Well, the dust has settled on the 2004 interactive fiction competition
and the stream of reviews has dried up. It thus seems like a good time
to look back on All Things Devours and answer some of the questions and
comments raised in the reviews. Since there were so many and they dwelt
on several common themes, I thought I'd do it all in one place.
I guess a logical place to start is with the origins of the game. There
was quite some speculation on this in the reviews:
Sam Kabo Ashwell wrote:
> First thoughts: my, somebody really liked Spider and Web,
> but instead of coming up with some sweepingly original
> narrative techniques and deeply clever puzzles,
> they just nicked the basic story
Andrew Krywaniuk wrote:
> (it certainly owes a nod to Spider and Web or Moments
> out of Time, as well as several popular movies)
Timofei Shatrov wrote:
> There is some interesting stuff going in this game which looks like a
> Vicious Cycles clone.
Actually, it is a bit embarrassing to admit, but the only works of IF I
had completed before the competition were:
The Frenetic Five vs. Mr Redundancy Man
And I had investigated but not solved:
Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
A Change in the Weather
Lock and Key
So no, I have never seen Spider and Web, Moments out of Time or Vicious
Cycles. I don't really know why people were so quick to claim that I had.
As it turns out though, two of the works I had played did directly
influence me. A Change in the Weather's 'about' text made it clear that
try-by-dying was still acceptable if done right and that encouraged me
to proceed (as well as to warn the players via the 'about' text). Common
Ground was a more direct influence, as it was there that I saw an
attempt to record past player actions and use them again. In particular,
there was a review of it by Ian Merrick which featured the following:
> I don't think something along the lines of Back to the Future
> would be possible in IF, though, where certain scenes are
> viewed several times without distortion, and where the plot
> depends on every tiny event meshing together perfectly.
> How on earth could you do all that and give the player
> reasonable freedom of action?
Well, that seemed to be a fair challenge, so I thought about that
question for a while and thought about how cool such a thing would be.
For what its worth, Back to the Future and its sequels did leave their
mark on me and they would certainly be an influence. I also have a fair
interest in science-fiction and had thought about time travel quite a
lot in the past. (While on the topic, I would recommend 'Thrice upon a
time' as a classic of the time-travel genre). I then thought of some
puzzles which became the batteries/door/alarm puzzles. That night I
downloaded the Inform libraries/compiler, the IBG, and the DM4. I Hacked
the first IBG toy adventure to record the player's movements, saw that I
could do it, decided I'd write the game and went to sleep.
Of course there were many elements of it that were difficult to code,
many of which were probably a bit unnecessary. For those who are
interested, I will release the source code with the updated version, so
you can see how it was done. I don't promise that it will be too
comprehensible though, so sorry about that. All in all it ended up
taking two and a half months, on and off, to write it, which was longer
than I had hoped, but not altogether surprising.
I taught myself Inform by getting the automatic and manual doors to work
smoothly, since the ridiculous default nature of doors in IF is really
annoying. Everyone should at least copy and paste in the door class from
the DM4. Ideally, Inform's library should be changed to do this by
default. The current way is just terrible and does a good job of both
spoiling any mood created as well as turning off new players. I am glad
that I got a few positive comments about my doors, but it really should
be the norm. That said, it was embarrassing that I somehow introduced a
bug on the day before the competition and hadn't retested the useless
doors. Interestingly the bug only occurs if you try to enter them,
something Inform generally does not allow anyway if they are closed. It
was only my tricky door programming that led to this bug and only my
tricky door programming that made people find it (since I make entering
a door without opening it work elsewhere).
I enjoyed writing the text, although I did so much faster than I would
have liked as the coding took so long. I may write a little bit more for
the winning ending, since many found that anticlimactic, but I am not
sure. Ultimately it is a game that doesn't have a natural endgame and I
think this hurts it a touch, but don't know if anything can be done
Quite a few people said that they liked the terse and tense phrasing and
atmosphere and the general conclusion seems to be that it was sufficient
or slightly more than sufficient for a puzzle based work. On a somewhat
harsher note, Jake Wildstrom wrote:
> Highly flowery writing; it's not adjective-poisoning, but a subtler
> form of overwriting. Perhaps it's the personification of everything
> that does it.
This is a fair comment and I would probably agree. I just didn't have
the time to strip it back a bit more.
