I haven’t designed, written or coded a digital games in … a long time. Years. Too many years. My first attempts, back in the early 1980s on a Sinclair ZX81, were unsurprisingly crude. A few programs did make it into computer magazines as boringly long code listings for people to type in; there’s a vague recollection of being excited by this, and not realising for several years that I wasn’t getting paid for my work.
I did, however, get paid for a basic (in every respect of the word) flight landing simulator which was published as an actual game that you bought on a cassette and spent an eternity loading. But not richly paid as it sold five copies on the shelf of Evesham Micros (when this was a tiny store in Evesham, the location of which ironically is now my solicitors), and I was left with a stock of C60 tapes from WHSmith in anticipation of doing multiple production runs to keep up with demand. Thankfully, I’d cornered the market at school in Panini football sticker trading (irony: never liked football) and so I was able to support failed enterprises such as ‘Independent 13 year old Game Designer and Publisher’.
Rolling forward over a third of a century and I’m using an online service called inklewriter to, well, write Interactive Fiction. I’ve never, to be honest, got on well with traditional branch-oriented Interactive Fiction. You know, “To hit the goblin, turn to page 36; to run away from the goblin, turn to page 112”; that kind of book. Typically, I’d become quickly bored and try to reverse-engineer the entire story by reading it sequentially to figure out the path to the end. The better – or more frustrating – IF books were designed so you’d have to read the entire thing, and draw a complex graph, to figure this out.
Me: more of a location-oriented computer game player; the classic text adventures from Infocom, or The Hobbit from Melbourne House, and the like. “Exits are North, South, or West” – that kind of thing. Over the years since, I’ve tried various bits of software that help (or claim to help) the construction of such stories, but with limited success or interest held. Twine, for example, I’ve been playing around with of late but has some fussy shortcomings that bog me down to the point of giving up. I may return to it in the future as it has some interesting functionality, to be fair.
However, more recently – and this may yet come to nothing – inklewriter is proving intriguing and surprisingly easy and fast to work with. It has very limited options in terms of look and feel; just one style of display (see the screenshots in this post of things I’ve been writing with it), though you can incorporate some outside content and interesting randomness within. And the logic operations are also few and simplistic – but, I’ve noticed, just about functional enough to make something like a location-oriented games possible.
I’m a little reluctant to say more at the moment because, as said, this may still go wrong. Also, spoilers and meta-spoilers. Oh, and it’s a free and web browser-based bit of software that isn’t actively supported, so it may disappear at any point and is therefore somewhat risky to use.
But there’s some potential here so I’m tentatively building an Interactive Fiction adventure that, surprisingly to me, is starting to take a playable shape. There’s a major arc plot, an end-goal, a fair amount of content already, and several puzzle concepts at various stages of implementation which provide different degrees of difficulty. Construction and testing are a fun exercise and it’s forcing me to confront game design decisions in a logical and unavoidable manner. More on this as it hopefully progresses; I’m keeping a design log which is already useful and, if and when it’s all done (there is a rough plan for this), this log and other materials, as well as the game itself, will be publicly available.