Universal Hologram below me? You should all be ashamed of yourselves!) makes me feel like even that was a foolish goal), but even given that I don’t know what it says about my writing. I know there’s been a lot of talk about how this isn’t the case on this forum in the last few days, but honestly it feels to me like this community rewards experimentation and I’ve been the beneficiary of that. As I said up top, most of my comments and reviews lead with the fact that I’ve made a 2 player IF, and comparatively only deal with the writing in passing. On that note, I’ve got everything from “Most of the writing is very good” to “laugh out loud clunky” (the second sentence of this paragraph is for you!). Maybe it’s just my self-loathing talking, but I do fear that it’s novelty which has got me my place, rather than my writing.

Still, I’ll take it.

But to actually post mortem rather than wallow in self pity, I should probably address a sticking point that many people seem to have: the unbalanced nature of the story. The obvious question here is ‘why did you make that choice? Why not make the game more tactically interesting by balancing the antagonists?’

I fear you may have forgotten that I am incompetent.

It was a conscious decision, but one based more on a knowledge of my own limitations than any kind of artistic decision. Balance is hard. Tactics are hard. And I don’t know anything about warfare. As a representation of my writing, this piece isn’t very good. I’m used to writing things that are very dialogue heavy, usually revolving around pretentious themes like philosophy or politics. I’ve never really written a war story before, and my knowledge of military tactics is zero. ‘So why did you decide to write this story then?’

Do I really have to answer that?

So I plumped for what was easy: deal with balance by not worrying about balance. Just make it horribly unfair for one side. And I was aware that this would be a problem. People pointed it out before I’d really started writing and testers pointed it out when they read it. But here it is, still in the final product, because my mind is small and can only worry about a few new things at once. I won’t be doing it again. I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do it again. And I have some ideas, but I’ll leave them till the final section.

Another thing I was aware of while writing, and something I can less easily fix, is something else a couple of reviewers caught. Despite the fact that it is almost inevitable that the Dictator will lose, her side is simply more interesting. It’s almost affirming to hear that piece of criticism. Because I preferred her side. I’ve heard writers say that their characters are like their children, that they could never chose between them, but if that’s the case then I’d make a terrible parent. I simply preferred the Dictator’s character and background. And it seems like that came out in the writing. I didn’t mean to write her side better, but there we are. Even when I am trying to do balancing, I didn’t manage it.

Almost every reviewer mentioned the way that the ending seemed unengaging since the players don’t really directly see the outcomes of their decisions. That’s completely fair, I messed up. I’ve always been terrible with endings, never quite knowing where to cut. In this case, I rolled credits too soon. I’m not going to change it for a post comp release, because I feel more or less done with LNoA now and with 5 different ending sets, each one with many different variations within it (within one particular ending set the choices made can lead to several vastly different futures for both the Repbulic (from occupation to political subordination to total independence) and the Dictator, and in some others one or other of the main characters dies), it would be a lot of work to add better endings in to a piece of writing very few people are likely to play now that the comp is over. But the criticism is totally fair, LNoA would be a better game if it had more fleshed-out endings and more clear outcomes to the player’s choices.

Okay, so I’m just going to use the rest of this section to indulge myself in talking about the bits that I personally think are the best. Feel free to skip to the end.

While it’s tactically the wrong choice, choosing to go the mansion as the Dictator gives you a bunch of backstory about her character and the life she led before the night. On the other hand, going to the warehouse gives the General probably the most interesting tour of the city, with different ways of making the journey depending on who he has decided will lead the charge. But the main point I want to bring up is when the Dictator is given the choice to bring in civilians and use them as a human shield. The option isn’t always available (either because of previous decisions made by both players or because the Dictator went to her mansion, which is in an area that is mostly devoid of any civilians to use as a shield), but I like it because it creates very difficult moral choices for both characters. First, in the Dictator deciding whether to do it at all, and then for the General, who must chose either to attack regardless of the innocent lives he will be taking, or cave and discuss terms (which can lead to an agreement being reached by both players, which, despite the differences in the terms that can be agreed, leads to what I would consider one of the 5 endings mentioned above). I think it’s possibly the most emotionally charged decision in the game, and I’m disappointed that no reviewers seem to have come across it.

