Before I start posting about how the actual game has progressed I want to look into the past…
Last year, when I started to consider working on a text-based game, everything started with bad ideas.
After working for roughly one and a half years on a mobile game, I was focused on thinking about the UI above anything else. I put aside my thoughts about which story or setting I might pick and tested every idea on a generic fantasy sample, simply trying to discover which possibilities and narrative threads each concept would offer.
The core layout was already pretty much the same as it is now, featuring either a fullscreen text page or a split between dialogue text and a character portrait. The player interaction, on the other hand, was a bit different. If the player was confronted with special situations or characters, they were supposed to pick an action from the lower part of the screen. A simple UI would offer two options:
1. Attacking, regardless of whether you were standing in front of an angry bear, a merchant or a flock of sheep.
2. Communicating in the form of bargaining with the merchant, trying to calm the bear (or the sheep…)
I never went into detail with this system as it was always more of a Usability-Concept. It would have caused lots of ‘This doesn’t make any sense’ situations, which would be fun but also very difficult to write. It’s one of those ideas that sound fun, but you will never want to go through the pain of actually making it work…
You may be thinking that this idea sounds like a concept for a UI, but less like a real concept for a game? I wouldn’t dare to argue against that, I suppose if you’re a Game Artist who’s working on your own for the first time, you just welcome the opportunity to think about these things!
A bit later there was also a third option: chaos. This was supposed to be a completely irrational action, which would be very likely to cause trouble for the character. For example: flirting at the wrong moment, spontaneously starting to sing, etc… I suppose that many people would want to play the game while only using the chaos-button (it sounds like a lot of madness and fun!), but turning such a concept into a pleasing reality is something else entirely…
I discussed another loose and chaotic idea with friends in a brainstorming session. The concept sounded like fun: In the beginning of the adventure you pick three members for your party, as in common RPGs. Depending on which characters have been selected for the party, the player can use their unique abilities to interact with the world. These characters might be the brave warrior (for open fights), the rogue (theft/poisoning/dirty fights), the bard (um, singing…?), the concubine (seduction), the monk (healing/persuasion) and so on…
It was fun to consider how a more pragmatic group would have dealt with life in a fantasy world compared to a party of tricksters and con men. Even though I liked the idea, however, the sheer number of possibilities it created seemed suffocating.
At the same time as I was exploring these possibilities I played lots of different text adventures on my Android phone and iPad. Slowly I started to see that the simplest option might also be the best one. I thought about what had caused my first fascination with text adventures in games (apart from the not very user-friendly Zork).
I remembered the first one, Fallout. Whenever an important conversation started you saw the other character animated above the text, and below you could choose one of several dialogue options. One of the many reasons I fell in love with the Fallout series as a kid was that you were able to read through all the dialogue options, no matter which one you’d pick (a feature which the developers of Fallout 4 have removed in favor of shorter keywords or fractions of a sentence, too bad…). I don’t think that long sentences will fit into my game’s layout for dialogue choices, but remembering this simple concept was crucial.
To cut a long story short, all the overly complicated stuff was thrown overboard and I started creating a simple, dialogue-based game concept. Choosing the setting was incredibly easy in comparison. I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy and I know that there’s inexhaustible potential for humor in the serious world of H. P. Lovecraft. Residents of a coastal town who slowly evolve into fish-hybrids after having made a deal with a Fish God… how can anyone say no to that?