What to write

So I’m all enthusiastic about getting back into writing IF again, but I’m a bit stuck. I might send some thoughts out into the ether and see what happens.

I enjoyed the wordplay in Ad Verbum, and I have lots of notes on a something similar (such as a dastardly dragon, dentures dripping deadly drool … distressed damsel droops drearily). One issue, though, is that it’s really hard to find an overarching plot; I just have a whole lot of unrelated locations.

I like the general idea of working within constraints, though. Another possibility is a one move game that allows a large number of interesting actions (since all it needs to do for an action is give a response, not change the world state). Possible theme: breaking a time loop. Not sure whether it would be science fiction or fantasy.

Another attractive area is a heroic adventure/quest, but without the fighting. I like adventure movies quite a lot, but the bad guys are almost always defeated by violence. It keeps things exciting and the stakes high (life or death) – but it isn’t a message I want to give. I wouldn’t want it to come across too seriously, though, just as a fun adventure.

Well, those are my thoughts at the moment. Any other inspiration welcome, or comments on these possibilities.

Oh, I really like that idea.

Isn’t that basically the concept behind Aisle?

Also not much plot, but you might check out Andrew Schultz’s games Shuffling Around and A Roiling Original for some more word-game inspirations

Wasn’t there some time loop game like this? I forget where I saw it, and I can’t find it on IFDB. And for the general subject of one-move games, I assume you know about Aisle and its ilk, but there’s also the Fingertips games from Apollo 18+20.

Good luck!


Mobius is a short game about breaking a time loop, but it allows several turns before everything resets again.

It’s a common trope now.


Rematch by Andrew Pontious is a one-move game about trying and trying until you get it right. (Or at least so I hear. I haven’t played it.)

Some inspirations for wordplay ideas lately: I second the vote for Andrew Schultz’s games if you’re looking for wordplay games that aren’t necessarily big on plot. Ad Verbum was also a big puzzle collection, and so was Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail Of It, though one or two areas had a bit more of a through-line plot (the restaurant in particular, I’m thinking of). Hulk Handsome’s In A Manor Of Speaking also. For me, at least, if the wordplay is good enough I don’t necessarily need plot. Earl Grey is a wordplay game with a throughline plot, though it’s incredibly zany–actually I found the zaniness of the plot and world vitiated the game for me, because I never had any idea what I might be supposed to trying to accomplish, and the wordplay mechanism was wide open enough that it didn’t give me any direction either (since it could operate on any word that appeared in the game, not simply on object names). Puddles on the Path is another wordplay game with a bit of a throughline plot that’s not just “visit all these locations and do these things” like Ad Verbum, and even a bit less relentlessly surreal than Shuffling Around. And Under, In Erebus is another wordplay game where you’re working in a consistentish world toward an overall goal (though it is pretty hard to see how you’re going to get there).

But if you want a wordplay game where the wordplay is really integrated into the worldbuilding and there’s a story that makes sense, you need to play Counterfeit Monkey.

Motivating the world for a wordplay game can be really hard though. I have a lot of puzzles drawn up for a game that I haven’t really started because I have a terrible time figuring out how to start writing the plot, even though the plot is just supposed to be a silly skeleton for puzzles. Also I found out that the first puzzle I had planned was word-for-word in Nord and Bert and that was a drag, so don’t overfamiliarize yourself with the canon.

But wordplay games are great and you should try to do yours! The puzzles can be their own reward.

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]

Thanks for the thoughts (and references) everyone – still contemplating what to do …

Just going to weigh in on content. My opinion is not necessarily a popular one, but I’ll throw it out here all the same. You mentioned a lighthearted adventure with no violence, and I just wanted to say that, while I commend the pacifism, I think that idea has been done quite often. I personally find silly fantasy adventures with no violence and such fun enough, but not quite as enthralling; not because of the violence, but because of the seriousness of the adventure. Hence my love/hate relationship with Zork. Tons of fun, but also lots of silly names that kind of broke my immersion. Just my thoughts, no offense meant.

I was thinking more “fun” than “silly”; it could still have a serious elements.

The challenge for me is to create a heroic quest with dangerous obstacles to overcome – and possibly a powerful enemy to defeat – that doesn’t involve fighting and death. For example, outwitting them, banishing them or changing their point of view, as in the Lego movie:

the villain was redeemed rather than killed

That I can get behind. Fun rather than silly, that is. I always feel let down by silly fantasy; seems such a cop-out. But a fun adventure with some complex obstacles and possible danger could be very engaging.