Space Quest I

Hooboy this game is old and sucky. I realize it’s the first in the series and all but the puzzles are simple and the interface is aggravating. Why were the “smell” and “lick” icons there? I never used them once but I had to cycle past them every time I needed to switch from walk mode to using an item.

Also I realize it’s supposed to be a farce and spoof of sci-fi movies but some things felt more ripped-off than spoofed.

Again with these real-time action sequences. It makes the flaws in the interface come to the forefront and pulls you out of the game.

Luckily this game is very short. I finished it in a few hours.

Kings Quest VI

KQVI has a reputation as the best game in the Kings Quest series and I definitely enjoyed it. The puzzles were good and highly motivated by the plot. The story was really well done and the characters were varied and real. I got a bit confused by the multiple solution paths aspect because I played out part of one and got stuck and then went back and ended up on the other track so I was always kind of wondering when they would converge again.

Random Thoughts While Playing

This game has good “feel”. I really am pulled into the story and the world of the game. Nothing feels out of place – the items I can access and the actions I can take are well motivated by the environment. None of the puzzles so far have felt arbitrary or bizarre.

The game is more “serious” than others I’ve played in the sense that it strives to maintain a consistent story and world. There are no asides to the camera or jokes about adventure games. The third wall is intact!

What Worked

The game manages to avoid the problem where you have too much shit you are carrying around and you feel like you just have to try every inventory item on every in-world object. The puzzles gradually opened the world up and provided inventory when needed and then consumed them for the most part once they were no longer needed. This reduced the frustration of having some item clogging up your inventory the whole game on the off chance it holds two uses.

I love the idea of the pawn shop where there are four items available but you can only “check out” one at a time.

The beginning of the game is nice and small with a limited number of locations and items you need to work with. It allows you to really get into the story and meet some of the recurring characters before you are faced with anything too difficult. The book seller tells you a bit about the island and suggests you talk to the ferry captain and visit the castle. Immediately  at the castle the core dramatic conflict of the story is revealed. Cassima is supposedly going to marry this sketchy Vizier. You know that dude is up to no good but it will take the entire game to figure out why and what to do about it. Now the game has your attention and it really opens up – the magic map you get right now lets you visit three more islands.

This limited opening which forces you to meet the main characters and sets up the fundamental challenge of the whole game is an excellent way to begin.

Where I got Stuck

The book worm puzzle was very confusing to me. I hadn’t noticed the book of spells on the counter of the bookshop so I never had the rare book conversation with the book seller which kept the bookworm from talking to me. So I kept trying to apply the boring book to the bookworm puzzle. No matter what I did the worm just told me to go away so it wasn’t clear at all what I needed to be doing. This could have been alleviated by making the spell book more obvious on the counter or having the bookworm change his response to something which hinted at the solution after a few tries.

I’m always thrown when a game like this has small parts which are time sensitive. Most of the game feels almost turn based but some of the puzzles require a quick response. This is how I failed to figured out the spider web puzzle. I pulled the loose thread in the web but then didn’t immediately try to get the paper when the spider moved.

This also kept me from pursuing the short-ending where you need to put the song-bird decoy in the hallway. I got so sick of being caught by the guards when I tried to hide in the alcove and try different things that I just figured there had to be an easier way. I had actually tried putting the bird at the end of the hall but since the error response was just general (“you don’t need to do that” kind of thing) and didn’t give a clue like “The guards wouldn’t see it there” then I just gave up. This problem has happened in other games as well – where you need to do something in real-time but the consequences of failure are a long wait or restore (especially the cottage in The Secret of Monkey Island II).

 

Kings Quest I

This game is a classic. I remember playing it in a computer store when I was a little low res kid. Still fun though!

Random Thought While Playing

This game has a really friendly narrator who tells you in a polite way when things aren’t going to work or if you’re doing something stupid.

nice narrator

I’m really interested in the text / graphical interface combination. I totally forgot that this was part of the game – is this the way all those Sierra Online games were?

I like how the puzzles can all be solved in multiple ways. I let the goat out of the pen but that never made any difference because I could get across the bridge by bribing the troll with one of the many treasures. My score wasn’t optimal but that’s fine – I could still complete the game.

On the other hand there are things (like the little dwarf stealing your shit) which can cause the game to be un-winnable and you need to save/restore all the time to avoid that. Not to mention the little walking puzzles where you fall off shit and die all the time.

I like this game – it’s short and sweet and although I got stuck and had to get hints a bit I didn’t feel looking back that the puzzles were illogical or bad. There was some pixel-hunting and some of the puzzles would have been easier if I knew anything about fairy tales.

Discworld I

Random Thoughts while playing

This game is a thorough pain in the ass. Puzzles hinge on finding tiny little visual attributes of characters and mousing over them. The sleazy guy in the Library has a banana behind his ear. Or a 6 pixel smudge which look like hair … whatever. Anyway you better click on that because it holds the secret to the whole first half of the game. Same thing with the lady getting her haircut… you better mouse over every fucking pixel in her body to realize that she has a hair curler in her hair. And if you didn’t notice well… just wander forever with no clue how to proceed. These are bad puzzles and there’s a lot of them.

Well after bashing my head into this one for a week I’m moving on. Tedious pixel-hunting, puzzles which require trying every inventory item with every on-screen item (stick the frog in the drunk’s mouth… OK), and honestly for all its reputation as being hilarious I’m just not sold on the humor. It did grow on me and I was enjoying the brief moments of progress where I was figuring things out using logic but overall… Jesus make it stop.

The Secret Of Monkey Island II

Random Thoughts While Playing

This game is bigger than the original. I like the “redone” look much better in this game than the first. Guybrush looks less creepy and the various other characters look a little better although still somewhat Disney-fied. I played the whole game in the new style.

The puzzle at the end of the first part with the monocle / Captain Dread was impossible for me to figure out and the internal hint system just kept telling me to go talk to Captain Dread. I had to look up the answer on the internet.

I am currently in the situation where I know some things I need to do but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to get it done. I have a whole pile of shit in my inventory and I can travel to three islands but I’m basically stuck and I’m just wandering around trying shit at random.

I retrieved the book from the Governor’s bed but I just took it to the library and gave it to the librarian because I thought maybe she would say something and she just took it. Now I can’t get it back and I think it contained something important. I read it once but it wasn’t very clear what I was supposed to learn from it. Now I’m getting that ‘I wonder if the game has a bug feeling.’

I cut off the pirate’s peg leg and then didn’t realize that this meant the woodworker would go to help him. This was particularly unclear because you don’t see the woodworker walk over there even though he would have to pass right by you on his way. So I never got the hammer and nails without looking at hints.

Argh. Seriously for all the polish on this game there are some really frustrating hard edges. I’ve been doing shit just because I figured out I can but I have no reason why… For example I can get drinks at the bar and mix them to make different colors but I don’t know what that will be used for. I got near-grog by getting the envelope when I got Kate out of jail but I don’t know why. So I’m just wandering around trying them on everyone.

Fuck me. I knew after I got these ashes I probably needed to do some VooDoo shit so I went to the VooDoo lady and she just said the same old shit about the VooDoo doll. So I went to the library and checked the catalog for VooDoo spells and checked out a book on it and it said nothing interesting. I even took that book back to the VooDoo lady and she still said nothing about it – I couldn’t even give it to her. So I figured, nope, that’s not it. Well it turns out I didn’t go through all the jars in her front room one by one and find the resurrection potion. Which is fucking annoying because everything else in the game is like one big hit box but these jars are tiny little separate items – but all named “Jar” until you actually click to look at them. So just mousing over it looks like just one big item. Fuck that. So once I clicked on the right jar the lady calls me back and now she wants the book. Grrrr…

Had to use hints again to figure out the spitting contest. I had all the drinks with me and I had already tried mixing them but after doing a few and tasting them I figured they all just said the same thing and that I would find some kind of clue in the game telling me how to use them. No… no clues in the game… you just need to try to mix every combination and then taste the result. If I had randomly mixed yellow and blue I would have tasted the green and figured it out. What’s annoying again is that I had discovered all the pieces but without exhaustively trying all combinations I missed the solution. Instead I walked around all three islands trying to see if someone would say something about the three drink colors. The three pirates for example… no. The three pipes which feed the governor… no. The bartender makes no comment about it. Can’t hand them out at the party… all logical possibilities. Constantly getting the ‘That doesn’t seem to work there’ message.  Annoying.

Hint system seems slightly buggy. Keeps telling me to take out books I already solved puzzles with.

This ‘I can’t get there’ shit about the cottage on the little island is pissing me off. Captain Dread should drop me off there! Why can I just tell him to float his boat over to the beach?

OK the puzzle with the cottage was frustrating as shit because it’s a timed exercise where every failed attempt means a 30 second delay walking up the path, into the cottage and reading the same intro dialogue. That got old quick. Also the scroll wheel on my mouse stopped working every time at the crucial moment when I quickly had to try another thing to try from my inventory. WTF.

