The post-mortem thread

Some folk were doing this in the author’s forum, but why not let everyone see them! Here is a little post-mortem (… of sorts) of MACHINE OF DEATH, also posted on my blog (

Machine of Death was my entry into the 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition, where it placed 8th. It was originally planned to be a Spring Thing '13 entry, but annoying things like life got in the way. I ended up using the IF Comp as motivation to finish it up.

Anyway! The game takes place in a world where a machine can predict a person’s death with 100% accuracy, but not clarity, often leading to unexpected and ironic deaths. Some even accuse the machine of having a wicked sense of humour.

Basically, it’s a collection of three short stories where the player is bestowed with a death, and must survive a situation later in their life with that knowledge banging around the back of their head.

Sometimes it’s a drama! Sometimes it’s a comedy! Sometimes it’s a food journal!

MoD was an attempt to do many things. Here is a list of those things!

  • Create a low-key, slice of life game. Except, you know, with a strong possibility of death.
  • Despite the above point, create entertaining and coherent stories.
  • Maintain my sense of humour while being more restrained than my previous work.
  • Create believable and interesting characters.
  • Do a bit of world-building.
  • Use mechanics to make it more than just a CYOA game (not that anything is wrong with that, I just find them dull to design).

Basically, it was my attempt to prove that I’m capable of doing more than just stringing together a series of jokes, which is what most of my earlier IF is. But most of all, my primary aim was to show the player a good time. I’m a cool guy like that.

I think I accomplished all of these, and the game was met with a warm reception. A common complaint was that I was perhaps a little TOO restrained, and I think that may be true. I could have gone a bit more out there while still being believable, and that’s the only thing I’d want to change. It is not a mistake I’ll make again!

I’m most proud of the characters I created, such as the nameless turkey sandwich girl. Like every character, she’s built from bits and pieces of people I’ve met in real life. And like every other character in the game, she has a story beyond the game. For example, she’s gay. And she has a name, I just chose not to reveal it. I find it interesting that no one suspected she may have been pulling the player’s leg when she reveals her death.

Perhaps she was, perhaps she wasn’t.

Also, the karaoke scenario was inspired by a true event in my life. I’m glad I had the opportunity to turn that nasty night into something entertaining!

Oh, and despite the title, I wrote the game as a celebration of life, not death. Some accused me of hammering this message a little too hard. Maybe, but at least it’s a good message.

Anyway, yes, for the most part I’m quite proud of this game, even if I could have gone a bit further with it.

Oh, and it’s based on Ryan North’s concept, however all of the fiction inside the game is my own.

This was actually one of my favorites of the comp. I’m more of a parse guy usually, but this one struck a chord with me. My favorite character was the old guy in the cabin.

Glad you enjoyed it!

One major problem it has that I forgot mention (and this is a MASSIVE spoiler so…)

[spoiler]In OLD AGE, some people just waited in the kitchen, not finding the things leading them to believe that the old man may mean harm. While I don’t want to force the player to kill him, if they just wait it feels like nothing happens in the story at all!

I originally didn’t let the player wait and forced them to explore, but a tester complained about it so I added in the waiting. Now I think it may have been a mistake and perhaps I should go back to forcing the player to nose around. Or find a better way to encourage them to look around.[/spoiler]


I waited around in the kitchen on my first playthrough, because it seemed like the kind of scenario where you discover the killer’s stash of severed heads and then hear him saying “I warned you” from the doorway and then you get ax murdered. This made for a really anticlimactic ending, so on the next playthrough I wandered around, found his creepy stuff, and asked him about it. This made for basically the same anticlimactic ending, which I figured was the only ending. It never occurred to me that preemptively murdering him is an option, because I’m not a murderer I guess![/spoiler]
I also wholeheartedly disrecommend the sinner’s sandwich. It was weird.

Yes, your review was one of the ones that made me say “damn it!” A few people have fallen for it and really liked the trick, but it’s bugging the hell out of me that some people completely miss it. Especially when they miss it on a replay. Hrm.

