Phew! What a ride! I’m thrilled and honored to have placed first this comp. I was hoping to do well, but this is more than I expected, and I’m truly grateful for everyone who enjoyed The Wizard Sniffer and voted. Of course, a hearty congratulations is due to all the winners for writing some truly wonderful stories. In my mind, any of the top 5 could have taken first, and they certainly would have in past comps. And really, everyone who entered should be proud of what they accomplished. Making a game is hard!
I’d like to frame my postmortem by what I hoped to accomplish. It will most certainly be full of spoilers, so be warned.
A Queer Story
First and foremost, I wanted to tell a personal story, specifically about a gay boy’s relationship with his parents. In gay genre fiction where the parents play a significant role and reject the child, the stories typically have a happy ending (parents reconcile with child) or a tragic ending (parents remain committed to rejecting child who probably dies).
Where was the tale of the boy who severs his relationship with his toxic parents to find his own hopeful future? Not every story needs reconciliation for there to be a happy ending. This seems truer to real life for some of us.
Enter Tristain. He is at the heart of the story, and everything else was built around him. I was watching lots of Drag Race as I was writing this, which may have inspired me to make Tristain a drag queen. What if his dad was an evil wizard? Maybe his son wanted to escape? I thought I could play with traditional archetypes to make my point. I find tropes helpful because they set up expectations without the author having to do too much worldbuilding, and I really wanted to jump right into the story. If there are knights and dragons and wizards, people do a great job of filling in the blanks themselves.
For clarification, Tristain is not a trans woman, but a cis gay man (hence the masculine pronouns) who aspires to perform on stage one day. There is currently a debate (mostly found online) between those who believe drag as an art form is inherently misogynistic in its caricature of women and those who value its history and the space for exploring gender that drag provides. I think there are merits to this conversation, but it wasn’t one I wanted to explore in my game. I genuinely hoped to write a drag character with as much sensitivity and care as I could, but I think in a post comp release I’m going to try and make it clearer that Tristain only wants to perform in drag, and while he uses the opportunity presented in front of him to trick the knight into helping him escape, it’s not in a haha-crossdressing kind of way. We’re supposed to laugh that the queen is making the knight look a fool, and not the other way around.
Queklain, Tristain’s father, rejected the family history of becoming a puzzlemaster and instead chose to become a witch. Despite choosing a female-gendered profession, he does not give his son the same freedom he chose for himself. He is like the Baby Boomer who in 1969 rocked out at Woodstock, marched for civil rights, protested Vietnam, and contributed to major social change, yet in 2017 still does not believe the gays should get married and thinks people are making too big a deal about all these sexual assaults. He is a hypocrite, and since there is no changing his mind, the next best thing is to let him go.
As for Tuck, I wrote him to be asexual (evidenced by “Cupido sings not for me”), but since the world does not yet recognize asexuality, he is confused by his feelings. The kiss is meant to reference all the times even us gays assume that someone who doesn’t display any attraction to women must therefore be gay. With time, he’ll figure it out and will likely end up in a relationship with a man who is in it for the emotional intimacy. Tristain is far too sexual for Tuck, but I have no doubt they’ll remain great friends.
A Story About Identity
Chandler Groover wrote an awesome review of my game on IFDB, which was spot on when it came to my take on identities. Given he is such a great writer, I’ll let his words do the work for me:
All of the main cast has issues with identity in one form or another. The most layered is the protagonist, who was born a princess, turned into a pig, and mistaken for a wizard sniffer – though she had no control over these identities herself. Only at the end is she able to shed these identities, including being a princess by faking her death. For the first time in her life, she can choose to be who she wants to be. I’ve never been more satisfied writing an ending.
I know I wrote compelling characters when I want to keep writing about them. Joy, Tristain, and Tuck are so close to Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose, it’s almost like I did it on purpose. And now I want to write a buddy comedy game where they journey through a generic medieval fantasy world, exploring its absurd tropes, learning more about themselves, and persevering through the tough times by the power of their friendship. Too many ideas and too little time!
I don’t remember the exact quote or who said it, but there’s a quote which says that when someone tries to make you miserable, the best form of defiance is to find joy and laugh (and now you know where the name Princess Joy came from; she’ll always be Princess Defiance to me). Well, 2016-17 was all about trying to make me miserable, but it wasn’t going to take interactive fiction from me. I was going to make my story a comedy, and write the funniest, most entertaining comedy I could manage, and share it with others, and allow them a moment for laughter too.
I was inspired by slapstick comedy and plays where characters run in and out of rooms, falling for mistaken identities and acting like fools, and I wanted to capture that feeling within the game, particularly through the puzzles. Every puzzle needed to have a funny premise, solution, and/or conclusion (with the exception of summoning the crows, as by that point the story has taken a sharp right turn to the dramatic). If it wasn’t humorous to me, I ditched it.
I think I was less successful with the large map and the confusing mid-game. The word “sprawling” came up several times in reviews. In my mind, the idea of some dim-witted heroes following a pig around a large castle paints a hilarious picture. However, players are less likely to find it funny when they are part of the joke rather than being in on it. Fortunately for me, it didn’t seem to negatively affect the scores that much.
- There is another way to put out the fire in the foyer without using the crate of fireworks. The original solution was a great deal more difficult. My testers convinced me to make it easier, but I left the old solution in the game in case players stumbled upon it.
- If you sniff the lift immediately after putting out the fire with the pail in the room, Ser Leonhart will mistake the lift for a restroom and will actually use the pail as a chamberpot. I am not too proud for toilet humor.
- Ser Leonhart will pretty much attack everything you sniff except for the heroes in disguise, where he’ll frustratingly resort to more sensible actions. Comedy!
- The pepper shaker, in addition to being the solution for the gargoyle puzzle, can also be used to locate heroes by going from room to room and shaking. This is a clearly less fun way to play so I’m glad only a few players tried this.
- The vending machine is solvable as a puzzle using Tuck instead of Ser Leonhart. There is a hint in one of the portraits.
- Speaking of the portraits, they can be examined individually for a bit more history (and comedy, of course). In my transcripts, I noticed most player didn’t try examining them.
- Elaine (the old woman) will give some additional backstory if you try to solve the vending machine puzzle but fail, at least for a few rounds.
- If you bring the pepper shaker into the final room instead of the handbell, you can make everyone sneeze!