Pushing the right brick – again with the hit boxes and no indication that there are separate bricks vs one big clickable wall of bricks.

Woody got kidnapped. Let’s look for clues. Sorry, no clues exist. Just wander around every single location in the game until you stumble on a shipping crate in the swamp.

This game really goes off the rails at the end. How-the-fuck-are-we-going-to-end-this-fuckit-lets-make-it-all-a-big-joke ending. Big letdown. What about Elaine? Was that tied up and I just missed it? I don’t think it was ever tied up. Plus the last piece of the puzzle – giving Le Chuck the handkerchief for no reason… fucking stupid. At least have him sneezing or something to give some motivation for that action.

Honestly the puzzles for the most part were good but the few real stinkers and the problems with the interface kind of ruined it for me. The worst puzzles all seemed to have some real-time action element to them which was time-consuming to try again and again and was made cumbersome by the interface.

Adventure AKA Colossal Cave

Random thoughts while playing:

Holy shit this game gives not one fuck if you do stupid things which make the game un-winnable! Having just finished The Secret of Monkey Island this is a shock. Adventure will happily let you throw all your items in the river where they wash away forever.

The game map is confusing as hell. Go north, then go south. Guess what? You’re not where you started. Directions are really hard to figure. Unfortunately it turns out this is the main puzzle of the game – mapping.

Oh God these puzzles are arbitrary as fuck.  The dragon puzzle… the plover puzzle… the fucking endgame! Holy shit this game was not designed to be fair.

Pros:

Classic. First of its kind! It’s like going back in time! Lots of references in other games originated here. Exploring the cave was pretty fun.

Cons:

Too much emphasis on mapping. There is no story. Only some puzzles make sense, some are just completely arbitrary.

Some Funny Stuff:
> give food to dwarf
You fool, dwarves eat only coal! Now you've made him *really* mad!
> examine road
The road is dirt, not yellow brick.

 

 

The Secret of Monkey Island

First game in my Epic Procrastination Adventure Game Research Project was The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s got a big reputation as one of the best of the old-school 2D verb/noun graphical adventure games and I’d never played it. Other games in this genre are things like Kings Quest, Space Quest, Peasant’s Quest, etc.

Sound advice.

Sound advice.

First off I bought the “enhanced” or whatever they call it remix of the original. I thought all the new graphics and voice-over really didn’t add anything to the game and I disliked the new interface. Not to mention your love interest is actually attractive in the original and looks like a horrible Disney character in the remake. I loved the fact that the original game was still there and could be instantly switched to just by hitting F10 at any time. So props for that – I played most of the game in the old-school 8-bit graphics style.

This game is definitely fun. Here is just a brief run-down of what I thought in positive and negative.

Positives:

Awesome “feel”. The game had an engrossing style: The visuals (in the 8-bit version) and the dialogue bring you right into the world of Monkey Island.

Humor. The game has a strong voice and a distinct sense of humor. It plays off your expectations and consistently surprises and delights. Winning a “I defeated the Swordmaster” T-Shirt for example. This contrasts with a bloody corpse you’d find at the end of such a fight in other games.

Variation. The three parts of the game are very distinct and give you the feeling of actually being on a journey. The nighttime world of Melee Island is left behind for the bright daylight of the ship and Monkey Island. Likewise the underworld of the Ghost Ship is a sharp contrast to both.

Expanding World. Your access to hidden areas slowly and naturally expands in a gratifying way. I especially liked the fact that you could find oars for the rowboat and paddle around the perimeter of the Island.

Cannot Fail. I mean unless you quit – there is no way in this game to die or get stuck in a situation where you have to load a saved game or restart. This is really unusual in games of any kind but especially adventure games. I love it.

Negatives:

Some of the puzzles were arbitrary and confusing. Case in point is the catapult puzzle on Monkey Island. I swear I tried to pick up a rock from the Pile-O-Rocks and wasn’t able to. After that I never tried again and it took forever to figure out what to do.

Marketing

In preparation for the release of The Website is Down Video Game (dropping 7/23/2019!) I have instructed my worker-bee marketing minions to craft a sample advertising campaign. Did you know that bees vomit partially digested nectar back and forth between themselves until it dries and becomes honey? Revel in the metaphoric bliss!

Here we go:

ad1

Supposedly those boxes at the bottom will contain screenshots of the real game. This is what advertisers call a “mock-up”. I prefer to call it half-assed and incomplete and therefore will be canceling my check.

 

Rapid Prototyping with Inform

While we’re waiting for my Dogecoin fortune to make itself I’ll tell you a story. Sit up here on my knee. That’s not my knee! Nevermind what it was! Let’s just say I’m very excited to tell you about this cool tool called Inform and how you can use it for rapidly prototyping your game.