The response to 'look at myself' (or, as it has become known 'x me') was
surprisingly strong and diverse. For those that don't know, it reads:
> Dark hair frames a warm face. Despite the anxiety written now
> in your tense brow, the confidence of youth and vibrancy
> of intellect are clear. There is a depth in your clear green eyes.
I knew this was often the first command, so I had spent a little while
writing it. On the one hand, some people liked the portrait I gave, but
there were also a few other reactions. For instance, Mike Russo wrote:
> The PC description admittedly
> made me roll my eyes a bit, both because it's slightly extravagant and
> because the gorgeous female MIT grad student seems like a bit of a
> wish-fulfillment character, although of course such do exist Å0É2 I
> certainly met more than a few during my time at Caltech. And
> portraying her as dowdy and asexual would have annoyed me as well, for
> buying in too strongly to the stereotype. Perhaps I just find the
> depiction of female sciencey characters somewhat problematic in
> general; it's hard to sail the ship of characterization between the
> poles of stereotype and pandering.
Now I understand Mike's point and similar issues occur with many
depictions of stereotyped groups. Often people do overcompensate. It is
common to see an attribute attributed in a stereotypical manner and then
want to reverse it for your work to overcome this, but this can lead to
silly polarizing of the issue. In a way I was conscious of this while
writing All Things Devours and decided that the protagonist would be
female, but that this would not be remarked upon within the game. I am a
grad student myself and almost all of my friends are too. Many of these
are women. This perhaps gives me the benefit of being rather unfazed by
the stereotypes and just writing the story. However, when it comes to
the 'gorgeous', 'wish-fulfillment' character, I'm afraid I have to
disagree with Mike. If your read the description I gave again, it says
nothing about Natalie (the PC) being gorgeous or even about being
conventionally attractive. She has signs of warmth, confidence and depth.
While these are things I find attractive, I am hardly going down the
'supermodel as scientist' route.
Others commented on the strange perspective of the description. For
instance, Zarf wrote:
> Only a nitpicker would point out that the self-description reads like
> someone *else's* description of the protagonist -- not like something
> would say herself.
This is a good point. Now when I type 'x self' I don't imagine the
character actually looking at himself/herself, but rather see it as a
kind of meta-command. I think of it more as a third personal perspective,
letting the player know a bit more about the character that they are
trying to roleplay. In this, I perhaps find things to be a little like
those third-person 3D games where the perspective is right behind the
character. You act for the character, but see them externally. Or
perhaps it is like the descriptions on a character-sheet in roleplaying
games, which are generally written from the third person. In any event,
I asked Zarf about this and he agreed that it was a kind of meta-command,
but for him it is really asking for the character's thoughts about their
own appearance (and presumably not to actually be sitting there thinking
about herself for a turn, either). This probably fits more with the (few)
responses I have read for this command and I am prepared to agree here.
Still, I'll leave this as it is for the next release.
There were also many comments about the title 'All Things Devours'. I
had wanted a title that gave an impression of darkness and the dark side
of the passage of time. I had also decided to avoid all explicit
references to 'time' and 'time-travel' in the game, and thus was looking
for a way to reference 'time' obliquely. I remembered this poem/riddle
and found 'all things devours' to be the most evocative phrase in it. I
was very surprised to see that several reviewers thought it was a typo
and this says a lot about the expected standard of competition entries.
I was also surprised that many people commented on the fact that it was
by Tolkien and on how this was a problem. Myself, I don't see the
relevance of this. In any event, I stand by the title and like it a more
than those of most of the other competition entries. Each to his own I
I guess I should also mention that when the poem appears upon your
failure, it was originally interleaved with the prose in a manner that I
found quite evocative and perhaps reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel's
Silent Night. I liked the idea of trying to achieve this effect in text
and to the best of my knowledge no-one else had done so. Then my beta
tester informed me that it appeared prominently in last year's winner,
Slouching Towards Bedlam. I hadn't played Slouching, so I tried it for a
few minutes and found it excellent (much better than Devours, from what
I saw). I therefore decided to remove the interleaving, although this
removed some of the power from the ending (in my view). Maybe I'll
tinker with this a bit more for the next release. In any event, if you
want to see it, type 'interleaving on' in the competition version, then
fail in your task.
