First, thanks, people above for the mention. It’s a big morale boost, as I try to push out the 3rd release of Roiling. (It’s close to there, and a few less-logical puzzles were modified, but there are always features.) I’m -still- fixing errors & finding stuff that makes me wonder what I was thinking. Wordplay may require exactitude, but don’t worry about perfection.
I think that is the nature of wordplay games–there’s so much you can calculate and check, and you have to check off on the thinky bits with any emotional bits, whether that’s amusing or serious or what have you. Then you find a better way to help the player visualize what you want them to do, without noise or interference.
To get the idea, I essentially worked by process of elimination. I took on games I liked, then had the nerve to ask for more. What didn’t Nord and Bert do? What didn’t Ad Verbum do? What would I have done extra? What puzzles was I expecting, but I didn’t see? Would I have allowed an alternate solution for a puzzle?
In the case of N&B, I realized one sort of word relation they didn’t do–it would have been impractical with an Apple diskette and memory–and went with it. I had to cut it back for a 2-hour game for IFComp, but I was able to sort the remainders in another game.
So a great way for you to come up with a new mechanic/thread for a game would be to look through wordplay games, (whether you like them or not,) then try to play contrarian and see a way to expand on those games. Or make notes on what you liked and didn’t like and review them. Or notice one puzzle you really liked and see if it’s expandable. You may have that a-ha moment, or you may say “Someone’s already done this… haven’t they? Oh, wait, no they haven’t!”
Unfortunately, you can’t force an a-ha moment. You can only surround yourself with stuff and people likelier to create one. My inspiration is Martin Gardner books (one of which is called A-Ha) I loved as a kid as well as the more abstract games.
The below isn’t a rant but just something not to make this TLDR & to emphasize more of the detail-work. I hope it is not off-topic. One last thing: don’t worry if it’s too abstract or too obscure, or Some People Might Not Like It. Wordplay isn’t inherently morally offensive. It may be too tough, or poorly clued, but you will find ways to change that if you think about it. I’ve wasted a lot of time wondering if I should bother, when I really should’ve been thinking of how to make sure people who are open to the game will be pleased with it. This may be something you already know, but it’s worth repeating double for wordplay games, because if they aren’t inherently offensive, they also aren’t inherently Good For Society.
BTW, the one-move game mentioned above was Michael Hilborn’s Fingertips: Fingertips. I recommend it, too.
And Matt, I think there’s more than enough room for a Nord sequel/tribute. My writing notebook-files are covered with spoonerisms, for instance. When you say don’t overfamiliarize yourself with the canon, you should also note, don’t assume your readers are overfamiliar with the canon–because if they are, and they reject your game out of hand, they’re not worth pleasing anyway! All you can do is check off, say, that your precise puzzle didn’t occur in N&B.
[rant]Finding plot is frustrating. I can’t answer to that. I’m not good at it. I figured what plot there is of Shuffling Around as I went along. I tend to build bottom-up with plot. I didn’t even know the antagonist’s name until a week before IFComp, and I didn’t have one for Roiling Original. I’ve had enough people say nice things to me about my games without having a huge plot that I’m happy.
But I think that Looking for Plot, expressed just as Looking for Plot, made me a bit panicky. I was just surprised and happy when things happened. It generally took me two weeks for an idea to fall into place after I said, I need some motivation for the player, here. I don’t know if I provided enough. However, I don’t really need plot. I actually have fun imagining plot when it’s missing, and I like Because it is There, as long as it isn’t for something I’ve seen before.
Given the games you’ve already written, if I have that faith I can find plot, you definitely should. You may also get a lot of inspiration from testers. I think it’s fair to say “I have this great idea, but I don’t see where or how to link things up.” Testers will say I’m interested in person/thing X, or why Y is the way it is, and then you have something to focus on, to make the game less abstract. They’ll point out character X should be doing more, or ways for character Y to be less of an Obvious Tutorial.
Also, given their feedback, some of which will be “Why don’t you do (simple thing X)” and probably leave you thinking, oh, of course, you can expect at least one part of the game to have a major rewrite. I’ve done so for Shuffling (changed the hint mechanism from 2 items to 1, added easy/difficult mode, added checking for good guesses) and Roiling (changed the intro before each release, and also added clues all over and made some puzzles more sensible.)
One thing I regret not doing from the start was listing parts of the game that were too abstract, so I could at least mitigate the puzzly feeling.
I don’t know how interesting my notes on my games would be, or if it would derail this thread, so maybe I should just write attach my ideas if there’s enough interest. I think it suffices to say that you can/should expect your game to morph considerably if it’s based on abstract wordplay and not super-short. I also think that, if/when you add hinting devices, those can open the plot immensely. Or they can just add details that may please the reader. (Adding items that made you see red was a lot of fun in my game.)
I found that adding stuff that -seemed- dry and technical often helped free me for the creative bits, and you will, too. Testing to make sure your mechanic (once you have it) works isn’t the fun creative stuff, but it does make you feel less helpless, and it’s very proactive. The more automated testing you can do, and sooner, the better. Even if it seems you aren’t going to use it much, or it’ll only help in an instance or two–trust me, it multiplies, and it makes a lot of things easier. Just lessening that “Aw, man, am I missing something” feeling is a big help.
For instance, I thought Earl Grey was a cool game despite not considering some possibilities. If the authors had had a PERL script that helped them with the game mechanics, they could’ve at least thrown in jokes for what didn’t work & made the initial game more robust. My understanding is, they didn’t have that level of technical knowledge, so they missed a few chances. But I’m glad they went and wrote it anyway.
Still, I wanted to cover those errors, and if there are other deficiencies in my game, I at least covered what they did.[/rant]