[ANN] Post-Comp Release of Nightfall

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Eric Eve

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Nov 22, 2008, 7:06:56 AM11/22/08
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I have just uploaded Release 2 of "Nightfall" to the IF-Archive.
Over the next few days I imagine it will find its way to the
if-archive/games/glulx directory.

Many thanks to all of you who played and voted for "Nightfall" in
the IF-Comp. I expected that the game might not be to everyone's
taste (and one or two reviews suggest I may not have been entirely
mistaken in that expectation!), so I am delighted to have placed
second. Thanks too to everyone who took the trouble to write reviews
(appreciative, critical, unfavourable or otherwise), since as other
authors frequently mention, reading what other people think of one's
efforts is generally the greatest reward an IF author gets (though
thanks too to Jimmy Maher whose generous prize has enabled me to go
on a spending spree on Amazon!). Indeed, this was my main reason for
entering "Nightfall" into the competition in the first place; that
way I could at least be sure that people would play it and comment
on it.

Many thanks too to my sterling team of alpha-testers (who amongst
other things advised on some design issues I was wrestling with) and
beta-testers (who kept me up to the mark in all sorts of ways),
without whom "Nightfall" would have been an unholy mess instead of a
high-placing game.

Release 2 of "Nightfall" is not vastly different from Release 1. It
fixes a few minor bugs and typos noted by reviewers, and tweaks the
wording of some of the memories and one or two bits of dialogue in
an attempt to clarify the characterization of the principle
protagonists (special thanks to Emily Short whose thoughtful review
on her blog provoked me into thinking further about this issue);
these tweaks won't suffice to satisfy those who really didn't like
this aspect of the game ("Nightfall" would have to be a different
game to do that), but they may make the game a little closer to what
I was aiming at.

If you've already seen enough of Release 1 of "Nightfall", you won't
find much new in Release 2, but if you haven't played it yet and are
now thinking of doing so, or if you're planning to play it again,
you may want to download Release 2 from the IF-Archive (once it
becomes available there).

-- Eric

George Shannon

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Nov 23, 2008, 11:50:16 AM11/23/08
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On Nov 22, 7:06 am, "Eric Eve" <eric....@NOSPAMhmc.ox.ac.uk> wrote:

> If you've already seen enough of Release 1 of "Nightfall", you won't
> find much new in Release 2, but if you haven't played it yet and are
> now thinking of doing so, or if you're planning to play it again,
> you may want to download Release 2 from the IF-Archive (once it
> becomes available there).

Yoink!

I wasn't as wowed by it as some, but I have a feeling that
implementation will be referenced in a lot of discussion for a long
time to come (and rightly so). Thanks for such a great game!

Conrad

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Nov 23, 2008, 12:15:25 PM11/23/08
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On Nov 23, 11:50 am, George Shannon <twobi...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> I wasn't as wowed by it as some, but I have a feeling that
> implementation will be referenced in a lot of discussion for a long
> time to come (and rightly so).  Thanks for such a great game!

Eric, can you tell us anything about your reasons for making the
decisions you made in creating this game?


Conrad.

Eric Eve

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Nov 23, 2008, 12:38:13 PM11/23/08
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"Conrad" <conra...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:ce43a801-f032-4544...@13g2000yql.googlegroups.com...

On Nov 23, 11:50 am, George Shannon <twobi...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Eric, can you tell us anything about your reasons for making the
> decisions you made in creating this game?

I'd be happy to in principle, but are there any particular issues
you had in mind? It might be easier in the context of a usenet post
to try to answer specific questions than to write what might risk
turning into a big long article on my Nightfall design choices (in
any case, I'm right in the middle of another big long IF article
right now!).

-- Eric


Conrad

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Nov 23, 2008, 12:54:08 PM11/23/08
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On Nov 23, 12:38 pm, "Eric Eve" <eric....@NOSPAMhmc.ox.ac.uk> wrote:
>
> I'd be happy to in principle, but are there any particular issues
> you had in mind? It might be easier in the context of a usenet post
> to try to answer specific questions than to write what might risk
> turning into a big long article on my Nightfall design choices (in
> any case, I'm right in the middle of another big long IF article
> right now!).

