For my final #1GAM game I’ve decided to try out Twine. Twine is a tool to make text-based games with no coding knowledge and it’s really easy to use, which has made it a very popular tool. With every passing year there seems to be more and better Twine games.
Earlier this month I attended WordPlay which is a celebration of text-focused games. It’s fun event that gathers game makers and players, so naturally the event has games to play. If you follow me on Twitter you may already know that Horse Master really appealed to me.
Wordplay also has sessions on how to make games from a narrative and technical standpoint. One panel was on how to create your own interactive fiction including alternatives to Twine (I added them to my game creation page).
It looks like the appeal of these kind of games is only growing. This past week the New York Times ran a long article on Twine and the culture surrounding it.
Twine games look and feel profoundly different from other games, not just because they’re made with different tools but also because they’re made by different people — including people who don’t have any calcified notions about what video games are supposed to be or how they’re supposed to work. While roughly 75 percent of developers at traditional video-game companies are male, many of the most prominent Twine developers are women, making games whose purpose is to explore personal perspectives and issues of identity, sexuality and trauma that mainstream games rarely touch on.
Almost ironically I feel like this has been one of my worst-written blog posts.
Two and half years ago I posted on how “escape the room” games have become physical, they are similar in concept to digital games like the classic The Room insofar you are locked in a room and must escape using logic.
Since 2012 escape games have surged in popularity. There’s even a Wikipedia page on real-life room escape games. These games have branched out from where they started in eastern Asia and have now landed seemingly everywhere from New York to Prague.
Here in Toronto Japan-based SCRAP Entertainment showed up to run a one-off event and there are a ton of other companies entering the market too. One of those companies is LockQuest and I recently had the chance to play test their game – it’s the best room escape experience I’ve had! The obvious question is what made it so good?
Ryan Creighton is behind LockQuest and he has been open with what indie game design as a career is really like (for example his post on exhibiting a game at PAX). In his announcement post of LockQuest he mentions that his room-escape designs are a result of trying as many other escape games as possible and trying to figure out their logic in a narrative-less environment:
The first game by LockQuest, Escape the Book Club Killer, aims to improve on the experiences i’ve had travelling around North America playing escape games. For one, we pay a lot of attention to story and character. Too many escape games dump you into a bizarrely decorated room (why’s that bicycle in here?) with no compelling reason to escape other than “the door’s locked.” Cool. How did i get here? Who locked me in? Why are the means of my escape scattered around the room in a tightly-knit logic puzzle format?
In Escape the Book Club Killer, all these questions and more are answered in the course of the game. You’ve responded to an invite by a friend-of-a-friend to attend this book club. You don’t know the guy who’s running it, but you’re adventurous, so why not? When you show up, your host seems a little unhinged, and the book he wants you to read – a sleazy pulp novel – is entirely inappropriate for polite company. In short order, he tells you he’ll be back in an hour, and the door locks behind him …. from the outside.
Learning from other game designers is not new, but what is new is that Ryan started as a video game designer and this was his first foray into making real-world games. From experience, I can tell you that the basic rule of thumb for anything in the real-world is that everything will break at some point (I’m sure one day gravity will break). Ryan published what he went through transitioning from making digital to physical games.
The design differences are vast and can be eye-opening to designers who haven’t tried their hand at both mediums. The full post is worth reading, here’s a snippet of what Ryan observed:
With a real escape game, so much of the experience is tied up in your props and sets that you basically have to spend all your money on the “graphics” and have them in place before you can test the thing. The “mechanics” of the game come next, so the process is effectively backwards. And you run a real risk of spending money on a prop for a puzzle that just doesn’t work.
Going back to the birdcage example, you might think “well, the ‘programmer graphics’ version of that is to buy a cheap, modern birdcage and swap it out later.” That’s what i thought too. But if you’re like me, a landlocked urbanite with no vehicle and no easy access to yard sales, the cost of a modern birdcage is about two hundred dollars. The cost of our hard-won fancy birdcage is about the same. Often times, testing with a less-than-ideal prop would cost as much or more time and money as just doing it the right way to begin with.
Remember that the medium you choose to make your game in can dictate so much of the experience and the design process! Personally, I find it refreshing to see how many ways game design elements can impact other forms of entertainment and how through that exploration new ideas arise.
If you like the idea of escape games and can act then you should know that LockQuest is hiring!
Itch.io is a great site for indie games for two reasons: you can find games to play (and buy) and it’s a handy tool for developers. The creator of the site is a fan of post-mortems, much like me, and he wrote a blog post outlining the inner finances and working of Itch.io.
Of all registered users only 13% have uploaded a public game. This suggests that the majority of users that have registered are more interested in playing games than distributing them. A nice indicator of where future development time should be spent as itch.io currently is primarily for sellers.
Interestingly, in the blog post he mentions how he first envisioned the site, which is rather different compared to what it is now.
84% of purchases are from external sites. Originally itch.io had no way to browse games, the philosophy was that the site would provide the tools but not the distribution. I’ve since changed my mind and added plenty of ways to discover games on the site. I’m not sure what my target percentage for internal purchases should be but I’m actively trying to increase it with features like the recently released game recommendation system. To me, it’s an indicator of how well I’m doing in distributing games. I get very excited when I release a new way for people to discover games and it results in additional purchases that might have otherwise never happened.
I’m looking forward to more of these sorts of posts in the future.