A game by Heather Logas and her friends

Developer Diary

A new day…a new scene!

Dearest Dreamers,

Its 6:53 am in Santa Cruz and the sky is starting to lighten.  

 

I am very excited to announce that I have a new scene complete and ready for debugging.  I’m excited for all of you to check it out.  It has my favorite character of the game in it, Sully the Innkeeper.  She’s a no-nonsense kind of lady.  Inspired subconsciously a bit by Grandma Ben in Bone.  She has some great stories to tell to a traveller.  I can’t wait to let you all meet her!

 

A new day has been dawning on my life as well.  A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, after struggling my entire adult life (and teen life as well) with chronic exhaustion.  I have been on a cpap machine at night.  It has changed everything.  I still feel sleepy much of the time (this may continue to improve) but its only a teensy bit sleepy, like in the background of my brain.  Speaking of my brain, I feel like it is working better.  Less fog settles on it at different points of the day.  I stay full longer after meals (I know…weird…).  I come home from work and have energy for my family.  I have been experimenting with setting the alarm a little earlier.  Today I woke up at 6 and was out of bed by 6:15.  I didn’t get any work done I think because I was sort of startled at being up that early.  My usual routine on days when I can drag myself out of bed before 7am is to single-mindedly focus on the shortest path between me and my laptop.  This morning my brain was actually somewhat alert, and was bouncing off in a bunch of different directions.  So I have to adjust a bit before.  But I’m confident productive mornings await!

 

I also just FEEL more, in a very good way.  I have been feeling love more strongly, and I see it everywhere.  I have more patience.  Little unplanned annoyances (getting a parking ticket, cleaning up the milk my toddler deliberately dumped on the floor) don’t wipe me out and make me want to crawl back into bed.  I also feel less edgy, more even keeled.  I think I only had about 3 energy levels before I started therapy — tired, totally wiped out, and hyper from caffeine.  Now I’m feeling more subtle shifts in my energy level.  There’s more gradation, more texture.  

 

And I’m also feeling much more productive — more like DOING.  Unfortunately, I feel like DOING everything at once.  So that is going to take a bit of adjustment.  But I think if I PLAN on getting up at 6am instead of taking it like a fluke, I’ll be able to focus on the things I want to do at that time.  Like work on my fabulous game.

 

I can’t wait till tomorrow morning.

Dream well,

Heather

 

ps. I did not know this before getting treated, but sleep apnea untreated is very detrimental to one’s health over the long term.  As in, makes you more susceptible to strokes and all kinds of nasty things.  Also: consistent loud snoring isn’t just a nuisance: its a symptom of sleep disorders.  If you think you might have sleep apnea you really should go get it checked out!


An update, an interview

Dear Dreamers,

Still working on it.

I’ve discovered one technique that’s been very helpful.  I’m not sure why this occurred to me, but I bought a nice pad of drawing paper and a quill pen and have created a physical work log.  Every day I work on the project, I write in the log what I’ve worked on and what I need to do next.  In addition to helping me jump back in where I left off (vital when your life is one interruption after another) there is something incredibly satisfying about just writing with the quill pen on the nice paper.  The physicality of it is delightful and soothing to my soul.

I’ve been trying to focus on BYCYE as my primary pursuit in many ways.  I have been putting off most art and craft projects (unless they are short one-session things), not wanting to start anything that might distract me from BYCYE.  Most of my relaxation (when that can happen) is geared towards keeping me in a BYCYE mindset.  I’ve been reading more fiction and playing fewer time-waster games.  Its hard.  I want to finish the game, but I just don’t like working digitally as my main mode of expression.  I think that’s part of the reason bringing in the physical pen and paper as part of the process makes the sailing smoother.

Also, here’s an interview in which I talk a bit about BYCYE, and my journey through life, games and motherhood.  I’ve gotten very positive responses to it so far, which is quite gratifying. 

On the Border Interview

 

Dream Well,

Heather


Sunrise Service Day 4

This morning my son woke up right as my alarm went off.  Nonetheless I fed him and then got to work.  I am working downstairs at my daughter’s desk while he plays on the living room floor with occasional outbursts when some plaything isn’t doing what he wants it to.

