Sunday, November 18, 2018

DIDDLEBUCKER! POSTMORTEM: PT 2

Serious, huge spoilers below to Diddleblucker! and Hollywood Hijinks
You have been warned.

THE NAME


I wanted a fun, one-word nonsense kind of name for my game that would sort of sum up the zaniness of the theme. Originally, it was to be called Snollygoster! (an actual word) and the name of the popcorn magnate was Salvatore "Snolly" Esposito. During beta testing, one of my testers asked if my game was related to the "Snollygoster" game that was on Kickstarter. I freaked out and went to search for it. (FYI: It's here if you're interested.)

Their game had been put on Kickstarter within a month or so of me starting to write my game! I was seriously annoyed, but it wasn't their fault. They went public with their name first. I debated keeping the name, but ultimately decided to create an entirely new word and "Diddlebucker" was born. Salvatore/Snolly was renamed Desiderio/Diddy. I flatly refused to give him the nickname "Diddle," however. I could have called the game "Diddybucker," but it didn't have the same ring to it, so I went with "Diddy" and "Diddlebucker."


The working title of the game had been Snollygoster! for months and at first I wasn't happy about the name change, but ultimately it grew on me. Now I actually prefer Diddlebucker!, partially because it was my own creation and partially because it just rolls off the tongue better. And, I think it sounds a bit more like a food company.



Not this food company. I've never heard of this before.

THE PLOT

Another issue I had to deal with was explaining why the player didn't have a team. I briefly thought about creating two NPC team members that would follow the player around, but I knew that would ultimately just be annoying. "David and Lori follow you" and "You see David and Lori here" would get old really fast, no matter how many ways I varied the text. Besides, they'd look like dunderheads because they would either stand around waiting for you to give them orders, or keep running through a list of actions that wouldn't really accomplish anything. "Dave reads the riddle card with a perplexed look on his face." "Lori searches the ground for a clue." Blech. I abandoned that idea pretty quickly.

So, I came up with the idea that your teammates eloped at the last minute and left you in the lurch. It neatly solved the no-team issue and had the extra bonus of at least being moderately funny. It was only later that I realized what a huge boon this inspiration was, because it solved another problem I had been dealing with.

The problem with an IF game that's a literal scavenger hunt is that the end is ultimately unsatisfying. After all, you aren't really racing against other teams and there is no million dollars. The player knows the other teams aren't actually going to get to the finish line first unless I either implement a time limit or a move limit, both of which suffer from the fatal flaw of being the exact opposite of fun.

What the game needed was a villain to overcome. An evil to conquer. I debated over this for a long time, trying to create a villain team led by some sort of henchman that had been a bully to the PC or who held some irrational hatred of the PC. Something along the lines of Harold and the blue team from Midnight Madness.




One of the principal faces of evil from my childhood


And I came up with nothing. I couldn't make it work. I couldn't make the villain evil enough to be worth conquering while keeping the game lighthearted enough to fit my zany theme. One problem was that I hadn't specified a gender for the player character. A guy bullying a guy can be funny if done right (The Tannens and the McFlys for example). Likewise a girl bullying a girl can work (Mean Girls). But when you mix the genders, things get dark. Perhaps it shouldn't be this way, but from an artistic standpoint, having a girl bully a guy or a guy bully a girl just takes on dark, unfunny overtones. It didn't work. At least I couldn't make it work. Perhaps in the hands of a better writer, but I couldn't do it.

And then it hit me. I already had a villain waiting off-stage and this villain wasn't a bully, but a traitor. And it worked. Lori was the perfect villain. She didn't make the game too dark because her motivation was simply money, not sadism. On top of that, she added a surprise twist to the endgame section! It was wonderful! The only problem was that I was so excited about writing this ending that I had to fight the urge to just jump straight to it. I restrained myself though. Getting to write that ending was the carrot that kept me working on the rest of the game.

Now, a few reviewers have noticed a similarity between this ending and the ending to Hollywood Hijinks. All of the reviewers were good-natured about it and I can only say that this is what I meant when I said in my earlier blog post that there were "unconscious tributes" as well as conscious ones to HJ. It did occur to me much later in the writing process that my solution was indeed similar to the ending of HJ, but I didn't realize it when I originally came up with the idea. But, I decided it would work as an homage, so I kept it in.



[MORE TO COME]

DIDDLEBUCKER! POSTMORTEM: PT 1




Obviously there be spoilers below!

So, Diddlebucker! is my first parser game. I began working on it in the fall of 2017, took time off during the holiday season and came back to it in the spring of 2018, getting a lot of work done during the summer months to have it finished and ready to go in time for the comp.

Here's a breakdown of the voting stats:

Rank: 30th of 77
Score: 6.00
Most Common Score: 7
Votes Cast: 44
Standard Deviation: 2.12

GENESIS

I know that the Infocom-style puzzle fest is a bit old-school for many in the IF community, but it is what I love. It's what I grew up on and it's what I wanted to create. Diddlebucker! is my loving homage to the genre.

When I began casting about for ideas, I knew I wanted to create a treasure hunt of some kind, but I wanted to give the player a strong reason for collecting treasures. I didn't really want to recreate a zorkian adventure where the player picks up treasures because they're there. The idea of a scavenger hunt came to mind and to give the player more motivation, I threw in a million dollar prize (plus a lifetime supply of popcorn) at the end.




A lot of people have noted the influence of Dave Anderson's Hollywood Hijinks on my game and they're right to do so. While I wasn't constantly thinking of HJ during the development, there are definitely some conscious and unconscious tributes to HJ here and there.







A more direct influence on Diddlebucker! was the 1980
Nankin & Wechter film Midnight Madness. This movie was pretty much perpetually on HBO when I was a kid and I'm sure I saw the movie (or parts of it) dozens of times growing up. I re-watched it before writing my game looking for inspiration.

You can see this inspiration in the time period, team shirt colors, the general chaotic zaniness of the theme, the fact that the game takes place at night and I'm sure in many other ways.

If you've never seen Midnight Madness, give it a try. Disney's attempt at reaching the teenage crowd is a remarkably silly, but oddly endearing treasure hunt movie. If nothing else, you get to see a pre-Family Ties (and very Canadian-sounding) Michael J. Fox, which is pretty cool.



THE PLAYER-CHARACTER

One of the early hurdles to overcome was that I wanted the player-character to be an AFGNCAAP. That is, an "Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person." That phrase is a throw-away joke from Zork: Grand Inquisitor, but I took it seriously here.

There's nothing wrong with forcing the player into a character of a specific age, gender or other characteristic when doing so is intentional because it serves the plot or the theme. But in this game, none of those traits would be important. The game didn't have a romantic subplot which might impact the sexuality, age or gender of the PC, for example. Since the ID of the player was irrelevant, I went out of my way not to limit the identifying traits of the player-character at all. I wanted anyone to feel like they were the person in the story. 

I also didn't want a clunky section at the beginning which asked for the player's age, gender and whatnot. I already needed to ask the player's name, but that fit well with the plot. Asking other such questions would be needlessly intrusive and would certainly take the player out of the game.

This is why, for example, most NPCs call the player-character "Gamer," (something that one reviewer derided). I deliberately built that nickname into the whole atmosphere of the game so that it sounded more natural coming out of the mouths of some of the NPCs. It is in in the game's blurb and the song on the startup screen. It's also one of the reasons the people playing the game are forced to wear team clothing at all times. That clothing not only identifies the PC as a "Gamer," but it also gives the NPCs a last name to use to refer to the player.

I suppose the PC is likely to be living in America (but not necessarily an American), given the name of the theme park and the PC does need to be physically capable of climbing a ladder at one point, but overall I think most people can feel like they themselves are the main character in the game. Or, as far as that goes, they can be anyone else too. Want to play the game as Harrison Ford or Princess Elsa? Go ahead! Although...I'm not sure what Elsa's last name is. "Of Arendelle," maybe?



[MORE TO COME]


Saturday, November 17, 2018

THAT'S A WRAP!

I'll be writing a post-mortem on Diddlebucker! soon, but for now, I just wanted to share some of my initial thoughts.

Being involved with this year's competition was an amazing experience and I'm thrilled to have been a part of it. I'm very thankful to all of those who made it happen.

I've played IF my whole life, having grown up with the Infocom games and many other forms of interactive fiction. As a kid, I dreamed of writing such a program, but as I grew up I never really thought it was a dream I would actually attain.

As a young man I discovered the IFComp in its early years and realized that amateurs actually could write such a program. In the meantime, I started a career, got married to a lovely woman, had two kids and stayed pretty busy!

Finally, I decided it was time to make it happen. I decided to learn Inform 7 a few years ago. I began authoring a fairly standard RPG, but right in the middle of the process, we moved to a new house and I started a new job. My game took a backseat for a while.

Last fall, things had calmed down a bit and I decided it was time to give it a go again. I made it a goal to continue learning Inform 7, complete a new game and enter it in the 2018 Comp. The result was Diddlebucker!, a game I am immensely proud of.

