Tiny ECTOCOMP post-mortem: The Boot-Scraper, Bloody Raoul

Ectocomp came during a busy month when I didn’t have a bunch of time to devote to it, still, how hard can it be to carve out some three-hour chunks?

The idea for The Boot-Scraper had been marinating a long time: essentially I wanted to do something in the style of a conte cruel, basically, a bleak story that hinges on an ironic twist. I planned quite a lot for this one, creating a map that would let the player wander through the memories in the right order, outlining a story that was built around the fact of a character not scraping his boots when he should have. I was committed to releasing this in the Petite Mort section of the comp. I came really close to making it, too: I think this took less time than my other “failed Ectocomp” game, The Northnorth Passage. But there was just too much text to write. In the end I went a bit over, and it was a hard decision whether to enter it in the Grand Guignol or just shelve it for a time. (I decided that I didn’t want to do any more work on it then, because I didn’t have the time.) What still needs work for the complete version: I want there to be more scenery to play with in the memories, and slightly more conversation. I’m also going to remove the clunky “memory” objects that are just sitting there: that was game design coming from lack of time and desperation.

After deciding I didn’t have time to work more on The Boot-Scraper, I apparently decided I did have time to try again for a Petite Mort game. (I guess this is the same principle that makes it easier to watch three hour-long tv episodes than one two-hour movie?) Scraping the very bottom of the barrel for anagram pseudonyms, I came up with “Ian Cowsbell” and wrote Bloody Raoul. The title came to me first, and I built the game around it. I usually like to write Ectocomp games around a central gimmick, but Bloody Raoul doesn’t really have one; I consider it mainly interested in world-building. (I am already working on another project set in Saturnine, or at least an alternate version of it.) I do have to admit I’m a little sad that only six people rated it.

These were my two favorite games in the contest!

It took me way too long to realize “Ian Cowsbell” was an anagram. I suspected a pseudonym, but I didn’t try shuffling the letters until my third playthrough. Bloody Raoul should’ve placed higher. I can state, as a fact, that it’s better than my game at the very least. Hopefully more people get around to playing it.

And playing Boot-Scraper too! I embarrassingly dropped off writing EctoComp impressions, but I do want to try to review this one later.

About Bloody Raoul, some of us did play and enjoy it but are too pusillanimous to rate the games we play!

About The Boot-Scraper, I’m stuck and somewhat baffled:

[spoiler]First of all, this is the only way I was able to get out of the first location:

Second, having done that, and some other stuff, I seem to be stuck in Nygate prison with a locked door, a spar, and an unripe melon. I can go back the way I came, but I’ve been there already. What do I do?[/spoiler]

This bit is one of the best parts:

[spoiler]>x lizard
You can’t see any such thing.

It’s using a default error message to disorient you. You think you see a lizard, but then you don’t see it. Instead there’s now a melon where you thought there was a lizard.[/spoiler]

That is a neat idea, about the lizards/melon, but we have the error message so in our DNA that we just can’t think of it as a bug. Maybe a rephrasing is better?

Also, first time I saw the lizard and St. Stellio, I said, “OMG now I know how this guy is going to end!” :wink:

Ha, I always thought that the game was teaching me that lizard was pirate slang for melon. That’s funny.

I don’t think rephrasing would work as well. At least, not if the rephrasing were more clear.

[spoiler]The lizard is probably the first thing players examine, and their reaction will be “What? That’s not implemented?” Which prompts them to LOOK again and see, wait, there’s a melon here, not a lizard. It’s a neat moment where the player’s own experience creates the story. You’re not described as disoriented. You are disoriented.

And it gets a nice payoff when you learn more about the melons later.[/spoiler]

Yeah, I see, but as every other scenery object is not implemented, that does not work. Maybe for a future update.

Also, there has been people having problems with that, getting stuck just at the beginning because of that.

Anyway, everything could be solved easily for a postcompo version. I think the games is a worthy prequel of Ergot.


[spoiler]Unfortunately, I didn’t try LOOK after that. I don’t usually use LOOK when I can see the room description right there. I wound up progressing the first time with “TAKE ALL” and being very confused. Also, I may have examined the seaweed and everything like that before I got around to the lizard.