The advert, and what I’ll do next

The last thing LNoA is is an advert, but because the first two points were more important to me I didn’t want to make that clear during the comp. What is it an advert for? An as yet unannounced IF/visual novel/town management game that I and a couple of my friends (including the incredibly talented Angus Barker who did the artwork for LNoA!) have been working on for the last 2 years. Its working title is Last Night of Lotosk and it’s set in the same world as LNoA, and at the same time, but far to the north of Alexisgrad on the opposite edge of the Republic to the border with the Kingdom. This post is the first time that project is being announced in any way publicly, as it’s not ready to be shown off yet, but I couldn’t really do a postmortem of LNoA without mentioning that a few of the choices made in it where because it’s linked to another as yet non-existent project. LNoA was very much a side project for me while working on Last Night of Lotosk; sitting at around 56 thousand words LNoA is a baby compared to Last Night of Lotosk, the first draft of which is sitting at 306 thousands words at the time of writing. Aside from the setting (and potentially some of the characters, LNoA is actually only canon in Last Night of Lotosk under certain, mostly random circumstances), LNoA and Last Night of Lotosk are very different games: one is a 2 player piece of pure prose-heavy IF while the other is a single-player choice-based visual novel that is mostly dialogue. LNoA is also a war story, while Last Night of Lotosk is an exploration of how specific people living in a small town deal with a catastrophe.

That catastrophe obviously being the fact that the sun hasn’t shown its face in quite a while. This was actually the main piece of criticism I expected LNoA to get. “Why do you talk about the sun disappearing when that seems to basically have no impact on the plot of the game?” The answer is that the sun disappearing is the main driver of the plot in Last Night of Lotosk, so it had to be in this game too. This was the only way that I consciously knew that LNoA suffered from being linked to another project. Even the fact that the endings aren’t fleshed out isn’t because of Last Night of Lotosk, since LNoA is only sometimes canon and even then only certain endings of LNoA are canon. The fact that the player doesn’t see the consequences of their actions is, I think, purely a function of me messing up, not an outcome of this game technically being a spin off of another game that hasn’t even been officially announced yet.

So obviously the answer to ‘what am I going to do next’ is ‘finish writing Last Night of Lotosk’. That should take me a little bit into the new year - most of what I want for what we are calling the ‘alpha build’ is already done. What I’ll do after that, I don’t know. For Last Night of Lotosk I’ll have the rest of my team to help me push it out into the world, but I mostly just write for my own enjoyment and there is little I like less than trying to convince people to read what I’ve written.

Having said that, entering the IF comp was a wonderful, intense experience and everyone that I’ve spoken to and had reviews from has been incredibly kind and generous in giving me and my work time. Having been through this and really properly dived into reading the comp entries this year, I’m even less sure that I ever want to try to do this in any way that would require me to try to actively push my work in front of other people’s faces. But IF comp hasn’t felt like that: I put my writing out there in a space where people could easily see it and easily completely ignore it if they want. So I’ll probably enter again. I’ve already started writing another ‘game’, although it’s more of an interactive essay about Buddhist metaphysics and an attempt to find meaning and happiness in life through philosophy, which I’m not sure qualifies as interactive fiction!

I also had no plans to do any more 2-player games when I entered this comp, but having seen the positive reaction to the idea, and having got lots of feedback about how to improve it, I might give it another crack. I want to have a go with liberating the lockstep structure of LNoA, allowing players to make several (and potentially different numbers of) decisions between each code exchange. I also want to explore the idea of characters who are more explicitly working together, but perhaps dealing with different areas of a problem or each having their own agendas beyond the main shared goal. Perhaps something political focusing on different ‘ministers’ dealing with different parts of a crisis, or maybe steal some ideas from Everyone is John or Disco Elysium (if you’re reading this Sam Kabo Ashwell, yes, yes I did play it) and have the players be different parts of a person’s mind. I’m not sure where I’ll go, but it seems that people want more 2-player IF in the world, and apart from one person who left an anonymous comment saying that it’s given them ideas to write some of their own (which is just an amazing feeling for me, thank you!), I’m not sure who else is going to write it.

I also discovered how much I enjoy streaming over this last month (although really I should be thanking Ectocomp for that (you’ve still got time to play and rate Ectocomp games!)), and despite the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before, I have no idea what I’m doing, I like the idea of trying to write a piece of IF collaboratively with people over Twitch chat. I’m sure it would be a mess, but I think it might be a fun mess.

So that’s my LNoA post mortem. I’ve learnt A LOT, about myself, about my writing, about 2-player IF, about IF in general and about this piece in particular. And I wouldn’t have learnt any of it if it wasn’t for the reviewers, and this wonderful community. So THANK YOU! You’ve all really been wonderful. I’m just sorry that my way of thanking you was by making you read a 4 thousand word stream of consciousness essay…


I loved Alexisgrad and every time I play it I’m stunned by the level of organization that must’ve been required to piece together the two-sided narrative… bug testing must’ve been hell. I enjoyed it even more with each subsequent play.

Also, thanks for your kind words about Universal Hologram :slight_smile: I think Alexisgrad really met its purpose and deserved to place as highly (or higher) as it did! If you need anyone to beta test your Buddhist metaphysics game, I’d be more than happy!


