Monday, December 5, 2011

One year of this project, and the ways of puzzle explorability

Tomorrow will be the oneth anniversary of the Hadean Lands Kickstarter project. One year of this new lifestyle.

(Technically it's eleven months of this lifestyle, because I quit for Christmas. Also eleven months since I took possession of the donated money, due to processing delays and business schedules and thinking about taxes and all the other absurd things attendant on self-employment. I could also mark it as thirteen months and five days since I decided for sure to quit my industry job; thirteen months and four days since I reached my Kickstarter funding goal. But enough with the dreamy reminesce.)

Over the past month I have nailed down the outline for Hadean Lands. I know all the major puzzles that occur, and the order you hit them in. Or rather the possible orders, since there's a lot of variation. I'm using a traditional bushy-middle-act structure (many things to do but free order in which to do them -- think Myst). But there's a lot of puzzle interlocking going on too, beneath that high-level structure. Keeping track of this is why I wrote PlotEx, and you better believe it's been helpful. I can say for sure that the outline is consistent.

I haven't actually counted the major puzzles here, but I bet you want to know... okay, let's say 53. (The number is a little fuzzy, because you have to do certain things more than once, with variations. Yes, there will be shortcuts.)

The next milestone is sorting out the minor puzzles. These tasks aren't so much for challenge, but rather for pacing, and for setting up future puzzles. The locked grate in Adventure is the right analogy here. You get keys, you unlock the grate. It's not a big deal, but it spreads out the early exploration, gives a plot beat (underground now!) and gets the IF newcomer (we all were, then) used to the notion of using appropriate verbs.

Also, many of those major puzzles (30 of them) are alchemical rituals or procedures, which require ingredients. A one-ingredient ritual is no fun! I'll need a fair number of extra items just to fill out recipes and make the action sequences satisfying.

So for each ingredient X in a major puzzle, there will be a lot of "explore to find ingredient X", and a judicious proportion of "make ingredient X out of Y and Z". (Which means adding puzzles, or at least locations, for Y and Z. Don't worry, that recursion won't get more than one or two levels deep. They're minor puzzles after all.)

I could approach this by simply making up Y and Z items until all the slots on the chart are filled. But this would be boring. I mean for you, not just for me. (Okay, for me too.) One-use-per-item is a poor adventure game model.

Instead, I want all of the rituals to overlap. Y should be used in two different rituals; Z in three. Think back to my HL teaser: the untarnishing ritual starts with ginger oil, but you also have peppermint oil available. Shouldn't that lead into a different ritual? What if you start with ginger but use the binding word instead? These don't go anywhere in the teaser, but they will in the full game.

In essence, the space of ingredients and magic words forms a map -- and this abstract map should be explorable and interesting, just like the game's physical map. So this is what I've started working on now. Making up a lot of Y and Z items, but arranging them in a satisfying way. (While still obeying the major puzzle ordering constraints, of course.)

And that's this month in Hadean Lands.

(I should probably restate this, although it's not news: the estimated completion date on HL is "I don't know yet." This will continue to be true for quite some time. When I've gotten five of those 53 puzzles implemented, then I'll have a basis for estimating my progress rate.)

On the freelance side of my life, Fealty for iOS continues forward. It's playable single-player, but still all placeholder artwork, and the Game Center integration only half-works.

I am also doing a small commissioned IF work (!), which will appear on-or-around the beginning of January. Crazy, eh?

Comments imported from Gameshelf

David Cornelson (Dec 6, 2011 at 12:26 PM):

A puzzle/plot validation tool. This is ingenious and it would be cool to see this built into some sort of user-friendly tool, with a graph output.

David C.

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