I took a look at the next scene in the roster.  It is a scene in which the player finds their way to the Inn, and the things that happen there.  It is a scene that is completely written, but is in hard need of an editing and programming pass.  This morning my goal was just to review it, take the lay of the land as it were.  It is a bit disheartening.  Although there is some great writing in there, the file is a bit of a mess.  It uses outdated and unsophisticated programming techniques that I would never use now.  There are parts that offer promise to playable parts of the story that don’t exist.  I even found a choice block where none of the choices do anything!

I suppose my next decision then is this: Do I press forward with editing this scene?  Or maybe now is the time to take a break from scene wrangling and instead turn my brain back to the creative work of writing.  I still have a couple (short) scenes which need to be written.  

I’ve been listening to this fun lecture series on fantasy literature, much of it is concerned with Tolkien.  It took Tolkien 17 years to write Lord of the Rings.  I find that comforting.


Work in Progress Wednesday

Undertaking a new experiment this week. I’m calling it a “Sunrise Service”. I’m getting up at Sunrise every day to work on BYCYE. I squeeze in about 30 minutes – an hour depending on when my little boy wakes up. The first day didn’t work out — I overslept. But yesterday and today I got up and am working.

So I’ll go do that.

Dream well,
Heather


Work in Progress Wednesday

Dear Dreamers,

I want to get back to my thoughts on that GDC joke talk on creativity.  But first, some news and updates:

If you haven’t yet explored Aaron Reed’s 18 Cadence, I highly highly recommend it.  You can play it online for free or purchase an app for iOS.  It is a thought provoking, intriguing and moving experience.  It is also something you can dabble with just a little or really get into and have a meaningful experience either way.  

It is also visually beautiful, and I think a great example of how visual aesthetics can greatly enhance an interactive narrative experience.  The visual elements are thoughtfully chosen.  They draw you in, creating immediate interest. The tactileness of the the elements encourages exploration.  I’m excited for Aaron that he put something so amazing into the world, but playing 18 Cadence also makes me very, very sad and not a little jealous.  Not only because his project is done and mine is not, but because I have in mind what I want BYCYE to look like,  I have a vision for what the player encounters and experiences and how the graphics can make the experience richer and more engaging — and I do not feel empowered to make that happen.   There are certain technical reasons why this is so, and I have not yet been able to overcome them.  In the meantime, however, playing with 18 Cadence has at least inspired me to take another mocked – up pass of the visual skin of BYCYE and start exploring what I CAN change easily with CSS.  So I guess that’s something.

Work in Progress:

It took me a while to overcome a mysterious mental block to bug testing the current scene I have been working on.  I still am not sure what that block was about, but I moved on from it and then ran into a technical block which is not allowing me to use ChoiceScript’s auto bug testing things on my scene.  This probably has something to do with something I messed up while upgrading to a new version of Choicescript.  In any event, I am supposed to be getting help with this tonight and my goal is to release this scene to the web before next Monday.  That’s the plan!

 

Dream Well,

Heather

 

 

 


Back to Work!

Hello dreamers! As you know I’ve re-entered the wild and wooly world of Academia and with it my time has been severely compressed. In a ruthless act of sheer survival this last quarter, I had to put Before You Close Your Eyes on hold while struggling to get through all my classes. It was a distressing decision, but it paid off in some good ways. Most notably, mid-quarter I wrote a grant proposal to teach an experimental game design class this coming year and I also submitted a paper to the Digital Games Research Association Conference. I both received the grant (and funding from my department to run the class) AND my paper was accepted to the conference! Both of these things will be very helpful when I am sending CVs out into the world, attempting to find an academic job.

But enough excuses! I’m pleased to inform you of another exciting thing that happened this quarter — I realized (with some help) that Before You Close Your Eyes fits my thesis research agenda! Which means it can be included as part of my final thesis project! Which MEANS… that it is now, officially, a main part of my school work, and therefore will not be put by the wayside again!

