The Thick Table Tavern - TTTT Post Comp Mortem

I wrote a very long post on my blog about the whole IF Comp experience, my thoughts about what I’ve done with The Thick Table Tavern (or TTTT for short), and rounding up the feedback I’ve gotten. It’s a lot, some of it might not be coherent (it was written over different days), and like my entry it probably could have done with some editing. But it was cathartic. So here’s the TLDR.

TTTT was a project intended for last year’s comp, but stuff happened and I had to shelf it. I dusted it off last July with the intention of submitting it to the comp no matter what state it would be (not smart, but who hasn’t had bad ideas before). My goal was to make a functioning game that I would be proud of, and reach top half of the ranking. The first goal was fulfilled, the second was missed by this much (I ranked 37).

The idea of the game was to create a simple bartending simulation in a fantasy setting, where you make drinks, chill with some trope-y patrons, and just enjoy the vibe. This what was the old version was essentially about. I just ended up getting too excited about working on the game again this Summer and started adding stuff to my to-do list. From July to September, I was working in some capacity on TTTT. I focused a lot more of the UI/Visual during the first half, while I wrote more of the story during the second (essentially September).

In hindsight, this was a terrible idea. I ended up being too ambitious for the time allocated, and I was just in way over my head about the whole idea. [Also got distracted by other stuff, and caught Covid by the end of September… obviously neither helped.]

A lot of things were cut from the entry: other one-timer NPC (which included a traveling salesman monk), a whole middle part with the Watcher checking up on you and your choice (lol, no real choices were included at the end), recurring NPCs who ask you for advice, etc… So, by the end of the entry, it showed that TTTT was essentially an unfinished entry. It looked good, but it lacked substance.

So what worked:

  • The UI/Visual worked for a lot of people (I am so proud of this one)
  • Most characters introduced were fun
  • People liked the dialogue/banter and the snarky tone
  • The storylets (especially the Older Couple, they were my favourite to write as well)
  • The accessibility (being able to play with a keyboard, font change, etc…)

What didn’t work:

  • The writing needing a lot of editing/proofreading (was expecting that, didn’t take enough time for it)
  • The intros threw off the pacing, by being so long and descriptive. Even after that, the pacing was off.
  • Some mystery was introduced with the Watcher/Fortune Teller which lead to nowhere (cut for time)
  • Same thing for the Tip Jar/Sign (there was supposed to be an event where your jar gets stolen) and the Restocking event (coding is hard).
  • The lack of choice.
  • Bugs. Obviously.

What’s on the fence:

  • The bartending bit was appreciated by a lot of people, while others found it boring/grindy.
  • Some people enjoyed the vibe of the story, others found it had nothing to say/was boring
  • The randomisation meant a lot of fun for player, or pretty much nothing for others (no NPC would show up)

In hindsight, TTTT wasn’t ready for this year’s Comp. Another year working on it would probably have given justice to the whole vision I had. It would have given me time to iron out those bug, have more testers going through it, include all NPCs I wanted, and proofread more extensively. Even then, I am not sure it would have stayed under 2h of gameplay…

But no need to cry over spilt milk. It was submitted, it was reviewed and ranked. At the end of the day, I don’t regret it one bit. It was an amazing experience where I learned a lot, even through my many mistakes. I don’t think I pushed myself this hard on a project (whether it was IF or not) before. I am proud of what I have done no matter the results. Now I can focus on making it EVEN better with all the feedback I got.

Thank you to the peeps at home who cheered me on (I know they won’t read this, but still). Thank you to the peeps who’ve followed through my progress on the game and kept me motivated through it all. Thank you to everyone who played the game, rated it, left me a comment or a review. Thank you to everyone who took their time to give me extensive feedback (the good, the bad and the drink puns!) and answer my many questions when they encountered a bug.

I’m going to stop this Post-Mortem with a nice bit. My family who are mostly non-gamer (or think games are evil and whatnot) not only loved the game, were enthusiastic about trying more IF, but became highly competitive in trying to get the highest score in the Timed Arcade mode (38 drinks in 5min has not been not beaten yet). And finally, a quote from my mom: This is the first time I’ve liked a game.

EDIT: There was actually an interesting comment in the anonymous ones I got with the rating, where the reviewer wondered whether my entry was more of a point-and-click than a interactive fiction game. I would love to discuss more about it with that person (or anyone really)!

16 Likes

Like you, I started in July (maybe it was June) with a half-finished game that had been lurking on my hard drive for a few years, making occasional whimpering noises. I decided to darn well roll up my sleeves and finish the game in time for the Comp.

It’s hard work. I ended up with ulnar tunnel problems in my left hand and tendinitis in my right hand. I have the advantage, however, that I’m retired, so I could devote hours to it every day. When I started the final lap, I was very unsure how to get to the ending, and a couple of the puzzles had to be redesigned. As the reports from beta-testers started rolling in, I made more changes, mostly in the interest of making it easier – more in-game clues, plus a few alternate solutions to puzzles.

There’s a real sense of accomplishment in finishing a large project. Enjoy it! And now you have a whole year to develop your next story…

7 Likes

Thank you! This whole process what a challenge, one I was glad to go through, even if it made me exhausted by the end. I am really excited about whatever comes next! If I do enter next year though, I think I will try to shoot for a shorter game (30min/1h play).
And I am sorry to hear about your hands. That sounds very painful!

