This is the third game I’ve made with the Versificator 2 engine.
Of the previous two games, Draculaland was meant to play like a Scott Adams-style ultraterse adventure (although the dialogue ended up rather more flavourful) and Detectiveland was me taking the engine in its own direction. Zeppelin Adventure I specifically wanted to play like a golden-age parser game: the Infocom to Draculaland’s Adventure International. This is one reason for the retro look.
The change in layout has been mainly welcomed, although at least one notable reviewer (Emily Short) preferred the two-column layout. The reason I changed it - apart from looking more terminal-ish - was that with the old layout, messages got missed, especially when the messages weren’t an immediate response to an action the player just made. According to feedback, and in several video playthroughs, players would tend to walk around with their eyes on the “room” panel, and miss new messages at the bottom of the scroller, such as the magpie that snatches your keys in Draculaland. One Youtuber thought the ‘disappearing’ keys was a bug - which means that it was one, of sorts. Now those messages pop up close to where your eyes are anyway, and I increased the contrast between the newest message and the older ones.
For an Infocom-ish feel, the EXAMINE verb is essential, and I didn’t want to clutter the screen by putting the same verb next to every item, so I implemented it by clicking on nouns. Long room descriptions I couldn’t come up with an elegant solution for, since non-portable objects, which in a parser game would be listed as part of the room description, would have to be re-listed as buttons. I didn’t want to move the buttons to the middle of the text (“You’re standing on the deck of your zeppelin, next to the wooden …”) because I thought it would break the flow of the text and feel too ‘choicey’. I could make those in-text buttons invisible, I suppose, so you just read about the steering wheel in the text but don’t know it’s a link till you look for it, but that seems like very bad practice and there’ll be too many situations where it’s not easy to say exactly where the link should begin and end. So I pretty much gave up. This wasn’t as much of a sacrifice as I feared it would be, as it’s easy to add plenty of flavour text to a location with a few scenery objects.
As to the story itself. I wanted to make an unashamed puzzler, set in an unashamed puzzle world, so I made a setting that is broadly SFF-ish but doesn’t fit into any particularly existing subgenre. It started off with the “landing the zeppelin” puzzle and I pretty much made it up from there as I went along, adding flavour and background to facilitate the puzzles. The paternoster lift was added as a tribute to the one at my alma mater, the University of Leicester, whose paternoster was decommissioned this year, leaving two left in service in the UK. Ride 'em while you can, they’re awesome, and really hardly ever maim anyone. It was a bloody nightmare to code, though.
Things I think worked:
the puzzles. As more than one reviewer commented, Detectiveland’s wacky puzzles didn’t particularly match the down-n’-dirty setting, even though I think I made it clear it was a tongue-in-cheek version of that setting. The wacky puzzles fit in Zeppelin Adventure because it’s a wacky setting. Making almost all the NPCs robots is a good excuse for their behaviour being entirely deterministic, too.
the setting. It was created to facilitate puzzles but it got fleshed out a lot in my head, especially now I’m creating the feelies. I may revisit the worlds of the East Mars Company in future.
the implementation of EXAMINE. When I first created this engine I thought it would be for Scott Adams clones. In addition to the dialogue, the long object descriptions are what make the game able to be more of a narrative. I didn’t necessarily use it for that purpose in ZA, but it’s there.
the clockwork animals puzzle. I know I already said the puzzles, but I think that’s the one I’m proudest of
Things I could have done better:
I’ve learned not to make my game beta-playable until it’s possible to actually win. I released an incomplete version to testers, and enough people played that that when I added an endgame they were mostly done, and the ending didn’t get tested enough.
The DOS look didn’t work well for everyone, especially people with visual impairments. Sorry. You can change the font in the options screen, but that’s not obvious enough. You also need to be able to change the colours to a plain scheme, which I’ll add.
Spring Thing was great fun, again. Big thanks to Aaron, and to all the other participants, players and reviewers, and congratulations to Michael.
My next game’s gonna be about pirates.