Well...

I imagine you began with some conceptual kernel. What game-structure
did you have in your mind to develop the kernel into? Did you, for
example, think of it as a three-act story, with a beginning, middle,
and end?

Or, coming at it the other way, are there parts of the game that you
wrote specifically to get certain reactions out of your players, and
how did you go about writing them? What was your reasoning for going
after those reactions rather than something else?

Honestly, I'm interested in everything.


Conrad.

Eric Eve

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Nov 23, 2008, 3:01:03 PM11/23/08
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"Conrad" <conra...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:11741b1f-47c6-4fa0...@e12g2000yqm.googlegroups.com...

> I imagine you began with some conceptual kernel. What
> game-structure
> did you have in your mind to develop the kernel into? Did you,
> for
> example, think of it as a three-act story, with a beginning,
> middle,
> and end?

I'll try to answer this and your other question briefly, and maybe
come back and give some fuller answers when I have more time, or
when you or someone asks me to elaborate on some particular issue.
But first, since I can't usefully answer without being a bit
spoilery, I'd better insert some spoiler space:

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I didn't set out with any conscious intention to create a three-act
story, though it fairly quickly became apparent when I got working
on Nightfall that it would effectively fall into an introduction,
mid-game and endgame (with the mid-game being the longest section).

The originating conceptual kernel was a set of ideas and images: a
fateful walk through an empty city an night, and the pursuit of a
long-desired woman who turns out to be not what she seemed. Also in
this originating conceptual kernel was the idea that the backstory
of the man's infatuation with the woman would be revealed through a
series of memories triggered by particular locations. Along with
that was the notion that both parts of the backstory and the bomb
plot would be revealed to the player through finding certain
significant objects.

The first step in the design process thereafter was to make a list
of memories and the places that might trigger them, and of
significant objects and the significance they might have. From there
I went on to draw a map that both incorporated all these locations
and objects and felt like a plausible city layout. Some reviewers
have complained that the map was too large and sprawly, but I wanted
it to feel like a deserted city, not just a deserted hamlet, so the
size of the map was actually part of my core concept. Once I'd drawn
my map, I didn't depart from it much, bar a few minor tweaks (such
as cutting out the odd location that I later judged to be
redundant).

When I implemented what I had at that point (which included the bomb
puzzle) and tried playing through it, I found I had a nice setting
and a nice mechanism for triggering memories, but not much of a
game. I tried all sorts of things, some of which worked and made it
into the final game (such as moving the starting location from the
city centre to the rail station), but for a long time I was
basically stuck, vainly groping for one more big idea that I thought
would be needed to make the game actually interesting (one or two
big ideas I experimented with turned out to be bad ideas and were
dropped). In the end, after leaving the game aside for a while (more
or less), I realized that what was needed was not One More Big Idea
but lots of extra little details.

At this point the design difficulties came down to two challenges:
(1) how to balance open-ended game play (allowing the player to
wander where he liked) with giving some shape and direction to the
game and (2) how to balance story and game-play by giving the player
enough to do and enough challenges to overcome to avoid becoming
bored without letting the player get stuck on any puzzle long enough
to get in the way of the story. When I felt I'd got as far as I
could with this on my own, I sent the game out to a team of three
alpha testers who both reassured me that the game was basically okay
and who also helped me balance these issues further (mostly in the
direction of more interactivity and more direction). The feedback
from beta-testers also helped me refine these balances.

> Or, coming at it the other way, are there parts of the game that
> you
> wrote specifically to get certain reactions out of your players,
> and
> how did you go about writing them? What was your reasoning for
> going
> after those reactions rather than something else?

The question is a bit broad, but I'll attempt a partial answer by
addressing two specific issues.