I couldn't have done it without the support of my wife who became a bit of an "IF widow" for a while, as well as my biggest cheerleader when I was struggling with a bit of code, some sticky plot point or a puzzle I couldn't quite work out. I was also dependent on the goodwill and eagerness to help of many others in the IF community, a community I have since discovered is full of wonderful, selfless people, who answered my questions, tested my game and gave me tons of fantastic feedback.

It's been a great year and I look forward to doing it all again!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

THE IMPLEMENTOR'S CREED

I came across this creed this year, attributed to Stu Galley. I plan on printing off a nice copy and framing it. It is full of wisdom for any artist.


The Implementor's Creed


by Stu Galley


I create fictional worlds. I create experiences.

I am exploring a new medium for telling stories.

My readers should become immersed in the story and forget where they are. They should forget about the keyboard and the screen, forget everything but the experience. My goal is to make the computer invisible.

I want as many people as possible to share these experiences. I want a broad range of fictional worlds, and a broad range of "reading levels". I can categorize our past works and discover where the range needs filling in. I should also seek to expand the categories to reach every popular taste.

In each of my works, I share a vision with the reader. Only I know exactly what the vision is, so only I can make the final decisions about content and style. But I must seriously consider comments and suggestions from any source, in the hope that they will make the sharing better.

I know what an artist means by saying, "I hope I can finish this work before I ruin it." Each work-in-progress reaches a point of diminishing returns, where any change is as likely to make it worse as to make it better. My goal is to nurture each work to that point. And to make my best estimate of when it will reach that point.

I can't create quality work by myself. I rely on other implementors to help me both with technical wizardry and with overcoming the limitations of the medium. I rely on testers to tell me both how to communicate my vision better and where the rough edges of the work need polishing. I rely on marketers and salespeople to help me share my vision with more readers. I rely on others to handle administrative details so I can concentrate on the vision.

None of my goals is easy. But all are worth hard work. Let no one doubt my dedication to my art.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A NOTE ABOUT STU GALLEY


(There is one very mild spoiler for Diddlebucker! in this post.)







On August 2, 2018, Stu Galley, one of the Infocom Implementors passed away unexpectedly at a hospital in Cambridge Massachusetts. Mr. Galley co-authored Seastalker and Moonmist and was the author of The Witness, which won “Best Computer Adventure of the Year” from “Electronic Games” magazine.

After his time at Infocom, Mr.Galley went on to do many other things with his life. You can learn more about his career, hobbies and family from his obituary here.

I don’t think I am alone in considering the Infocom Implementors giants in the field of Interactive Fiction. Of course, there have been many revolutionaries in the field before, during and after the rise and fall of Infocom, but these men and women have always held a special place in my heart. Familiar to me mostly because of their names on the gray box editions of their games, I always wondered what it must have been like to work with a creative group of people like that, made all the more interesting for they ways the sometimes directly put themselves into their games. (You can visit some of them in Sorcerer, for example).

When I wrote Diddlebucker! this past year, I created many teams of famous and fictional people playing the scavenger hunt alongside the player. One of them was a team named “The Implementors." The game randomly decides when the group should show up and which of the Implementors interacts with the player. Naturally, Stu Galley is one of the choices. This was all written and coded before his death.

I received word of his passing a month or so before the start of this year's competition. I debated with myself on whether or not I should remove his name from the code, given that his death happened so close to the start of the contest. The game takes place in the 1980's, so that wasn't an issue, but I was concerned about whether or not it would seem in poor taste, especially to his family. That certainly wasn't my intent. Ultimately, I decided that this part of the game was always designed to pay homage to those men and women who were pioneers in the field of IF, and to take his name out did not feel appropriate. So, I left it in.

Although I have never met Stu Galley, I hope that his family and friends, if they ever learn of his inclusion in my little game, understand the respect and affection I have for him and his works and understand why I decided to keep him a part of Diddlebucker! Without men and women like Stu Galley, I wouldn’t be authoring these games today.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

DIDDLEBUCKER!




Who's the best and brightest Gamer of 'em all? Find out by joining the 27th Annual All-Night Diddlebucker Run! You'll compete against hundreds of other teams in the world's most popular scavenger hunt! Find the treasures, find the clues, beat your competitors to the finish line and your team will win one million dollars and a lifetime supply of Diddlebucker popcorn! Even more, you will prove that you and your teammates are the true champions of Diddlebucker '87!


Hello!

Diddlebucker! is my entry in the 2018 Interactive Fiction Competition. Creating this game was a fantastic experience for me and I hope you'll enjoy playing it. The competition starts on October 1st. See you then!