I thought it might be cool, as a feature for Reviews From
Trotting Krips, if I had sort of a journal concerning the development and scene-reaction
regarding the game I entered in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition. I realize that
this is probably of interest to maybe three people currently able to read, but I am one of
them, so the journal got green lighted.
I should state that this is not particularly funny or amusing and reiterate that this will probably be the most boring thing you read from me on this site. Except when I eventually interview the corpse of James Claville, natch.
So this is the story of development for a game called CHICKS DIG JERKS.
I was not actually aware of any bugs the night I submitted it to Stephen. I'd had some friends take a look at it and I -- probably arrogantly -- assumed that if they took care of newbie problems I would handle all the standard IF stuff. I am as hardcore as they come to these types of games so I knew I'd be able to test commands intuitive to people who had played these games before.
The thing was, I added a lot of code right before submission. I read a Usenet post regarding "instant bladder-related death." I had intended for players to get the message and put Avandre in the bathroom so a fight would break out. Therefore, if they didn't take care of that he would just start pissing all over everything. I wanted to end it with "the bouncers then take care of the other end and beat the shit out of you" and I thought it would be a good way to end that session. After seeing that message (which basically stated that any game that kills the player for not going to the bathroom is below average) I asked myself why I was doing that. If the player didn't go to the bathroom then that's fine: the game can still continue. Obviously, no one is going to actually
get killed and that Avandre's mission the next night would have realistically still occurred. I conceded that it was a good point and added a link to that scene and getting into the Break Room.
That was probably a mistake, because the game didn't initialize Keegan's responses through that route. I basically had all that done in several functions rather than one so I totally messed up and didn't walkthrough it that way. Basically, the lesson that I learned is that you don't add paths to your game the night of the deadline unless you have nothing else to do but test it. Furthermore, you *have* to scope out time for nothing but test. If you make a bunch of improvements then you need to start test over again. IF is different from other games because of the types of bugs you see. It's, usually, not so much that the game crashes and dies as things just don't make sense and the author comes off as a scatterbrained jackass.
After sending the game I was on a high. I mean.. hell, I finished it. On time, even. I had a fantasy hockey draft that night so I was basically up until three in the morning. I will go out on a limb and state that very few other people in this world saw a conflict between picking players in a gambling-related National Hockey League event and finishing up programming for a text adventure competition. Not that it's supposed to impress you. It just means I put everything off 'till the last minute.
I was kind of worried as to whether or not I would come off as a complete piece of crap for writing some of the scenes. My inspiration was really my favorite author: George Alec Effinger. In some of his books there are characters that do sadistic, misogynistic things. Self-destructive things. Morally corrupt things. Yet, you don't think that Effinger is some sort of crazed, vengeful freak. He's telling a story using characters.
But still, it bugged me. There are some women in the game that are total sluts. Avandre and Keegan litter, rob graves, drink to excess, run out on their bar tab... and that's before the player has a chance to make decisions. I don't think that "all" women are any way. I do think, because I've experienced it, that people -- men and women -- behave in ways depicted in the game. OK. Maybe people don't run around with disintegrators, but aside from that. In New York, everyone is always trying to be "the tough guy." The character of Shayne reflects that -- he sees Avandre and Keegan keeping totally to themselves and has nothing better to do then give them a hard time. Similarly, the way to advance the game is for Avandre to attack Shayne. That particular kind of stuff happened all the time back in New York and I must confess that people are generally much more mellow out here in Colorado.
I've started to fix the bugs in the game. I want to release an .exe version of it that is perfect for GMD after the competition is over. In getting more feedback from people I've started to get an idea of what worked and what didn't. I think that a fundamental problem with the game is that most of it is designed solely around the player getting the emotional response that Avandre and Keegan are a couple of absolute assjacks. Therefore, it should be no big surprise that when Keegan is killed, no one was really choked up about it. It became obvious to me that I needed to explore the relationship between Avandre and Keegan better: these guys were best friends and although you may find some of their actions abhorrent, you liked them because they were funny anyway. I didn't put enough of that in the game. I didn't want people searching to save Keegan, but it looks like I overcompensated.
(For what it's worth, the reason Keegan had to die was because I had originally plotted three games with this scene. This game was the middle one. The one that comes after this would show Avandre trying to do things and make decisions to get his life in order and become a much better person. I wanted to show the maturity from boy to young adult to man via video games. I decided that losing his best friend because he was off trotting around graveyards would be a way to do that. Also, video game sequels presume an "ending" -- IE, you may be able to finish them in different ways, but the game presumes you solved it a certain way to get everyone back on the same page for the next one. If it were possible to keep Keegan alive then it wouldn't have made much literary sense. And that's what it's all about. At the same time it's like Bobby Slayton says in regard to entertainment: "I have a relationship. I don't have people living under my stairs." I am personally experiencing a maturity into adulthood. I don't, however, go around fighting noxious undead spawn and people with rocket launchers.)
There should have been a lot more conversations as well. I'm doing something about that. I needed to explain why Keegan's brother is named Blur. I needed to explain why it seems like you're doing well with certain chicks and then, boom, nothing. I needed to describe what the hell Shayne the pissing shitwank was doing in the cemetery. I actually feel pretty lousy about having people play a game I didn't completely embellish correctly.
I got a note on the Krips message board regarding the Mrs. Butterworth vs. Aunt Jemima thing... I had originally intended for that scene to kind of depict Keegan (and Avandre) as being slightly clueless about why that girl would have nothing to do with them. The intended effect would be like, "Hey, these clowns can't get their sub-reference right but they still think it's the woman with the problem? What a couple of complete losers!" Rather than, "Hey, this author can't get his sub-reference right! What a total chump!" I don't know how effectively I pulled it off, though.
