Comments on Ft. Aegea (long, very belated, and spoiler-laden)

Skip to first unread message

Francesco Bova

Feb 14, 2003, 4:35:47 PM2/14/03
Hi everyone. I've had this post sitting 95% finished on my hard drive for
quite a while and Paul's thread on Comp game length has finally prompted me
to post it. If you're interested, here is some behind-the-scenes action from
the making of Ft. Aegea.


Let me start off by congratulating Paul on winning this year's comp (much
deserved and belated), and by thanking all the judges, and especially all of
the reviewers for as much feedback as they've already produced (I 've got 25
reviews so far. Awesome). If you think writing IF is thankless, try writing
IF reviews, so thank you once again.

Here's a little backstory on the creation of Ft. Aegea (for those of you who
are interested, that it :):

In July '99 I released a game that I had been working on for 9 months titled
the Jewel of Knowledge (JoK). JoK was my first released work of IF (and for
the matter, fiction period) and it was met with mixed reviews. I got some
very complimentary ones, some mixed-bag ones, and one or two that were
fairly critical.

Also, the good people at a gaming e-zine for the blind called Audyssey,
liked it enough to even interview me. I also found that for a non-comp game,
it did get talked about quite a bit -- possibly because it elicited strong
responses on both sides of the reviewing spectrum -- and with 5 reviews I
considered myself lucky and satisfied.

STORY: In January of '00 I began work on JoK's sequel, Fort Aegea. I didn't
want it to be a straight sequel (i.e., not a direct continuation of the
storyline, different characters), but rather a story with partial linkages
to the first, but different surroundings and dynamics. The cat-and-mouse
plot was always there, but originally the protagonist was going to be a
missionary sent to the northern reaches of Amylya to preach
about the virtues of Amylyan religion to a local aboriginal community
with different religious beliefs. The missionary's ultimate goal was going
to be one of conversion and colonization. I had originally thought that in
the end the aboriginal community would save the Priestess and the Fort by
using some traditional
methods that the Priestess would have never considered, which in turn
would have prompted the Priestess to lose faith in her mission of
conversion. But a few sobering minutes later, it occurred to me that one of
the most valid and commonly mentioned criticisms of JoK was that there was
too much overt moralizing in its
ending, and that my own moral compass was coming through too strongly in my
writing. I had a deep sense that I didn't want to go down that path again
(although it appears I may have, just in a different context- D'oh:), so I
stuck with a colony of everyday farmers.

I knew I was playing with some tired old fantasy tropes with this story
(i.e., menacing dragon, virgins) and I was really concerned that many
players would play through the prologue, consider the game to be too
generic, and not see it through to its conclusion. My hope was that I could
lull the player into a comfortable pattern. I wanted the player for the most
part to think it was a traditional D&D scenario, so that they wouldn't
realize that they were ultimately destroying their own environment. I was
hoping that both endings would have been a bit of a surprise, although
believable after being experienced with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

PUZZLES: I started off with one puzzle (the boat puzzle) and just wrote and
created puzzles as the scenery allowed and as things came to me. Some areas,
like Mt. Terra, were easy to develop because I had a good idea as to where I
could put potential pitfalls and hurdles (you'll notice that the point
allocation/task completed ratio is very small for that area because there
were so many things that deserved a point, but only a finite amount of
points I was willing to dole out for each section). Other areas saw me
suffer from a general brain freeze. For example, I had a horrible time with
the deciduous forest area, as I had no clue as to what I could pull
off with a bunch of birch and aspens. At one point I had a section leading
underground (which would have been accessed through a mole's burrow), but it
seemed terribly cheesy and I'd done the whole underground thing in JoK
already so I didn't want to go that route again. I eventually decided on
adding the whole moose-healing bit as a way for the player to do something
in that area. It fit in with Pryziella's personality pretty well and her
environmentally conscious mandate, and provided me with some justification
for doling out points in that

Other challenges arose while trying to find new and inventive ways to foil
the dragon. It would only make sense that something as wise as the Green
Dragon wouldn't fall for the same trick twice, so coming up with alternative
of escape or successful confrontation for Pryziella was always going to be
difficult (especially as her arsenal was limited to 5 spells and a mace for
most of the game). In fact the reason why the Green Dragon doesn't even
appear in the deciduous forest section (at least not directly) is
because I couldn't come up with a good enough way to defend against it in an
expansive forest with little cover.

I wanted to also have a good mix between magic-related and non-magic-related
puzzles, and I think I split them pretty evenly. I would have loved to have
done more.

I had always known what the final puzzle, which lead to the "total
destruction" ending, was going to be, and anticipated having only that
one ending. That was until Dan Shiovitz in beta-testing came up with another
very plausible way of stopping the militia. It made so much sense that based
his recommendation I constructed a second ending which gave the player a
little more leeway and an optimal (?) ending to the day's affairs.


I should start this off by saying that I have no coding background
whatsoever as well as a very short attention span, so learning Inform was
always going to be a bit of a chore for me. Still, I think I've certainly
improved as a programmer over my first offering as it seemed like every
month or so I managed to add a new programming technique to my repertoire. I
started using classes with this game (which I hadn't done with JoK), and
that saved me a huge amount of redundant coding (especially with the
dragon), and I used the WriteListFrom routine a few times (once for the
Armour -- if you start taking the pieces off underwater, its description
continually changes; and once for the clearing outside the fort's
description), and my personal biggest accomplishment was a successful hack
of ScoreMatchL that I thought was quite slick (L. Ross Razewski recommended
I don't try it and after two weeks of fiddling, I understand why). I finally
came away from this coding experience with an undying hatred for daemons.
Ft. Aegea has over 30 daemons, many of which are dependant on split second
timing, and the coordination of many of these daemons running concurrently
caused me much distress. I'm sure I could have taken a year off my
programming time had it not been for my issues with these accursed


It's about one month before the Comp and I'm worried. I'm seriously
concerned about the length of my game and how it will be received by the IF
playing public. To be more specific, it's not just the length of the game
that worries me, but its structure and its pacing. Ft. Aegea starts off very
slowly in the prologue with a copious text infodump, but the pace ratchets
up a lot once the game proper starts. My big concern is a person playing Ft.
Aegea as their 35th game of the comp, would be less willing to give it a
chance if they don't see the game's pace start quickly out of the blocks.
I'm also concerned that with a 2-hour time limit, many players will look at
the intro, see the game as an overdone fantasy stereotype, and be content to
leave it as is, without experiencing the game to its conclusion. I decide to
enter the game regardless, as I've worked too long on it and I'd like to get
as many reviews as possible of it (something I know I'll get if I release it
in the comp). I upload the game to the Comp site and hope for a top 20
finish. In late October, after I've finished playing all the Comp games, I
go to IFMUD and find links to Sam Kabo Ashwell's, Dan Shiovitz's, and Emily
Short's reviews of my game and all are well-written and totally fair, but
none of them are overly complimentary. Sigh. With my expectations
significantly lowered, I wait with the rest of the authors until November
15th, and I'm completely blown away at having finished 8th. It was
gratifying to place so high, especially considering that my game's subject
matter and length were not particularly condusive to good Comp results
(Travels in the Land of Erden, anyone?). My girlfriend and I spent the
weekend reading reviews and it was a real thrill. 25 really thorough reviews
later, I have a much better sense of where I could have improved on the game
and where I did alright. I know I'll put all of the feedback to good use,
and it will hopefully make any of my future offerings even better. Thanks
again to the judges, everyone who voted and the reviewers.


Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages