Cryptic…Twining?

So a big thanks to everybody who sent me links to Twine as an engine. I’m checking into that now for Cryptic Stitching, because…well…I couldn’t bear the thought of everybody in Cryptic Stitching vanishing into the aether. There’s so much I love about the world, and I want other people to love it, too. (Or hate it. But at least get a chance to meet it!)

Twine looks very promising. (Kevin got into the open-source code and started doing arcane things to the computer and making appreciative noises, anyway.) I think I could probably get it to do something reasonably akin to what I wanted Cryptic Stitching to do.  (Certainly I can import a lot of the text…) There’s the inevitable issues of figuring out how to translate things, and Twine would require a certain linearity, so it’s less open world (although I suspect that people have worked out clever ways to make it feel pretty open.)

(And there is no limited number of turns. You could presumably burn through the game in an hour or two if you wanted, if you’re that sort of person.)

The nice thing about this is that since it’d be locally hosted, it generates HTML and it’s open source, I don’t have to worry about the developer stopping support. (Heck, it’s Python. Kevin can troubleshoot, if things get rough.)  (My thanks to people who speculated about Kickstarter, but I A) do not want to go to that well too often B) get really iffy about taking money for stuff that I don’t already know is possible and C) was really not keen on taking money for something that hinges on somebody else’s intellectual property/engine/thingy.)

So, I guess my next trick is to try to figure out how to port this sucker…

Cryptic Stitching

Well, as some of you may recall, way back last year I was fooling around with making a game on the StoryNexus engine, put out by Failbetter Games.

They announced a few months ago that they’re not going to be developing for it any longer, because they’re very busy and there’s no money in it. And I am entirely sympathetic to this, and understand their reasoning. But–the downside–I probably won’t be pursuing this game any longer because once the maker stops supporting it, stuff gets tricky.

But y’know, I put a crapload of work into the world and I love it very much and I would like people to be able to see it.

Act One is playable. It is occasionally buggy–they broke some of the art options–and there are quests that don’t wrap up and the Act ends on, not so much a cliff-hanger but with a whole lot of stuff unresolved. And parts of it are dull and grindy and parts of it are probably not at all intuitive and I did not do the best job of design. The art is 99% stock because, as I said, they kinda borked some of the art options, and though I did a few new pieces, I couldn’t begin to illustrate all 400+ cards, and even if I had, they wouldn’t work right now.

So I am not recommending this as a great gameplay experience, because it’s not all that great.

But it is a first effort, and y’know, despite all those caveats, I’m kinda proud of what I managed to accomplish in terms of worldbuilding. I love these guys very much, I love Quippet and Crazy Wool and the Tangerine Rabbit and the Silver Rat and all the rest.

I’d like to someday follow their story. It might be as a book or it might be as a comic or I might just set up a “Random World Website With Stories And Art And Poetry Written By Stuffed Sheep,” or I might even find another way to do a game like this.

But if you want to play it, here it is. (Please note: If you find bugs, I can’t do much about them anymore, and sometimes art shows up labelled as “Placeholder Image” which, again, that’s a new one and kinda them. So tech support is not gonna be great for this However, if you get actually STUCK–as in it’s broken, not as in “I don’t know what to do next!” then use the support e-mail and I will try to get you unstuck!)

(If you hate games that require some grinding, you will not enjoy this. It’s okay, they’re not for everybody, no reflection on you! It’s cool!)

It can be reached here: Cryptic Stitching

It requires a Failbetter Games account. If you would like to give them money for more turns, that’s between them and you–I do get a small cut, but not much, and honestly, I’d prefer you just played it and had fun. At standard browser rates, it’ll take a few days or weeks.

And you can hopefully spend a little time in the world and maybe see a little of what I was trying to do, even if events have conspired against it.

Call for Playtesters

Well, as of this evening, it is now theoretically possible to play Act I of Cryptic Stitching from beginning to end, following any of the three paths.

More content needs to be added to flesh out some things, and StoryNexus hasn’t implemented an art upload function (although it’s supposed to be in the works) so I’m not sure when I’ll be releasing Act I. However, at the moment, I could use some playtesters!

I’m looking for about a dozen people who are willing to spend a few hours poking the thing and give me some feedback. (I’ve got a few who are completely invaluable, but they have lives and stuff and the more eyeballs, the better.) I’m looking for typos, baffling bugs, wander-around-not-sure-what-to-do-now-itis, etc.