More code, sooner.

More code. Sooner.

But why should I Prototype? I want to start coding right away! Waaah!

If you’re a dolt who likes spending lots of time re-doing work then skip this post and start coding your game immediately without a second thought. (Or I should say: start coding your custom game engine and framework immediately because you’re probably into that as well). The rest of you smarties stay with me.

This tools works well for any game where the player needs to go places, get things and do things with them in order to solve puzzles. Sounds like every game I’ve ever heard of (not you Mario Kart). The benefits of working this all out ahead of time should be obvious but essentially you are generating a location list, an item list, an NPC list and you can also formalize the order in which things must be done by the player so you don’t trap them in impossible scenarios.

The tool is Inform 7. It is designed for text adventure games but you can use it for prototyping any type of game. I’ll give you a very simple example.

"Prototype" by Josh

The Lookout Point is a room. An old man is here.

The Outskirts is south from the Lookout Point. A campaign poster is here.

The Village is east from the Outskirts. 

The Scumm Bar is inside from The Village.

That text is actually the source code to a simple Inform game. All Inform input is written in a language which closely resembles English. This code describes four locations and two other items: an old man and a campaign poster. Lets see what we can get from Inform after running it.

informMap-simple

Here you see Inform has created a map for us and a list of locations, each with a list of starting contents. This is called the index and it took us all of like, what, 6 seconds? Nice.

Let’s flesh it out a bit. You can add descriptive text to everything and that too will show up in your index. Here are some additional details:

...
The Lookout Point is a room. "High atop Melee Island, this rocky overlook pokes into the clouds."

An old man is here. "A weathered old man." The description is "An old grey-beard in a weathered raincoat gazes out at the sea."
...

If we look at the index now we can see these additional details. If you were to pass this on to your artist or level designer they would still have lots of questions for you but this isn’t intended to be a repository for art or detailed screenshots. Just a very simple 1000 foot view of your game and how the pieces fit together.

 

 

Excuses

My game did not release on time! Who is to blame? Who do I have to fire to get this project back on track? Let’s review the org chart…

orgChartCloseup

Well it’s pretty fucking obvious whose fault this is. That guy. The road-blocker. The I’ll-get-back-to-you-and-never-does guy. The last in-first-to-leave guy. The guy with all the excuses. Well I’m not running a charity so he’s out. Hated that guy. Always hated that guy. Josh Fucking Weinberg.

Bottle RocketFuck you guys. 

Let’s be serious for a minute (ha!). I do have excuses. I’m not in a situation where I can drop everything that’s going on in my life to focus solely on indie game development. I have a job I don’t hate, a family I don’t hate, a mortgage (yes, I do hate the mortgage but I don’t hate sleeping indoors), a social life and other commitments which I won’t just drop. I would call all of these things Valid Excuses. If I ignore one or two of them to work on my game I’ll make more progress in the short term but in the long-term the whole project will become unsustainable.

For example, I, right now, have a big pile of unfinished projects cluttering up my computer, desk and my brain because I burnt out on them after ignoring a lot of other interests and responsibilities. Everything from screenplays to art projects to videos and video games. Sadly, none of them actually exist in final form because I couldn’t sustain my involvement without wrecking the rest of my life. That’s my M.O. I go in hot and burn out.

Look at all this awesome shit I've made. There's nothing here.

Look at all this awesome shit I made.

So I need another approach besides slamming my foot down on the accelerator and praying I hit the jump ramp before my gas runs out. I need to make consistent incremental progress on a long-term project in a sustainable way which will eventually result in a finished product. It may take five years but that’s sooner than never. It’s like Calculus: An infinitely small quantity is still larger than zero. In this case my infinitely small quantity is how much work I can put in on my awesome huge epic game in a day.

leibniz

My plan is basically this.

In other news, I’m rich! Soon I’ll be quitting my job to focus on game development full time! How did I come into all this ca$h you may ask? Just L@@K:

dogeroom

Only about 75° in here! (Celcius)

It might look like the training room at my office. It might actually be that training room. But this room leads a double life… I’ve got these under-utilized PCs mining Dogecoins 24-7. I’m pretty sure my boss won’t mind! As soon as a Dogecoin is worth more than 0.000000049 Litecoins and a Litecoin is worth more than 0.00231 Bitcoins and a Bitcoin is worth more than 8392 dollars… well… warm up your joysticks because The Website is Down  Video Game will be ripping off the jump ramp and into your hot little hands immediately just right after that.