Reviewers seem to have been very sporting about the timed nature of the
game, the learn-by-dying puzzles and the lack of warning for the
unwinnable states. It is a credit to them that so many persevered even
if this was not only an unfavoured genre, but actively relied upon three
of the cardinal sins that graced many early works of IF. Obviously the
timing factors were crucial to the game and it seems that most people
agreed that it was worth that price. The lack of warning for unwinnable
states was similar. If I could have implemented a 'winnable' verb, I
would have, although it still would not have done much good: it is just
the nature of the puzzle.
I theoretically could have kept the timing issues while removing the
learn-by-dying aspect. I'm not sure how, but it should have been
possible to go some distance in this direction. On such matters, Paul
O'Brian gave a very interesting account of the 'accretive PC', a concept
of a PC where the player learns by dying but the PC does not. In the
model, the player just learns the expertise that the PC should already
have, allowing the player to slowly learn how to fill the PC's shoes
over many games. I like this idea and it was interesting to see that All
Things Devours does fit this model except at one point (which is
actually an optional point) where Natalie is surprised by something that,
were the accretion model to fit, she must already have known. I do think
this is a neat way of looking at some learn-by-dying games and am happy
mine almost accidentally achieved it, but I really wasn't thinking this
way on writing it. I just really liked the impossibility of the task at
hand -- the way that Natalie has almost no chance of success and the
real irresponsibility of her actions when seen from the player's meta-
level (they are quite responsible and noble from Natalie's perspective).
I thought people might enjoy the absurdity of destroying Boston over and
over again too, while trying to get everything to work just right.
There were several technical problems that people encountered. I have
already mentioned the door bug, which was the nastiest although not
encountered by most people. There was also the absence of any 'wait
until' command, which I hadn't realized would be so sorely missed. There
is a prominently displayed clock in the game, so I thought hitting 'z
<return>' until it got to a certain time was easy enough, taking about
five seconds to accomplish, but others said it was 'highly tedious'. It
will appear in the next version. On a similar level is the issue of meta-
actions such as 'about' taking a turn. I will fix this too.
A more serious issue is that of poor ambiguity resolution in situations
involving multiple identical objects. In the (important) situations
where this is needed, it always seems to choose the worse of the two,
making an additional puzzle of avoiding this. I will fix this.
There were also a few things that should have been clued better. For
example, the alternate 'obvious' solution to the door puzzle where the
game should tell you that it doesn't work and why. Similarly, some
people did not appear to realize that the bomb is not initially set, so
I'll try to make this more obvious. I will also hint at the location of
your lab and a few other minor things.
As mentioned in the introductory text, I intend to release a post-comp
version with slight changes to the puzzles. Some have expressed concern
that making it harder would be a mistake. I had indeed planned to make
it a little harder, but will probably do so with an option of some sort.
I thought that some people would enjoy the puzzle-world and want to
explore it for more than the 1-3 hours it seems to take most people, and
while there are currently quite a few ways to complete it, making the
constraints a bit tighter will hopefully make people find the other
solutions (unless they initially happened upon the solutions that still
work, of course). But that said, I will pay heed your warnings about how
much puzzling the average person can take. I have been very busy since
the start of the comp, so don't expect the post-comp release to come out
too soon. My best bet is sometime in January.
Overall I am very satisfied with how everything turned out and my place
in the competition. A rather hectic schedule recently has meant that I
have not played the entries that beat mine, but I look forward to doing
so. As you can probably see, I haven't experienced much IF at all, and
have a lot to catch up on. I think I will start with the universally
acclaimed ones, particularly those that will fit into small slots of
free time. I think finishing Slouching would be a good start.
As you can see, I am not so qualified to comment on Jennifer Maddox's
kind opinion that I should have won. Maybe. It would have been a big
surprise though. I received a lot of 10's (more than anyone else?) and
that makes me very happy. This was exactly the type of game that I would
have *loved* to play, particularly when I was a bit younger. The 9's and
10's seem to indicate that quite a few people got that kind of intense
excitement from it, so I am most satisfied with the response.