What I’d like to do is just set up an LJ page where people post bugs, rather than possibly get a dozen identical e-mails. (This isn’t a closed page, I just can’t imagine it’s terribly interesting.) Plus, useful clearinghouse and whatnot.

So! If you’re willing to sign up with StoryNexus (or have an existing account) willing to post to LJ with bugs or comments, don’t mind that the game has no art yet, possess a certain degree of patience and can play on a computer or a tablet with mouseover support (mouseovers are very important to this engine) and ideally also have a twitter account for when things break RIGHT THIS MINUTE…well, say something in the comments, I’ll grab some volunteers! (Uh…leave an e-mail address, with the (at) thing so there’s no spam? Alternately, if you’re not comfortable with that posted in public, DM me on Twitter, I’m at @ursulav.)

Familiarity with Fallen London and other StoryNexus games is helpful, but I’d also like some people who don’t know it at all so that I cover the spread.

And now I’m gonna go make mac & cheese.

 

UPDATE: Okay, that’s a bunch of people! Thank you all–closing it up, and will e-mail those of you who’ve been kind enough to offer! (If you are in absolute black despair that you missed the call and cannot wait, shoot me an e-mail and I will see what I can do. I promise, though, all you’re missing is seeing how much crap lies behind the curtain.)

Whew.

It is now possible to start at the beginning, play through, and finish Act I of my StoryNexus game. (I mean, if you’re a playtester. It’s not live yet.)

You’d get bored doing it, because some of it would involve grinding ONE card over and over again, since I haven’t gotten all that content in yet, and there’d be some abrupt loose ends where I haven’t finished a storyline, and furthermore, you can ONLY follow the Way of the Hunter, not one of the other two paths, and it still isn’t possible to die.

And none of the art is mine because they haven’t introduced that function yet, and I’m pretty well bound and determined not to release the game until they do (which theoretically will be late this month, but I expect it may run long, development times being what they are.)

Nevertheless, the game is, in a horrible hacked together fashion, now playable.

I’m kinda proud of that.

My next goal is to get the other two Ways up and running, so that you can choose to be either a Shaman, a Hunter, or a Beast-Speaker. (Beast-Speaker is straightforward, just gonna take awhile to write. Shaman is…still a bit up in the air yet.)

I’m somewhat amused, looking over the quest-lines, how much this game basically reinforces my own moral code. You’re rewarded for helping people, pitching in, being polite, and Not Doing Incredibly Stupid Shit. You are generally not given the opportunity to be an asshole, but there’s a few places where you are given the option to pull a serious dick move, and if you do…well, there are consequences. (Mostly you get a do-over, but there’s at least two points where if you do the stupid or unkind thing, you really did do the stupid/unkind thing, and either you spend a quest chain atoning for it or you don’t get to follow that Way.)

This is not a game that rewards (or even really allows for) Chaotic Evil behavior. I expect some people will find that terribly disappointing, but y’know…free game. Not my problem.*

 

*And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am not kickstartering to pay for my time doing it.

Balancing Acts…

I sat down and playtested Cryptic Stitching (that being the name of my game) from start to farthest-point-along yesterday and was rather depressed to find that over a hundred cards = surprisingly little content. I got through it in about two hundred clicks or so, including some time spent grinding. (At forty clicks a day, that’s…err…five days of play, or thereabouts.) Mind you, I knew exactly what I was doing and where to go to do everything, so I can get through it a bit quicker, but…still.

On the other hand, having over a hundred cards would make me one of the larger games in the StoryNexus catalog, assuming it was playable. (I write fast.)

I started a new character in Fallen London, on the other hand, which apparently has over 3000 cards, and was immediately a bit overwhelmed. There were some clear options, but there were also a solid dozen “You can’t unlock this yet!” options with way too much information. I spent a good bit of time boggling….and I’ve played it before. And am a gamer of long and illustrious standing. And have a passing acquaintance with the system from the back end. And I can imagine new players staring at all of the options and then closing the browser and never coming back.

So I need more stuff to do in my game, while not having it all appear in the first ten minutes and knock the player flat. And I’ve got the problem while there’s some fairly lengthy plot-related quests, there’s not nearly enough small incidental stuff, so you wind up getting the same two merchants and minor cards over and over once you’ve cleared out the plot-stuff, which will of course bore our hypothetical player to tears.