It is really wonderful to hear you say that, thank you so much! And I’ll probably take you up on that offer of testing, but know that I’d also be excited to help test anything you make in the future!

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You have succinctly captured an experience that I think a lot of authors here have also dealt with. I am certainly among them.

I did, and it was glorious to listen to my buddy agonize over analyzing the situation according to what he learned in an Ethics of War class, only to end up rejecting my ridiculous demands and just killing everyone.

Thanks for the game! I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for further news of Lotosk.


That was me! I really enjoyed playing this and found the unusual gameplay inspiring. Thanks for sharing your process, and for the thought-provoking game.

For what it’s worth, the fact that the Dictator’s side was more interesting but also more hopeless felt like its own kind of balance, I thought. Whether or not it was intentional, those factors led to an interesting conversation with my partner after the game about what “winning” really means. Maybe it would’ve been more traditionally fun if those variables were more symmetrical, but it might not have been as interesting.


If you (or anyone else!) ever want to talk 2 player IF, just let me know, it would be great to share ideas with people! Although I will clarify again that I have no idea what I’m doing. And the little I do know I’ve already written down in the post-mortem…

Still, it’s the thought that counts isn’t it?

Also ‘interesting’ is what I usually go for. And as for what it means to ‘win’, that just reminds me of the many late night TTRPG rants I’ve gone on over the years (and which almost definitely sub-consciously inspired ceratin choices in LNoA) :stuck_out_tongue:

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I’m truly sorry I didn’t get a chance to play your game as it sounds VERY intriguing.

FYI, since you were asking, some folks this year over at the ChoiceScript forum have been tinkering with “pseudo” two-player IF games. I call them “pseudo 2P” since, obviously, plenty of real-time 2P games exist and have been around for decades.

As far as I can tell, the core “problem” with pseudo-2P is the input of the other player’s choice. You can either do it in an undisguised way (i.e. “player 1 chose to go left”) or you can scramble it inside a hash (i.e. input code “1df9c8s8398d3s”), but they still have to be transmitted and inputted in a rather clunky way.

That’s because, frankly, IF was born in a world of server-to-terminal networks (and later home PCs in the 1980s) where 1P games were the ONLY option, and that legacy of Zork and Cave Adventure et al has continued to operate as a blindspot for IF programmers, as brilliant as some of them are.

Thus, at the moment, there is no IF software or tool that natively allows for (true) 2P gaming, which is kinda incredible, if you think about it. I bet there are millions of people out there who would love to play an IF game with their friends.

Interestingly enough, although we all hate Facebook now (:grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:), it is definitely possible right this minute to do true 2P games (via FB Messenger) there. Likewise, other social media platforms such as Telegram have this capability as well. Perhaps I’ll use this as motivation to sharpen my programming skills and create one.

But if we’re lucky, your game LNoA will open the door to someone, somewhere, finally coding a truly “native” 2P IF language or tool! God knows nothing truly revolutionary in IF coding has been invented in what? The last 10 years? About time for a revolution! :mega:


I’ve had an unformed idea for a 2-player parser game rattling around in my brain for some time. LNoA has definitely prodded the gears to start clanking a little more on that. Such a thing might be a major train wreck, though.


I have to admit I saw the “sun disappearing” as an ambiguously-true metaphor for the Republic’s situation. That is to say, the sun might literally no longer be in the sky or it might not, but to anyone stuck in the Republic’s civil war or close enough to understand what’s going on there, it sure felt like it wasn’t there, for the Republic’s situation had gone so badly awry. The part where the fact wasn’t directly invoked in any choices during the playthroughs (which would have been easy to do for a literalist interpretation) I did reinforced this. Finding out there literally isn’t a sun in its usual position, and that it is probably going to become more directly relevant next game, is intriuging.

And, well, secret endings aren’t meant to be easily found :wink: Sometimes that gets handled with a walkthrough, but doing that for a two-player game (especially an experimental one) would have caused problems in itself.

One final word before I move on: Alianora La Canta mentioned that it would be good to make the game playable by a single person. Yes, it would. The easiest way to make it playable by 1 person is to simply edit the ‘choose your code’ screens so they only show codes that would actually be possible given the choices that have been made so far (in some places I’ve already done this, in others I have not). I’ll be doing a little post comp update, and this will be the main change.

That would definitely work, especially as a quick method of making the game one-player that exposes something of LNoA’s logic. In theory, a randomiser code line after the list of possible codes given the player’s response (and hiding the list from the player) would allow for the computer to make a choice without the player (even an experienced one) knowing what was selected, but given you’re planning to put lots of focus on Last Night of Lotosk, you can save the hidden randomiser for another project. Especially since, having never coded in Twine, I’m not even sure how much code any such routine might take.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and game, Milo. I look forward to Last Night of Lotosk with great interest!