Will I write any more IF? I don't know. It was quite enjoyable to write,
but just took so long. I will only write more if I stumble across
another project that captivates me. Regarding the puzzle side of things,
that 'ponder' idea came quite close, however, I think I would rather
write something more literary. In particular, I think that one of the
strongest draw cards for IF is when the player performs meaningful
actions from meaningful motivations. For example: telling someone that
you love them, apologising, breaking a promise, ending a relationship...
these types of things that involve a strong connection between the
player and the NPCs.
This is not easy to do, particularly when it comes to creating serious
meaningful motivations in the player. One would also want to allow the
player not to do the act and to reach some kind of resolution that way,
to make it a true choice. Remember the outcry against being forced to
repeal gun control laws in one of the comp games? This enacting of a law
is the type of meaningful action for which reading about someone doing
it is very different to doing it yourself. However, it was not well
motivated, nor a true choice, and thus it led to a lot of hostility.
Still, this shows how much emotional impact these things can have.
Common Ground also has an important choice at the end, but with
insufficient motivation making it feel a bit strange. Finally, Galatea
had sufficient connection with me that I would have liked to make such
choices regarding her, but the endings seemed to just happen without too
much deliberation on my part. Still, to have such a connection with a
character was just beautiful. If I thought I could do something like
this I would be very tempted to try.
half sick of shadows.
This post was pretty interesting -- I'm not used to authors responding
so directly to reviews.
>So no, I have never seen Spider and Web, Moments out of Time or Vicious
>Cycles. I don't really know why people were so quick to claim that I had.
Well, Spider & Web involves repeating scenes until they're done
"right", Moments out of Time involves going back in time to
investigate a problem, and Vicious Cycles was a comp game involving a
bad scientific discovery -- a time machine which causes a time loop --,
and the player having to destroy the time machine to stop things. So I
think for the last-named, at least, it's obvious why people made a
connection. Of course the general idea itself, as you pointed out in
Devours, isn't super-original anyway (though specific implementations
certainly can be), so it's not at all surprising two games would come
up with it.
I can't speak for other reviewers, but part of the reason why I say
"this game is like game X" is that comparing to other games is an easy
way to give the reader a general idea of what sort of game this
is. It's not usually intended as a slam, although I agree many
reviewers may be phrasing the comparisons more harshly than they
>Of course there were many elements of it that were difficult to code,
>many of which were probably a bit unnecessary. For those who are
>interested, I will release the source code with the updated version, so
>you can see how it was done. I don't promise that it will be too
>comprehensible though, so sorry about that. All in all it ended up
>taking two and a half months, on and off, to write it, which was longer
>than I had hoped, but not altogether surprising.
That's not bad at all! Especially if that includes beta-testing, but
even if it doesn't.
>There were also many comments about the title 'All Things Devours'. I
>I was also surprised that many people commented on the fact that it was
>by Tolkien and on how this was a problem. Myself, I don't see the
>relevance of this. In any event, I stand by the title and like it a more
I would guess this is mostly fantasy burnout. There are a lot of
Zorkish sort-of-Tolkien IF games out there, and if I'd recognized this
as a Tolkien quote I probably would have been disappointed to think
this was one of them. But I didn't, so hey.
>Reviewers seem to have been very sporting about the timed nature of the
>game, the learn-by-dying puzzles and the lack of warning for the
>unwinnable states. It is a credit to them that so many persevered even
I found that it worked pretty well here, in part because the game is
a single puzzle and because it wasn't that long to play through again
(not to mention >REPLAY being enabled; it probably would have been
nice to mention that in the about text even if it's a standard feature,
since it's not a commonly-used verb).
>There were several technical problems that people encountered. I have
>already mentioned the door bug, which was the nastiest although not
>encountered by most people. There was also the absence of any 'wait
>until' command, which I hadn't realized would be so sorely missed. There
>is a prominently displayed clock in the game, so I thought hitting 'z
><return>' until it got to a certain time was easy enough, taking about
>five seconds to accomplish, but others said it was 'highly tedious'. It
Well, it depends how many times the player had to wait, I think. I
believe my solution involved waiting about sixty times in a row, and I
of course didn't want to overshoot, so I was required to be a little
>work, of course). But that said, I will pay heed your warnings about how
>much puzzling the average person can take. I have been very busy since
I should point out that the amount the average person can take in the
comp when they have thirty other games to get to and the amount they
can take outside the comp are two different things.