Well, the inevitable occurred. There was a Usenet discussion about how buggy my game is. Actually, there was a bug I hadn't seen apparently occurring. I guess there's a way to get the game into a state where Shayne (the object) isn't there, but he still prevents people from getting into the graveyard. I'm worried, because I can't duplicate it. One guy has sent me a bug report (and I appreciate the hell out of that) -- vague anecdotes about my bugs over the net does me, pretty much, no good. I think the rule that authors can't talk about games is pretty lame. Aside from the fact that I write for a review site, I mean. Although it would be kinda cool to be the first guy disqualified from the IF comp, in a Neil Armstrong sort of way. Possibly.
The point I want to make, though, is that if you find a bug in my game, e-mail me. I'm not "embarrassed" by having it up on Usenet, it's just that I had no idea what I could or couldn't say regarding it. How it affects votes is beyond me. Yeah, some guy getting on and flaming every other game in order to make his look good is a Bad Thing. But you should be able to discuss bugs concerning your own game. I want to get them all fixed and submit an .EXE file to GMD, after all.
I played Winter Wonderland the other day. That's when I became convinced that I wasn't going to win. I think that the game I finish up with for final submission will be as solid as they come, but my inability to meet a freaking deadline has definitely cost me. Winter Wonderland is superb... I really enjoyed playing *and* reading it.
Right now I'm going to try to get Magic Jar finished by Valentine's Day, but I think that I will do my damnedest to find some beta-testers on that day. Basically get it to where *I* think it's finished and let them rip into it.
A lot has happened in two months. The game has pretty much taken up most of my free time. I had no idea it was possible to have Shayne in the graveyard, yet unable to be acted upon. Crap coding on my part: the daemon was dependent about an object. Gotta make sure the object gets moved. What I ended up doing was kind of a "funnel" -- essentially, there was no way for the player to get to the different chapters of the game without going through the funnel. So I could set up all the later conversations and move players to where they needed to be. I had no idea that so many people wouldn't just talk to him and then hit him. But they did.
It finished 31st place. I'm mellow enough to not have a chip on my shoulder, but hell. It's embarrassing. Hell, one guy entered a game with the sole intention of entering a crap ware. Apparently people, on the whole, decided that it was much more fun to hit "1" and then "2" on their keyboard repeatedly then play my game. Fair enough, I guess. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will get downloaded often from GMD, because of it's name. I mean, numbers one and two are Moist and I-0. I hope that it will be the most-downloaded 31st place game of all time. A fair goal.
I fixed all the bugs. I found out that my conversation routines would create a run-time error if you tried to talk to anything inanimate. Ho ho ho. It was because I had talk "to" noun as acceptable. Should only be talk "to" animate. Ha ha ha. Some guy on Usenet piped up with that bug as soon as I announced that the final version was on my home page. Luckily, he caught it before I uploaded it to GMD. Whew. Andrew Plotkin created a Mac version of the game. How cool is that? I have taunted Macs over the years, but thanks to his help I have now made a game for them. Aces. I like Apple; I just can't respect an operating system that you can't play hockey on.
Up next is the XYZZY Awards. I don't think version 2.0 will win anything, but I'm hoping Avandre gets nominated for PC of the Year. I think that his character is already well-defined and it would be gratifying to know that my plan on doing the sequel and prequel to Chicks Dig Jerks would at least interest some people.
A guy on raif mentioned that the game was like the book "Snow Crash." I had never heard of the book, but I bought it from Buy.com a few days ago. I just started reading it and I'm glad I wasn't exposed to it. There were some similar things all right: the dreadlocked hero, the, er, swearing. Some subtle stuff, too. I thought the whole pizza delivery routine at the beginning was really funny. Americans do rock the world when it comes to that.
So that's the thing. I totally and completely disgusted a lot of people. I made a few others laugh. Humor is really subjective. I find it, well, amusing when people declare something "not funny." As if there are absolutes. I can appreciate why a video game is good or bad. It's quantifiable. It's somewhat universal. I can appreciate genres I don't like. Humor and music aren't like that. A lot of people don't understand that.
Writing the game and getting the feedback was, to be honest, thrilling. There's something to be said for waking up, reading how you're a crap programmer and then starting the day. =) It's definitely inspired me, though. So now instead of spending my time fixing bugs and adding features to CDJ I am trying to nail down the next game: I want to cross a Bard's Tale type RPG with IF. I'm doing it in Hugo, but I plan on writing Art of Heartbreak (the prequel to CDJ) in Inform. Inform really is a beautiful language with the -- bar none -- best compiler I have ever seen. Nothing else comes fricking *close*. I think Hugo's an easier language to learn, though. It's tougher to make a mistake, I think.
If you're looking for advice on what to do for next year's comp, well, make sure that your game rocks and is well tested. I think that a lot of the bug-related backlash in Comp 99 will cause a lot of authors to attempt to show everyone "how it's done." I would love to see a hand-picked comp where we pitted the hobby's best against one another. I think we'll get that next year, because if we have another comp without a true "classic" (I thought Winter Wonderland was such a game; perhaps it will be viewed as such in time) then the kind of religious furor the Comp has now may be severely diminished. Hopefully people won't save up games for it (I am not saving Magic Jar for it, personally), resulting in ten dead months worth of releases, but at the same time I really hope for a return to greatness. I kind of feel responsible, although I did at least try to right the wrongs. I can state this: entering a game is a complete rush. The net is a theatre with a global audience: you really do have a chance to *say* something, to *do* something and get it recognized. I play in a band, and it's extremely difficult to get people to really listen to my music. The IF Comp changes that. The most important games currently being made are text adventures, and the IF Comp is a huge part of it.