3 Likes

…without that three years old half-finished game lurking on your hard drive making whimpering noises to usher you on this time, of course.

2 Likes

My creative process tends to be nonlinear, so you’re right – starting from scratch and finishing something in 10 months may be a challenge. As a point of comparison, I first drafted my self-published fantasy epic (not IF) in 2004. Published it in 2017. You can find it on Amazon, but you have to spell my name right. The final version retains about six paragraphs of the initial draft; the rest of it I had to throw away, but no regrets.

5 Likes

I’ve only been in the IF Community for about a year and a half by now, with my first game (Meeting the Parents) published in early June 2021. I have only created things with Twine (and mainly on SugarCube) and had not had any coding knowledge before starting my own project.

Whoa - you’ve only been coding two-ish years? TTTT is so custom! I thought you’d have much more programming experience.

I don’t think I spent more than 3 months on the game,

Also wow! You built and wrote a substantial game in a relatively short time. I’m impressed. Esther’s had a short development too, but it has a tiny, tiny scope.

Look at this Passage Map! There’s a lot of text/code in those…

Thanks for sharing, I love seeing these! Wow, 64k words…

Do I regret submitting it like this? Not even one bit!

I love hearing this. I’m also glad you didn’t wait another year, especially given the other shiny ideas you’ve mentioned. Now you can take the flood of feedback and iterate on the game… Or not! You can be satisfied to carry what you learned into new work. Whatever feels right.

There was even a small contest with my family on who could get the most drinks done in the Timed Arcade Mode (the 38 cocktail highscore has yet to be broken)!

This is so sweet.

My first idea with the Watcher was to make it a Dungeon Master and the player is a TTRPG character… but after writing it it felt way too weird, so I scrapped it.

I love weird stuff like this - both the idea, and getting to hear what stayed in the cutting room floor.

my family was more mad about the ranking than I was.

This is also really sweet. Your family sounds lovely. :heart_eyes:

I hope you don’t take the 1s and 2s too hard. While a lot of reviewers talk about this lowest rating as meaning “this didn’t belong in the comp” it’s still up to each judge to choose how to use the rating scale. Even the top entries got some 1s. (I genuinely wonder if one or two judges misunderstand and use the scale backwards.)

The whole bit about being point and click is fascinating. I wouldn’t personally describe TTTT as point and click because it’s missing so much of that genre, but it’s got some required visual elements. The drink mixing is so central to your game, it might toe the line on the Spring Thing main festival guideline “recognizably the same work if everything other than the text and the way you interact with it were removed.” Honestly, so does Esther’s which is a very different experience without the pictures. My understanding is that IFComp is generally less strict about this, judging together games that Spring Thing splits into its main festival and its back garden. But I’m sure there are some judges who are really here for “text games” in the Spring Thing sense. Which is cool - I think it’s a strength that the comp attracts folks with different tastes.

My entry had nothing to say, it was just there, sipping on a cocktail and enjoying the vibes

:clinking_glasses: Cheers to this! May there always be room in the comp for chill vibes.

3 Likes

Less than, but yes. That and one hour class in middle school about super basic HMLT over 10 years ago. I think the visual of the game really made it feel as if I had more experience (thank you Photoshop!) [though I didn’t start messing with custom build (HTML ones) on Twine before May/June this year]

I don’t think that sunk in still, to be honest. Part of my mind is still annoyed I couldn’t add more :stuck_out_tongue:

That’s with code! The actual story is more around 40-45k in-game (closer to 60k in my writing file with the rest of the cut text).

You should check out @cchennnn Twine Gardening then, you’d have a blast!

If I had waited another year, I think it would have been much too big for the IFComp, with playthroughs being well over 2h. In that “planned” version, it would have fit more the SpringThing comp, for sure.

I had a good sleep and then another nap. That helped :stuck_out_tongue: I knew my entry would not please everyone, being a bit out there compared to what the Comp usually has in terms of gameplay/vibe. I would have loved to know what didn’t work for those judges though. It would have been an interesting perspective.

I thought so too! Thank you anonymous reviewer for the comment, wherever you are!

:clinking_glasses: cheers to that! I might be back next year for another chill vibe too :stuck_out_tongue:

3 Likes

The Leafstone Shield and its follow-ups? Introduced like this?

“The large cast of colorful characters includes two urbane but thoroughly evil wizards, an arrogant and unreliable concert pianist, a thief, a straight-laced governess, a half-breed demon, and a not-very-bright ghost.”

The “arrogant and unreliable concert pianist” intrigues me. So specific, without actually revealing anything.

I’ll see what the present-season has in store this year…

That’s it, yes. It’s not the darkest or heaviest of fantasy epics – the pianist, the governess, and the ghost are by way of being comic relief. But there are some dark moments in the story, for sure. Kyura, who is 17, has to kill the evil wizard twice, because evil wizards tend not to stay dead. And of course the girls (Kyura, Meery, and Alixia) all end up with boyfriends, because, well, of course they do! So there’s some romance. Also dragons.

1 Like