Voyage of the Marigold Post Mortem

I like to think the Voyage of the Marigold stands on it own and art that needs explanation has failed. But I also love reading post-mortems of other works so here I will attempt to explain some of the choices I made. There will be mild spoilers but I’ll save specific reveals for a future post.

Before I start I’ll like to say that I am overjoyed by the reception to VotM. Everyone has been so kind and I love the reviews and messages that I have received. VotM took way longer to implement than I thought but the feedback makes it all worthwhile.

It may explain a lot about VotM to tell you that it started life as one of those one-page single-player RPGs that were all the rage for a hot minute during the pandemic. I had this idea for a simple paper based roguelike where every sector in a six-by-six grid would be a random encounter generated by a table modified by the grid position. The idea was that the encounters would get harder the closer you were to the exit.

As the encounters started to get more elaborate I realized that this idea would be much better as a computer game and I started to implement the prototype.

I drew a log of inspiration from the Fighting Fantasy books that I loved in the 80s but also from more modern games like Slay the Spire and FLT for their sense of progression and risk management. I have always wanted a good Star Trek game where you give orders, this seemed like a chance to make that a reality.

What Went Right

Implementation : integrating the ink language (which I not worked with before) with javascript was a joy. ink itself is a wonderfully idiosyncratic language with some warts but the ability to easily slot it into a larger harness made it perfect for what I wanted. Each encounter is implemented as a self-contained ink “knot”, the javascript harness can easily jump around the story whenever the player enters hyperspace.

Gameplay: Most IF is either puzzle-based or plot-based. I did write a few sectors where the player must solve what a podcast I listen to calls Space Problems - an issue where there is a clear solution based on logic or science facts. But these quickly get boring so I really leaned into the dilemmas that make the good episodes of Star Trek so enjoyable. Problems with multiple solutions where you effectively trade one resource for another.

VotM has several resources: time, fuel, hull strength, torpedoes, and knowledge about the map are the obvious ones. There is a hidden stat, morale, that alters certain encounters to make the dilemmas sharper. The final statistic, player morality, appears nowhere in the source code and is entirely in the players own mind. Some reviewers have commented on how they enjoyed making the decisions that Kirk or Picard would have made but VotM does not particularly reward “moral” decisions or punish “bad” ones. I wanted to give players the satisfaction of living up to their own ideals and people seem to have responded to that.

Art: I knew from the start that I wanted some illustrations - they were a big part of the allure of the Fighting Fantasy series. Here I faced a big problem - I can’t draw. But I have been looking for an excuse to learn Blender for a while so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try 3D modeling. Now a faced problem number 2 - I can’t 3D model either. It was time to resort to the last refuge of the hack - extreme stylization. I already had code from a previous project that dithered images down to 1 bit so all I had to do was style the rest of the game with a 80s Mac aesthetic and go wild. I had a rule that I wouldn’t spend more than a few hours on each image and tried to push the trippy space theme. Somebody nominated me for a “Best Artwork” ribbon so I guess I did OK.

Writing: The idea of presenting the game as a first-person log in past tense came naturally, both from star trek and various first-hand accounts of real life adventures (Voyage to the South Seas, Worst Journey in the World). A better writer could have made more of the idea but I found it very difficult to write exciting encounters in this style. Dropping into the bridge recorder transcript was a total cheat but one that works well when used sparingly and was the only way I could maintain the conceit.

I do like how the log unfolds almost like an official record of the mission, complete with an epilog explaining what happened afterwards.

I wrote about 2 paragraphs of a universe bible detailing the Glexx war and the history of the nebula before deleting it. The worst sin a writer can commit in scifi is to explain everything. Who were the Ancients, why did they leave artifacts everywhere, what happened during the war, what’s the deal with the giant statue, the ruined space station, or the sector you can’t remember, why do the Krook want cats?

Don’t ask me, I just wrote the thing.

What Could Have Been Better

Combat : Combat was originally going to play a bigger role and be more complex. I wanted to invoke the feeling of suspense of a really good space battle with clever feints and positional strategy. After a couple of abortive attempts I realized that it was going to be too complex but I still wanted something more than rolling a dice. In the end I went for a cut down card-based combat that I think is just OK.