Try the Lister sandwich. It’s pretty amazing. Seriously.

Here’s a post-mortem for Moquette and a roundup of all the reviews I’ve spotted: … w-roundup/

Re: Moquette:

Obviously it’s only hypothetical, now, but I wonder whether your PC would have struck people as so dislikeable in second person. Text adventures can usually take advantage of a layer of automatic empathy - if it’s “you”, then you have a certain benefit-of-the-doubt built up - the player’s more inclined to assume that there’s a good reason for whatever you’re doing/thinking/etc. If it’s “I” or “he/she/ze”, then you have less protection from the player’s inclination to judge the PC.

(hypothetical second person version of Moquette page 1)

[spoiler]Tuesday morning, 08:03. Waiting for the Northern line at Balham. 3 minutes to fill.

“Muesli. A delicious way to make sure today isn’t one of those days”. Right. Who knew a horrible breakfast cereal could have so much power? Maybe it just sets your expectations suitably low for the rest of the day. If you start off with disappointment, things can only go up from there.

“Become who you want to be. Get a place at Birkbeck”. Good idea. Shame you don’t know who you want to be.

“Meet someone amazing”. Sounds lovely. You have to meet a lot of strange people first, by the sound of it. One day you’ll have to sign up though. Can’t carry on like this forever.

“Feeling unwell? Seek help at the next station. It’s quicker to ask staff for help at a station than pull the passenger alarm between stops”. Thanks, London Underground. Can your staff help with this hangover?

The platform is filling up. 1 minute. On your left, behind the yellow line, a guy in dreadlocks reads today’s Metro — some tediousness about a report into child obesity. On your right, a woman checks her makeup in the camera of her phone. To her right, a guy in a bowler hat. What is this, the 1960s? Hipster twat. Shit, eye contact! You flick your head forward. Feels like he’s still looking.[/spoiler]

I figured that that was a subtle joke–if you waited long enough, you might just die of old age. I think a poke every five moves to say “You tempted fate by walking around in the cold–surely it’s ok to walk around in the house?” or something would do the trick. Or even “Okay, whether the OLD AGE slip is right, it didn’t tell you to sit around and wait for it.” Something that might state the game’s theme too deliberately is if you flash back to all the times you sat around and did nothing trying to feel grateful you’d die of old age, or putting stuff off because “You have all the time in the world!” I think there’s potential for jokey nudges here. But the game doesn’t need them.

Very nice round-up.

Something struck a nerve, as there are major problems for me, too, trying be creative when working in Inform.

First: I’m a one-time-guy. This means I’ll hardly write TWO times the same thing. Editing my games and books (and I mean “editing”, not rewriting) took months each attempt. Many months.

Second: I’m a go-with-the-flow writer. Although I need the overall idea (or the basic plot keyframes – beginning, midpoint, ending) in mind, I cannot by any chance plot everything beforehand and then fill in the gaps with details. It would bore me to death, ruining my experience and dropping dead the reasons why I write.

This said, you can imagine how hard it is for me to write something in Inform (or whatever the tool). Everything is divided in small bits: a room, a character, an object. And everything must be thought beforehand: how am I supposed to make this key work if I don’t know how the door is supposed to be? Finding descriptions for areas, locations, things… whoa, I just wanned to tell a story.

The solution I found up to now is a trick, I guess. I take away the STORY from the game, create all the areas, make them available a bit at a time, and then give text dumps between scenes to speed the story forward. You stroll through a decaying underground space, then realize how to open a door. You open it; a new region is available, and the author (myself) gives you a diary or something that recounts a tale. And then you start again adventuring.

This has worked quite fine by now, but the games I made pretty much were built AROUND this deus ex machina.