The first-ten-minutes problem I can probably fix by setting a “newcomer” marker that turns off some of the content until the player has gotten through a couple of establishing quests. (Now I just have write those establishing quests…!) But the extra-content stuff can only be fixed by…well…writing extra content.

(Stuff I really DID like and had forgotten about Fallen London–the sidebar with flavor text! There isn’t an option like that in the standard Story Nexus engine that I’ve found, alas. And it’s made me think about moving a couple of cards around for ease of player access…)

Part of the problem, I think, is that the developers suggested at least twelve cards in the “draw pile” for any given region, to ensure a good mix in the draw. And even then, I started getting the same cards over and over and over and thought “Oh god, I need at least a half dozen more…”

Oy. I didn’t think I was anywhere close to done with Act I, but I was hoping that I was farther along than I thought…

I Blather More About Games

So, as you all know by now, working on this StoryNexus game. (I’ll shut up about it soon, I swear!)

And I’m having a thought, and would like to bend your ears about it for a minute, so those of you who know something about these things can tell me whether it’s a brilliant idea or a very stupid one.

My goal with this whole thing is to release a nifty but finite game. A game with an end point. I do not want to be like Fallen London where I am on the hook for the rest of my life writing content and there is no ultimate end. (Nor am I particularly interested in handing it over to someone else to write content–I am not a collaborator by nature, and the very, very few people I’m willing to write in tandem with are all very very busy on their own. This is my personal vision. I’d be delighted to see fan art or fan fic, but I’m not wanting to hand off canon, if that makes sense.)

Much like my time with webcomics, I want to do something that ends.

But, also much like webcomics, I am prone to epics, and this is already looking like it will take some time, and I’d kinda hate to be hammering on it for six months with nobody other than playtesters getting a chance to look at it.

Finally, I’m seeing that I want to do two different things—one is “Explore this really neat world I made! Isn’t it cool? Look at the stuff!” and the other is “AAAAGHPLOTATTACK!” and have things get darker and weirder (insomuch as one can get dark and weird when one is a stuffed animal.)

So what seems to me like the best solution is to divide things up into three Acts. You start in Act I, you go around and explore the world, you look at the neat stuff, you have a couple of quest chains, and you decide What You Want To Do With Your Life.

I release that, with a skill cap/content wall at the end of Act I, when you’ve learned the Way of the Whatever You’re Going To Do With Your Life.

Then, while people are poking it and getting bored with it, a few months later (realistically speaking) I release Act II, in which Bad Things Start To Go Down.

And then, of course, some time later, we have the fairly short Act III, in which you face down the end boss and I figure out how to write an endboss using the StoryNexus engine. (Still pondering that.)

It’s worth noting that the game is set up with three distinct Ways, so there would be some difference on replay, and I THINK the system allows the game to set a marker so that if you played through as a Hunter, say, at the end you could unlock something on the next playthrough–probably a different playable race, like Rubber Chicken or something. (I have no idea if there’ll be enough replay value following a different Way to interest anyone at all, mind you.)

The advantage I can see to this is that it lets me achieve both goals with “This is the world! Neat!” and then “Oh no, the world is blowing up and you have to save it!” Establishing normalcy, as it were, then wrecking it. Plus–and this is a big one!—one of the inherent problems in this sort of game is that you’re pulling the same low-level cards over and over and you get very bored with them. Doing this would probably be the most elegant way to punt all those low level cards from play–once you’re high enough level that you’re moving to Act II, it’ll set markers that remove the super low-level and milk-run cards, which will only be in Act I, and start allowing cool and dire random happenings that are pretty high level.

Plus it lets me release the first Act so that I can see if people are actually enjoying the damn thing before I embark too far on the rest!

Possible downsides—it will probably take a lot less time to play through Act I than it takes me to write Act II and I get angry e-mails/people are bored/I am hit by a bus and it’s never finished.

And it’ll be harder to playtest and I’ll have to introduce a dummy skillset that isn’t subject to the level cap, then go back and manually change everything once the balance is right.

But I’m mostly seeing upsides. Does anybody have any thoughts or things I’m likely overlooking? (My apologies, O internet brain-trust, for rambling on about this so much, but I’m excited and wanna do it right!)