First, more or less from the start the game was conceived as a kind
of meta-puzzle. It was set up so that the player was initially
motivated to find the woman (Emma) but might come to realize that
Emma was not exactly what he (or at least, the player character,
David) had imagined. The player is thus confronted with a choice
between going along with what the game (or actually Emma) wants, or
realizing that Emma is not entirely trustworthy and so rebelling
against her goals to investigate something she doesn't want to (the
bomb in the lorry). Players who are swept along to a losing ending
by what the game apparently asks of them are thus effectively
conniving with Emma's manipulation of David - or at least, that's
how I intended it to be understood. There is a difficulty (which
became very apparent in beta-testing) of keeping the player
character's changing perceptions of Emma in line with the player's,
which I made some (inevitably not entirely successful) attempts to
address. Overall, though, the game tries to tread a fine line
between misleading the player into carrying out Emma's wishes and
giving him sufficient reason to mistrust her.

Second, one aspect of the game that seems to have worked least well
is my characterization of Emma. I've tried to address this a little
in the post-comp release, but I suspect it still won't really
suffice. Quite a few reviewers complained that Emma is too
over-the-top larger-than-life, a generic omnicompetent beautiful
femme fatale. I can understand where that impression comes from, but
I had intended something rather more complex, which I'll now take
the opportunity to explain.

Part of the point is that the player largely sees Emma through
David's eyes, and that David has put her on a pedestal. So part of
the reason she comes over as over-the-top wonderful is because
that's the way David sees her, and David *has* to see her that way
both to set up the plot (and the characterization of David) and to
set up the initial misdirection that's essential to the game's
meta-puzzle.

Just as importantly, if not more so, Emma is *not* meant to be some
straightforward generic wonder-woman. On the contrary, she's a
tragically insane obsessive over-achiever (I thought I'd left some
clues to this in the comp version, and I've tried to hint at this a
bit more strongly in Version 2). Although she is actually genuinely
fond of David in her way, in the end she can't really relate
properly to him or anyone else, since at root she has too little
sense of self-worth (hence her obsessive need to excel at everything
by way of futile compensation). I get the impression that her
motivation for destroying the city struck some reviewers as absurd
(rejected as the local MP), but it is at least all of a piece with
how I conceived her. The point is not simply that she's striking out
in revenge (even if this is how she conceives it herself), the point
is rather that she's been drawn to the nihilistic philosophy
espoused by A.D. Stanilev's book _Nightfall_ (an entirely fictional
creation on my part) because although she achieves so much, in the
end she finds it means so little to her; all her remarkable
achievements bring her no happiness and no lasting satisfaction, and
she's left not knowing how else to give meaning to her existence.

Now, I grant you that this account of Emma probably goes beyond
what's explicitly stated in the game. As one reviewer said, the
player is left to join up the dots, and there's more than one way of
doing that. But there were plenty of pointers in the game to this
understanding of Emma, and I'd hoped that some players might pick up
on a few more of them (that they apparently didn't is doubtless my
fault, and probably due to the fact that I was concentrating on the
other design issues mentioned above to the exclusion of giving
enough thought to how Emma should be presented).

The game would arguably work best of all if the player was left
feeling that Emma's was a tragedy that could have been averted if
only David had had the gumption to take a more active role in her
life years before.

Now, even with that explanation I expect that some players will feel
Emma was overdrawn; but my response to that would be that making
Emma larger-than-life was part of the point. If she wasn't such an
obvious over-achiever, the fact that her achievements ultimately
failed to give her any satisfaction would (in my opinion) lose much
of its impact, and her tragedy would be diminished. Sometimes drama
needs to be larger than life! The game was not meant to be totally
realistic.

> Honestly, I'm interested in everything.

"Everything" is rather a big topic to discuss, but I hope I've
managed to address your curiosity about some things. Thanks for your
interest, in any case!

I'll be happy to answer any follow-up questions, but probably won't
get round to them tonight.

-- Eric


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