One way to force the desired interaction might be to have the game clear the screen every so often, so the player is more likely to think “Did I remember that wrong?” and try LOOK. But I don’t know the right time to clear the screen.[/spoiler]

Maybe I would feel a bit differently if I were actually able to progress past the other point where I’m stuck! Any help?

Here’s what to do:

[spoiler]When you enter Nygate Prison with the melon in your inventory, it says: “A wisp of delicious fragrances rises from the melon; it must have ripened.”

Eat the melon.[/spoiler]

Sorry for the confusion, matt! The opening scene was meant to work as it did for Chandler, but from the feedback I’ve gleaned I’d have to say it was more miss than hit – and the perception of a bug at the very beginning can leave the rest of game on bad footing.

Regarding scrolling back instead of typing >LOOK again – that’s a niche subject I find, maybe not fascinating, as I was going to say, but at least mildly interesting. I have been aware of it for more than twenty years! Here’s a quote from Andrew Plotkin’s 1996 review of Wearing the Claw:

(I’m pretty sure zarf later used the same world-changing trick in Shade, which is probably where I borrowed it from…)

When I play, though, I never even consider using the scroll bar! I sort of hate scroll bars anyway, but particularly in games, where they serve as bric-a-brac reminding me of word-processing. I always examine something again, or look again to get my bearings. I think it’s maybe an unconscious immersion-building thing I’m doing: it feels better performing the action again, knowing I’ll get the most up to date view (even if it will almost always be the same), than it does scrolling back. It’s probably no coincidence that my favorite IF interpreter was always the full-screen frotz, which had no scroll bars, just filled the screen with unstyled text. (Same with nethack and its kin – I liked them much better with simple fonts and full-screen.)

Ah, I completely missed that. That’s on me.

Interesting point about the scroll bar, Caleb! If I had to guess why I have that personal style, there’d be a few things.
One is, often there’s some information that isn’t in the current room description that I want to remember, and I hate taking notes. So I scroll up to review the text. (Frex, in The Wand I was constantly scrolling up to see what combinations I’d been using.)
Another is, I think sometimes I’ve had experiences where entering a command was laggier than scrolling up. Maybe particularly in the earliest days of Parchment and Quixe. Though on Gargoyle, scrolling used to be pretty laggy on my old computers… but by then I think my habits were formed. (I may be getting my causality backwards a little–I think part of the reason I always wanted to play online was because I liked the online interpreters better, partly because of scrollback.)
But also… if I’m looking, my character is literally just taking a glance around to refresh their memory. And that’s what I’m doing myself when I scroll up! In that way scrolling up is more diegetic then typing “look.”
Well, that last one may be a bit too cute.

Oh, I understand the beginning bit of The Boot-Scraper now! Like others, I thought it was a bug, but I was so glad I continued playing, because I loved it. Bleak, nasty, and with just the right amount of surreal.

Loved Bloody Raoul, too - it was my favourite from La Petite Mort - and only realised the author’s identity when Caleb posted about it on Twitter! I’d dearly love to play more games set in Saturnine.

I think that a library message slightly modified could do the trick, to appeal with it to the traditional parser audience, and convey that a change in perception has been produced, and at the same time make the reader feel inteligent “ahá, I know what you did there!”

For example, in Tuuli we used this message for examining yourself:

“Your looks are nothing special. You are young Lenne-who-would-be-the-witch: short, thin, pale, still wearing your maiden braids.”

You see, I used something recognizable by the community but customised to provide good literature and context.

Another trick used since the old times, for example, when there were not containers, adventures used the following trick:

open cupboard
a pile of objects falls to the ground

actually forcing the player to look again. That is, the “something changed” kind of message has been always a tool for us.

Also, Lime Ergot uses some of those, so I’m pretty sure Caleb will find something that works and fits his intentions.

I keep thinking about this. Maybe just “You can’t see a lizard.”

I don’t know. I think it would be a real shame to lose this effect with a more elaborate message.

“What lizard?”

Good suggestions – thanks! Yeah, it might be tricky to get this exactly right.