Afterthoughts on Alice Aforethought (Part 2)


I started anew in Inform, using music, hoping it would go fast. I spent an entire day coding the first room when I could look away from my day-job work, and through part of the evening before I realized that it was August 15th and I wasn't going to get very far. (Yes, I live on the edge by writing near deadlines, and I make no apology!) I then wrote the same scene as a choice-narrative in ASM, which is very friendly to graphics and sound, and didn't stop. It also meant I wouldn't have to do so much testing as parser games require. If a scene worked, it worked, and I wouldn't have to worry about players who might type KICK THE BOTTLE UNDER THE RUG or SHUN THE FRUMIOUS BANDERSNATCH. 

I changed the title because "Alice Squared" doesn't feel right, probably because the words conflate an S sound in the middle. I thought of just "Wonderland" and then "Alice with Malice" (uuuugh!) and then was very proud of a pun "With Alice Aforethought". I realized that would slot my game at the bottom of the alphabet, and removed "with" to put it closer to the beginning. I learned my lesson the year I entered "The Baker of Shireton" when IFComp was doing literal alphabetization instead of alpha by title and The Baker... ended up among all the T-games. I didn't think to Google the title before I'd already submitted and entries were closed, but I lucked out--there was some stuff titled Alice Aforethought, but no major books or games or movies in recent memory. Of course I'm not the first person to think of this title.

I really like the idea of IF with a soundtrack. I know music can be distracting and I'm apparently the only one who likes it, especially if it's well-chosen. "Why do you include stupid music with your game?" people ask. "I want to listen to my own music during your stupid game," people say. I am really inspired by music when I write, and sometimes choosing the correct soundtrack is part of the process. I am a huge fan of Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), and he licenses under a CC license. I've used his music a lot, and it has actually has helped me get the tone right and shape the narrative with cues that are hopefully cinematic, and ambient music that sets a vibe but hopefully doesn't bother people too badly while they play my stupid game. 

I didn't think I would find a major theme I liked that would fit Alice, but I stumbled on a really interesting track called "Exotics" that was classical, modern, groovy, both minimal and grand in sections, and contained a section that included a clock ticking. It fit my idea of the tone quite well, and my invented idea that the goal was to go back in time and undo mischief the player had already done - specifically breaking a pocket watch and "murdering time". 

I felt bad about losing my nifty idea about becoming a queen and unlocking diagonal movement in the transition from parser to choice, so I simulated this by giving the player a clickable compass rose. I had a long debate about how crossing the looking glass would affect this, and eventually reversed everything, which isn't quite how it would work (right and left are reversed in a mirror, but up and down is not...this resulted in a lot of brain cells being fried when I got it wrong.

In this new version, I thought it would be neat to give Alice a portable looking-glass and let her carry it around. I thought of all manner of cool Portal-like puzzles. I had thought to make the player move one mirror to an inaccessible location in the looking glass world, and then get there...by using the mirror...but the mirrors didn't move together in the real world, so I couldn't figure out a way to make it work. Teleporting between the two mirrors was a cinch in Inform, but ASM meant I had to invent a way to carry items in inventory, and have the game remember where they are dropped. I figured out how to feed each item the name of the passage the player was in. This proved more of a hassle later in the game, especially when the player was reading passages that were merely informational and didn't represent actual locations. I had to make sure the player would be able to pick up things wherever they dropped them, and that they would wind up in the location and not show up in a transitional or descriptive. Predicting buggy mayhem, I cut a lot of inventory puzzles, and the reason for the MIND YOUR BAGGAGE sign in the broom closet. I eventually just ensured no required item could be dropped. I heard many people despair when they set down the (pointless inventory trash) hourglass and couldn't get it back. You don't need it. Really. 

I think the chess puzzle came out well. I originally wanted images for every move on the board, but once I put the damn "switcheroo" with the red and white rook, that doubled the number of pictures. I made them all, and then the game logic dictated I needed the player to en-passant capture the other Alice pawn, but I didn't have pictures to represent that correctly. I ended up with about 20-30 chessboard pictures and finally declared that was good enough...because...

In the last two weeks before the deadline, I came down with a nasty flu and a sinus infection that made sitting at the computer for longer than 30 minutes while remaining conscious with and without potent cold medication impossible. It is a testament to AXMA's ease of use that I finished at all. I ended up short-circuiting a lot of late-game planned puzzles and interactions I had foreshadowed earlier. The ending was going to be a lot more open, but I just ended up putting Alice back in the Drawing Room and giving her a choice of what to do based on what possibilities the player unlocked. Humpty-Dumpty, Wool and Water, the White Knight, and the Queen Alice scenes all ended up getting mostly left as placeholder, lifting text directly from Lewis Carroll because I was out of my head, and some of the intended puzzles are hard to keep straight in mind when not heavily drugged with antihistamines and Ny-Quil.

This is why the reviews rightly dinged me for some non-interactivity at the end, and for setting up a lot of interesting potential that never paid off. I didn't do anything cool with the mirrors, the Cheshire Cat didn't get used as extensively as I wanted (he was going to leave his frown behind as an inventory item that you'd have to turn upside down and give back so he would be agreeable to talking with you as the hint system throughout the game...)

Lessons Learned:

  • Stock up on Zicam near the IFComp deadline.
  • Yes, I'm sorry for the falling scene. Never again will I use timed text that disappears and must be repeated to solve a puzzle--I'M SORRY STOP THROWING THINGS!
  • Having an inventory in a choice game is feasible and can be done. Allowing the player to drop things wherever they want in a choice game, however, is the path of madness.
  • Start earlier, and don't try to write two games at the same time with a looming deadline.
  • Go back to parser ?

Files

2017 I7 Prototype (gblorb) 3 MB
28 days ago

Get Alice Aforethought

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