Difficulty : Balancing a game like this is tricky and I spent hours agonizing over how to make the game fun but challenging. My goal was to make the average player finish the game on the second attempt and I failed spectacularly. Imagine my astonishment as people contacted me to say they were on their 8th or 10th attempt, or reviewers complaining that content started to repeat on the 4th play-through.

I implemented two things to make the game easier. The maze is (somewhat) random and I do ensure that there is never a straight path from start to finish to make things interesting. I am not a total monster, mazes that are too twisty and complex are also rerolled. Then I made a few sectors that allow you to take shortcuts through the maze to break out of dead ends. The game tries to put these in places where then would do the most help plus some encounters give you clues or knowledge that will help. There are a few encounters that will give you much-needed fuel that the game tries to place near the exit.

It is still possible for a player to get stuck in a long dead-end and be forced to backtrack - I never really came up with a good solution to that.

Plot: The mercy mission is such a staple of Star Trek that it seems a no-brainer to hang a game off it. But a race against time really interacts badly with exploration and VotM really suffers from that. I call this the FTL-problem - player should either be rewarded for exploring or for rushing through. Both VotM and FLT try to do both and it doesn’t really make sense.

Some ideas I abandoned

  • Allowing the player to download an ebook of the entire adventure at the conclusion.

  • Encounters that take place over multiple sectors, I prototyped a few interesting ones but they didn’t really fit into the idea of rushing towards the exit.

  • Having the exact position of the exit be unknown at the start of the game, with clues scattered around the nebula - seemed too cruel even for me.

  • A powerful guardian blocking the exit that you either have to bribe or fight. This also seemed too cruel since most players would be very low on resources at this stage of the game.
    Interesting things happening between sectors - problems with the crew or the ship that needed to be sorted out before you reach the next sector. I thought these would just get in the way.

  • I originally thought it would be cool to have theme music and maybe suspenseful chords during the fight scenes but I have no talent in this direction.


Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed hearing about all of the different influences you had, which I wouldn’t have guessed. And you did the art yourself too! Jack of all trades.

Hahaha. I will say I felt it was a bit too hard after I posted my review, but I did actually finish on attempt #2 . . . so then seeing everyone else was actually a huge boost to my mental estimation of how good I would be as a Starfleet captain. Beam me up :wink:


That is the classic roguelike developer experience, thinking it’ll be about the right difficulty and then it’s way too hard.

Though oddly enough I got through on my first attempt? I was getting a little low on some things but I wasn’t too worried yet. I had explored all but one map cell so I knew I must finally be on the path to the exit.

Guess I just got very lucky.


I really liked your game. I almost beat it one time. My biggest complaint was that I kept getting immediately killed which sort of rendered all the various stats irrelevant.


My biggest complaint was that I kept getting immediately killed which sort of rendered all the various stats irrelevant.

I tried to keep the instant death to the minimum and telegraph disastrous choices in the text. There are only a few places where death is absolutely guaranteed.

The pressure wave is perhaps the most unfair, being the purest version of what I refer to as “Space Problems” in my writeup. There is a solution but you have to think carefully and maybe read my mind a little. It is very possible to make a choice that will instantly kill you and perhaps I should have made that clearer. I ended up leaving it as is because space travel is dangerous.

The neutron star is another example but there I think I got the balance right. You really have to ignore a lot of warnings to die.


Having watched a lot of Star Trek I expect my bad decisions to result in total success. It’s been a while so I’ve forgotten the details but I could try again and give you feedback if you’re interested.

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I welcome all feedback (good and bad) but I probably will not be adjusting VotM except for another round of spelling fixes.

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I managed to beat the game so I’m pretty happy about that. In the spirit of providing hopefully helpful feedback, there are various possible explanations why I’d choose seemingly more risky choices such as that they are more interesting than the safer sounding alternatives, and that there is the possibility that the risk will be rewarded with needed resources.