>insufficient motivation making it feel a bit strange. Finally, Galatea
>had sufficient connection with me that I would have liked to make such
>choices regarding her, but the endings seemed to just happen without too
>much deliberation on my part. Still, to have such a connection with a
>character was just beautiful. If I thought I could do something like
>this I would be very tempted to try.
There's been some discussion about its possible bugginess recently,
but you might enjoy Best of 3, by the same author, since it focuses on
the PC's relationship with a specific character.
>half sick of shadows.
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW
The games that popped to my mind, were Sorcerer and Spellbreaker. These
are both Infocom classics from the Enchanter trilogy. While they aren't
directly time travel related, both feature a very difficult time loop
puzzle. In fact, many reviewers have stated that this was their
favorite puzzle in Sorcerer in particular. So, I was guessing that that
very puzzle inspired All Things Devours. I guess that's what tends to
happen when time travel is so popular a topic in IF. Once and Future
also had a small time loop, but it almost solves itself. Vicious Cycles
was the first competition game I can recall that had the time loop idea,
so I can understand where people drew that conclusion. I'm not very
good at those time loops, so I was not able to complete the game in two
hours. I ended up running it through the walk-through at the very end
of my time so I could see the winning ending. Still, I think I would
have stuck with it had I not been pressed for time. It was very similar
with Vicious Cycles. I relied on hints a lot at the time, because I
knew I wouldn't finish it in two hours without them. I did finish it,
though. I wouldn't say that time travel has been beaten to death, but
I'd say that anybody wanting to write time travel IF should look at the
wide variety of works on the subject to see what ideas have been
explored. I recall that there was a long thread on the subject several
[ minor spoiler for Spider & Web ]
It's more than this that Sam's referring to, isn't it? Because
isn't Spider & Web's basic story about stealing into a lab area
and sabotaging the infernal machine that's been set up there,
before it can be used?
I think it's much simpler than that:
If you're seeing the words "All things devours" out of context, it's
almost impossible to parse them as anything other than standard
English prose: "All things [subject] devours [predicate]". Of course,
then you notice the discrepancy between the plural subject and the
singular verb, but it's much easier to attribute this to a typo than
to the fact that the words are a line from a poem and shouldn't be
parsed as standard prose.
I think there's a lesson here: if you choose a line from a poem as
a title, make sure that - unless the poem is *very* familiar to your
audience - there's no alternative interpretation of the line that
is more likely when it's presented out of context.
IMHO this particular poem is great as a motto for the game, but that
particular line doesn't work as a title, at least not until you've had
it explained to you.
> I think there's a lesson here: if you choose a line from a poem as
> a title, make sure that - unless the poem is *very* familiar to your
> audience - there's no alternative interpretation of the line that
> is more likely when it's presented out of context.
I disagree. I'm a "hobbit-head" and yet somehow completely missed the
reference. I'm glad I did, it made figuring out that I had to time
travel more satisfying. Once I figured out it was time travel, the title
snapped into focus.
Before I recognized the reference I had no problem with the title. It
may have been subconcious recognition of the verse, but it seemed
obvious to me that [something] all things devours, and it seemed obvious
almost from the get go that the [something] was the explosion that
happens when you die and is hinted at as soon as you begin to figure out
what it is you're dealing with - even before time is brought into the
picture. So the title served dual purpose and only gave it away to
extreme hobbit heads. I think it was an excellent choice.
Cirk R. Bejnar
> allusion is that it doesn't work on any sort of deep level. The risk
> here isn't with people who *won't* get the allusion, but rather with
> people who *will*. OK, the riddle was about time, and this game is
> about time. But there the connection stops--the riddle is, more
> specifically, about the all-consuming nature of time's *passage*, a
> theme that doesn't crop up in the game at all.
Oh, I thought the allusion was apt. A multi-megaton explosion is
pretty consuming. When I got to that bit, I thought, "Hey, now I
understand the title!" That's all I expect of a title, really.
And while generic fantasy refs are thick on the ground (in general, I
mean, not in ATD), I don't actually run into Tolkien refs that often.
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
I'm still thinking about what to put in this space.
> And while generic fantasy refs are thick on the ground (in general, I
> mean, not in ATD), I don't actually run into Tolkien refs that often.
