First, the process of creating two (relatively short) entries for IFComp:
I had much grander plans for two related games at the end of 2020. I’m not going to tell you what they were, because they also conflicted with something else I noticed: a hundred games is a lot, and I’d like, if I could, to make something clearly shorter than Under They Thunder! The two games in question are still worth writing one day, but I’m sort of glad they never gained full traction even though I wrote a lot of notes. I still feel like I was missing the big picture–or at least the mid-to-big picture. I know how they start and end. I have a few good moments in the middle. I haven’t pulled them together. Nevertheless, my goal (not just due to laziness) was to write two games shorter, but hopefully more memorable, than my 2017 entry The Cube in the Cavern. Each one actually grew from another competition, and each grew from a relatively famous chess puzzle. It’s about three pawns breaking through against three pawns. You can do it by trial and error. Don’t let the thumbnail fool you.
The idea is this–something that looks simple or boring actually has a surprise ending, and you can only see it once before it flips to from “what the heck” to obvious. Now I actually implemented this specific puzzle long ago in a minor puzzlefest game for the Apollo album. It was a technical exercise for myself. But I wanted to do more, and I didn’t want to do just chess. This had been on my mind a lot.
It wasn’t until my bigger games fell through that I went with the smaller ones. I think each has enough a-ha moments to be a neat sort of game. So I present the separate postmortems, as well as thoughts on trying to write two similar games at a time. Also, they got kind of long, and I couldn’t decide whether to place them in this topic, or another one, and how much to put behind a “details” tag.
Perhaps the oddest thing about these two games compared to my usual fare is that you don’t really need a map for either. Cube in the Cavern could be visualized, but you still needed to map it out. WII has no rooms, and 4x4’s is (apart from the trivially mappable introductory areas) just, well, a 5x5 board. So I always wanted to write a roomless or quasi-roomless game, and I sort of got both, since you can just type a3 or c5 or whatever into 4x4Q.
It was tough to switch gears between games and programming languages. I’d hoped one would provide a vacation/change of pace from the other, but due to me starting in 4x4Q later than I usually do for IFComp and some disappointment my bigger game didn’t fall into place, I was always a bit distracted from each game. (Also, I felt weird writing 2 chess games in 3 months.) Things like reading and programming and general writing notes provided a break from each other, so I thought different languages would, too. Not so much, though. I think the big problem is: Python is interpretive, Inform is compiled. So I kept having to look for quantitatively different errors as I engineering-tested.
The games’ (relative) simplicity also may have made for a mental snafu, too–I alternatively worried I had bugs and also that I hadn’t added enough bells and whistles to keep things entertaining. And the tutorials were another thing–people know Tic-Tac-Toe, but for chess, how much is enough without potentially spoon-feeding the reader and annoying them that way? So I thought I would have two similar entries in terms of execution, but they turned out to have more differences than I’d thought.
I wasn’t expecting a chess-based game to get a ton of reviews, and if you told me the review totals, I’d have been pretty happy–but I’d have assumed WII had gotten fewer reviews. So that made me quite pleased people were willing to give Python a shot. I suspect one reason 4x4Q got so few reviews is that the puzzles are a straight shot. People may concentrate so much on them, they don’t want to bother with the narrative. I can’t blame them.
Looking at other people who submitted multiple entries this year, I think they made good choices. They wrote about stuff that had probably been on their mind for a while. The Dead Account and Weird Grief crossed over with characters. And Then You Come dealt with memories from youth, Off-Season at the Dream Factory with a favorite book, and yes, there’s that third entry, too! Both authors used similar engines–though Adventuron is obviously a different beast from Inform!
My efforts were similar to each other mainly by being abstract, and those similarities weren’t enough to avoid a bit of culture shock when shifting gears. But I wished I’d been able to add more story. Still, I think all three of us should be pleased with our efforts, and I recommend anyone who wants to submit 2 games either 1) make them similar or have clear crossovers or 2) have had them both planned for a long while.
In terms of placing, I was hoping to have a composite place less than or equal to (# of entries + 1). But I really do think competition entries have gotten stronger and more robust over the years. I’m happy with what I have.