My next project could be a mystery. A corpse, a killer, some past to uncover.
I can’t see how this can be done without plotting every damn thing in advance. It’s not like coming up with the idea of an interplanetary exodus 30 minutes before entering a game into the IFComp (an idea, think about it, that could not have come to me if I didn’t write all of the things before that point).
I have to know the victim, what he/she has done, who are the characters in the mystery, who’s the killer (and why), what weapon was used (and why), what is the police going to do… and where’s the trick (one cannot have a mystery without a twisted ending, I guess). A lot of planning and plotting and writing in advance.

Fact is… I cannot do it this way.

A suggestion coming from people has usually been: write the transcript (the go-with-the-flow thing) on the go, then convert it into an Inform file. If just it was that easy. I’m a one-time-guy. I’m not going anywhere near writing my game two times for the sake of creativity.
Then: code as you go. But, as said, how, could I know everything in advance if having it all in advance is an handicap, to me? You know, ideas don’t come up all together at a given time. I could be writing about a dog barking in an alley and then --boom!-- the idea strikes. The killer has fled leaving the weapon because he is afraid of dogs. That’s how the hero nails him. More on the subject: the landlady didn’t call the police because her son was killed by a cop in a street brawl. And she’s a deaf. Couldn’t hear the dog barking. And etcetera ad libitum.

This is driving me mad, so I fully understand the Sorrows of Young Alex when making Moquette. I’m in empathy, if you get what I mean. I’d like to start a thread on this subject, but I guess not here, not now (that would be hijacking).

PS: I didn’t play a lot of Moquette (I didn’t play a lot of anything, this IFComp) but I really loved the writing. Don’t go “owch” because people say that the PC is a jerk. I wrote a book about a guy who was an arrogant dickhead. It was actually based on me (and not “10 years ago”, just, like, TODAY). All of the (twelve) readers said he was an arrogant dickhead. What I though was “wow! i did a great job”. Although it occurred to me that, yes, erm… I’m an arrogant dickhead too. But a good writer [emote]:)[/emote]

If you want to write something more linear, I’d almost suggest trying Twine…you write paragraphs and plot instead of objects.

Yeah. I’ll try it sooner or later, as soon as I nave the right idea.

Then, ofc, i will write a bad review of it because i hate cyoas.

I seem to have liked Zoran, and consequently Moquette, better than most people did. What really won me over was the line “Probably the most interesting thing I’ll do today is have a shit,” and the subsequent revelation that he thinks of bathroom breaks as sneaking off, like his job is so soul-crushing and inhumane that it will not even allow him this simple bodily function. He shared that with me very candidly, and I felt like we were bonding. Sure, he gets really judgy on the train, but I took that more as “Everything looks awful to this hungover guy who hates his job and himself for keeping it.”

What kind of chutney? Mango?


Sounds like we’re at the opposite ends of the spectrum: I’ll plot, outline, flashcard, and do character work until I’m absolutely sure everything will flow correctly before I’ll write a word of the actual story. I don’t have much experience as a writer so maybe I rely on the planning as a security blanket, but I’ve never been totally sure HOW some people seem are able to just stare at a blank screen and then start typing out their ideas without a rigid layout. But that’s how my sister does it and that seems to be more the norm.
You might like to check out this book: … +structure

I really like it because it breaks down the different plotting styles into several different types ranging from complete hope-pray-for-the-best to the “Borg Outliner” for those who are even more planning-neurotic than me. And it gives you good tips on how to improve you plotting specific for each type.
For mystery in general I’ve heard that it’s best to write out your ending and then work your plotting backwards. I didn’t do that with mine but I probably should have. And then there’s always watching your favorite mysteries on TV/movies and breaking down their plotting structures.

Wow, Thanks a lot! This sounds interesting.

Ooh, that’s a good joke to encourage people to look around! I’ll jam that in there. Hopefully that will be enough.

The original recipe didn’t specify (it’s from an episode of the sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf), so I played it safe and went with plain ol’ fruit chutney. It did a brilliant job, but of course feel free to try your favourite variety.