Well, I guess it's all in how hard you look for them. Since a lot of the
early and continuing fantasy/adventure games were derivative of D&D, and D&D
was highly derivative of the Hobbit and LOTR, I think there are many more
unconscious allusions and some that are very conscious in almost any fantasy
game. As I said in my earlier note, the riddle game that ATD's title
derives from has been used again and again in various fashion. As to other
references, the C32 comp (which ends tomorrow)
has an entry with a "ring of power" that gets hot when its used, clearly a
ref to the "one" ring in LOTR, although the game obviously is using it for a
slapstick rather than a serious effect.
None of which is a problem. Good literary references are a plus in IF, as
in any other "self-conscious" fiction. To be honest, I think we've beaten
the ATD title to death by now. It was a good game. Full credit to half
sick of shadows.
It occurs to me that the protagonist in the game has not really invented
a time machine: she has invented an anything-fueled atomic generator,
capable of solving all of the world's energy needs forever. I think
that in the "best" ending it's actually rather irresponsible of her
not to pursue that line of inquiry.
I went to the web site and read the notes, and did play around with
methods of creating inconsistency; but I didn't discover any of the
sarcastic messages. Some hints, please?
A good point, but as with the creation of atomic energy, it would be
reasonable for someone to decide that its benefits would not be worth
the price of its inevitable use in war. I don't know what decision I
would make. Maybe create a powerplant producing free power and set to
blow itself up if someone comes too close?
> I went to the web site and read the notes, and did play around with
> methods of creating inconsistency; but I didn't discover any of the
> sarcastic messages. Some hints, please?
OK. I reserved the sarcastic messages for inconsistencies created by
doing things that you have no need to do. For example, when your former
* hears you sing
* looks at the CCTV screens and sees you creeping about
There are also many other cases handled such as when your former self
turns on the basement light (which should flicker and blow) but you have
travelled back before hand and blown it. And then there are the strange (
un)locking cases. For example, your former self tries to unlock a door,
but you have gone back in time and unlocked it before hand. This is all
the more stupid if the door she tried to unlock was originally unlocked,
but you then went back and locked it, so that the key turns where it
shouldn't have. In such cases there is no sarcasm, just an attempt to
explain what on earth had happened:
'Nearby, your past self foolishly attempts to unlock the door to the
Deutsch lab and succeeds where you had originally found it already
As you can see, I did spend some time working out the possibilities...
>> All in all it ended up
>> taking two and a half months, on and off, to write it, which was
>> longer than I had hoped, but not altogether surprising.
> That's not bad at all! Especially if that includes beta-testing, but
> even if it doesn't.
Yes it does, although beta-testing -- from sending the request to
patching the last complaint of my single tester -- took about four days.
I'd tested it myself a bit before then...
Oh and the door bug came in after beta testing...
> had wanted a title that gave an impression of darkness and the dark
> of the passage of time. I had also decided to avoid all explicit
> references to 'time' and 'time-travel' in the game, and thus was
> for a way to reference 'time' obliquely. I remembered this
> and found 'all things devours' to be the most evocative phrase in it.
> was very surprised to see that several reviewers thought it was a
> and this says a lot about the expected standard of competition
> I was also surprised that many people commented on the fact that it
> by Tolkien and on how this was a problem. Myself, I don't see the
> relevance of this. In any event, I stand by the title and like it a
> than those of most of the other competition entries. Each to his own
I was one of the people who complained about this (though I should note
that I generally loved the game--it was one of the two games I gave a
rating of 10), so I'll comment a bit more on what I was thinking.
The main problem with the Tolkein allusion is that it doesn't work on
any sort of deep level. The risk here isn't with people who *won't* get
the allusion, but rather with people who *will*. OK, the riddle was
about time, and this game is about time. But there the connection
stops--the riddle is, more specifically, about the all-consuming nature
of time's *passage*, a theme that doesn't crop up in the game at all.
There are, I'm sure, many more allusions that would be more
appropriate--allusions about *fixing* history ("Out of Joint" is a
quick and dirty one), or about the dangers of manipulating great
forces, or something--that would have both provided a clue to the
game's theme and been more directly appropriate to the game.
Dan Shiovitz was also on to something when he talked about "fantasy
burnout", but there's more there. Don't get me wrong--there will always
be a special place in my heart for "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the
Rings"--but Tolkein has, alas, become a cliche in the gaming world. You
have to be *really*, *really* careful about using him--only in cases
where it's *inarguably* the best choice--or risk seeming like the
reference has no point but fandom.
