I think with videogames it's sometimes easy to forget that the game is not just what's happening on screen, or in the code. The game is also what's happening in the player's head, in their body, in the physical space they are inhabiting.
So I had this idea to create an inverted text adventure.
With traditional text adventures the game describes the scene – where you are, what you can see, what you can do – and the player issues instructions to move through and interact with the game world. In turn left that relationship is reversed. The game gives the player instructions, and the player’s role is to describe what they see, what environment they are travelling through.
There’s very little to the game in terms of what’s on screen and what’s in the code. It’s really just a series of prompts. The bulk of the game happens in the player’s head. The player has to do some imaginative work to get something out of the game; a different kind of work to what we’re accustomed to expect from videogames (where work usually means grind).
Some interesting things fall out of this. Firstly, it turns out the audio does a lot of heavy lifting with this one (try playing it with your sound muted to hear the difference). I used the same background drone + foreground stingers setup I made for computers are made out of stories, with the addition of a handful of procedural sound effects played during the question sections. They’re really just the aural equivalent of the photos the game occasionally displays, but those sound effects create a far more evocative sense of space than I was expecting.
What works less well is the heavy reliance on randomness. The game’s text is all implemented as Tracery grammars, with each section (directions, questions) built around a single Tracery file. This means that, depending on the RNG, consecutive instructions can wind up being very similar (“meander a little; meander a while”), or contradictory (“go forward; walk back”). I can imagine that being used to interesting effect in a different context, but here it makes the game feel clunky and artificial, and when it happens it snaps you out of the game’s (minimal) fiction.
I’m not sure if this is a problem inherent to Tracery (I’ve certainly seen some Cheap Bots Done Quick that suffer from similar issues), or if it’s just my implementation that’s lacking (very possible).
That said, I was surprised how well this one turned out. It’s somehow evocative and strange, and feels different to anything I’ve made in the past.
Controls: any key to advance
The file at this link will be deleted 1 month from now (01/06/19).
All downloads are zipfiles containing a Windows executable (I no longer own a Mac, and ran out of patience with Linux years ago).
As long as you abide by those licenses, you can do whatever you want with the download.
Some things that jumped out at me this month:
The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power is a startling piece of writing; I can’t remember the last time I read sci-fi this furious and bitter.
This description of a physarum transport model is fascinating, and really clearly explained. I love these kinds of emergent systems based on simple rules.
This is a beautiful piece of writing about sound, and listening, and gradually losing your hearing.
A talk given entirely via a custom chat client. Starts off as a charmingly hesitant conversation, turns into music, ends up as a collaborative composition with the audience.
In the mid- to late-2000s Mark Fisher’s k-punk blog was hugely important to me, as the centre of a constellation of blogs engaged in serious cultural/political criticism. This month I’ve been working my way through Repeater Books’ K-Punk collection of his writing. A few selected blog posts:
Hey. It’s rough out there. There’s too much noise, too much news, too much pollution, too much work, too many takes, too many nazis, too many billionaires. And there’s no time. No space to step back, catch your breath.
Take care of yourself. Carve out whatever small space you can and guard it carefully. I’ll try and do the same.
See you next month.