> OK. I reserved the sarcastic messages for inconsistencies created by
> doing things that you have no need to do. For example, when your former
> * hears you sing
> * looks at the CCTV screens and sees you creeping about
> There are also many other cases handled such as when your former self
> turns on the basement light (which should flicker and blow) but you have
> travelled back before hand and blown it. And then there are the strange (
> un)locking cases. For example, your former self tries to unlock a door,
> but you have gone back in time and unlocked it before hand. This is all
> the more stupid if the door she tried to unlock was originally unlocked,
> but you then went back and locked it, so that the key turns where it
> shouldn't have. In such cases there is no sarcasm, just an attempt to
> explain what on earth had happened:
> 'Nearby, your past self foolishly attempts to unlock the door to the
> Deutsch lab and succeeds where you had originally found it already
> As you can see, I did spend some time working out the possibilities...
Hum, that's interesting. As you've spent time implementing all these
possibilities, you should mention they exist in an AMUSING to be shown
when the player reaches the winning ending:
Have you tried:
- blah blah blah...
Actually, I found this different angle to really work well for me. I
have to admit that I'm not among the folks who knew right away what the
title was in reference to. Rather, I thought "'All Things Devours'?
That's quite a strange way to put things. I look forward to seeing
what it's about." When I started playing, I then immediately thought
"Hrm. Doomsday device of some sort. That's too bad--the title is
pretty obvious after all."
And then, of course, I blew up Boston for the first time. And saw the
full text, and said "Whoa." I knew I'd read it before, though I didn't
recall that it was from Tolkien. But I did remember that in its native
setting, the passage was quite innocuous. Not a happy little thing, to
be sure, but more playful than anything else.
But of course, in *this* setting, having just blown up Boston, it took
on a significantly darker tone. It became fierce. Time was no longer
content to sate itself in the course of things, simply passing by.
Rather, time had become something that actively and utterly *ravaged*.
And, I felt that outside the obvious sense in which it does so in the
game. I felt the second truth to Tolkien's riddle--it's not just that
the ravages of time can seem monstrous, but that the ravages of time
can really *be* monstrous. That sense of the quieter original made so
brash gave me a quick shiver.
> I theoretically could have kept the timing issues while removing the
> learn-by-dying aspect. I'm not sure how, but it should have been
> possible to go some distance in this direction. ...
I think that in order to do this, you would probably have to fall back
on a mechanic like Zarf's SPIDER AND WEB. It is, at least, the best
example I can think of of iterative learning (in a really nice
wrapper!) On the other hand, I can't see how such a transformation
could preserve the mood of the piece (about which see more below.) All
in all, I think that the nearly brutal abruptness of failure is here a
virtue and not a sin. The only change I *might* make is to provide a
variant of the normal "you lose" ending prompt that is a bit
gentler--something to suggest that you're not exactly expected to win
without a bit of trouble--and the game's just begun.
(Heh. I just remembered that the first time through I think my first
move was to go south--although I may have twiddled a few things first,
I certainly didn't reach the meat of the game. I was... immediately
impressed with the magnitude of the situation.)
About the feeling of learning to fill the character's shoes... I don't
know that I ever felt like I was learning the things I always should
have known. I will say, however, that the process of learning what I
needed to know as a player felt good and fresh for the whole game.
Every time I made a mistake, I winced and thought "Christ... I did it
again." The tension remained very real throughout--and that tense mood
is one of the things I found most attractive about this game. Rather
than becoming detached and wanting to work out the puzzle on paper, I
became more and more wrapped up in trying to internalize it. I kept
thinking "I *have* to get this right, or..."
And that's a very very high point, I think--to be brought to the level
of feeling the same sense of tension as the character. To be sure, I
didn't start out that way, but the cycle of "Learn, attempt, destroy
Boston, restart" drew me into things.
The first time through, those opening lines from "You're in." to "You
have six minutes." felt like a joke. By the last time through, I had
completely assimilated them--they sank into my gut, and set my heart
racing. I didn't even have to read them any more, I just felt it.
"This time, nobody will have to die."
Thanks very much for making this game. :)