So this week, I am happy to say, I am back to work. Other than a teaching job which I start on the 10th, and parenting, it is also my main work for the summer. I am very excited to be devoting my life back to this game, which is a true labor of love for me!
Where are we at right now? Here’s a rundown:
• There are 10 planned “scenes” in the game. (Note that they are different amounts of content in each one. )
• 7 of 10 scenes have the first pass written and five of those are all coded up with the personality trait system.
• I have a second writing pass planned yet for five scenes, and a coding pass planned for six scenes
• Only one scene has yet to be begun at all!

My plan at the moment is to release two versions of the game. The first version will be…I don’t want to call it a “light” version, but it will feature all the main content of the game, written by myself. It will likely not have much, if any, art in it. After that’s out, I am going to work on an extended edition that will include the side-quests from Kickstarter backers and, hopefully, more art and we’ll see what else. I think doing it this way will allow for the game to be released into the hands of people who want it earlier and provide a much needed sense of accomplishment for myself, while also allowing me to spend the necessary time with the Kickstarter side-quest writers with fewer distractions. Backers who signed up to get free copies of the game on Kickstarter will of course be offered both (and all possible!) versions of the game. If you have feedback on this course of actions, I am happy to hear it.

Thanks again for all your support everyone! It is huge to me.

Dream well,
Heather


Re-thinking character growth

I had a really terrific meeting this week with a member of my cohort*. Duncan Bowsman, an IF creator of some prolificity (that’s a word — really) had played the existing BYCYE demo and sat down to chat with me about it, and talking through one aspect of the game with him opened up an intriguing new idea.

The most common question of people when I describe BYCYE to them is “Can characters change over time?” The ability for characters to change and develop is what makes for good stories, after all.

I do have a scheme designed to allow for character growth. While I want characters to be able to change over time, I don’t want their stats to ping-pong around. If a character’s personality stats are constantly changing, my concern is that there will be no consistency and a coherent sense of playing another self will be lost. So the way I have it designed currently, character stats do have the opportunity to change — but only occasionally, at certain dramatic moments. Much like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz suddenly finds the courage within himself to help save his friends, certain moments in BYCYE give players the opportunity to select a character choice which is divergent from the character’s expected behavior. If the player selects that option, the character takes that action and the character’s stats shift.

I still like how this sounds on paper. But here’s the issue — in the game right now, this almost never happens. These types of moments should be momentous and dramatic — but the meat of the game is smaller, less tense choices. If I continued with this design, there might be three or four of these moments in the whole game. I don’t think this would fulfill players’ desires for character growth.

But speaking with Duncan may have suggested another way to tackle this problem. So currently the player only gets to see a subset of the possible spectrum of choices available based on his/her character’s stats. What if, sometimes (I don’t know when yet), the player sees their possible choices and then sees an option like this:

*I’d prefer to do something else.

Now, possibly the player gets to see some of the choices that don’t go with the way their character is currently set up. After they pick one of those (of course, they can go back to the first set of choices) but before the action is taken, the game might ask them something like this:

“That seems more selfish (or courageous, or compassionate or what have you) then you tend to be. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?
*yes
*no”

So if the player selects yes, they want to be selfish, the action they have selected activates and their stat changes. Players can therefore shape their characters more actively as they go along, but are also given an “out” to keep from changing in a way they don’t want.

Of course, I could do the original plan as well. These ideas could work together.

I’m still mulling this over. It will take some work to implement so I want to think it through before deciding to dive in with it. But it is encouraging that, even this far along in the process, I can improve on the game system to make a more satisfying experience.

*I know this sounds like we’re minions of evil masterminds, but actually we are just in the same year of the same Master’s Program.


A move, a cruise, a video and more to come!

Hi there Before You Close Your Eyes-ers. I hope all is well in your worlds. Mine is tumultuous as always, but I am excited about the near future! Here’s what’s up:
(more…)


Dev Diary #33 — Momentum

If you have something you want to get done, it helps if you work on it every day. Momentum is a huge force for human beings. I know for a fact it is a huge force for me.

Since what I am now terming the “Kickstarter Cushion” has ended, I have been working on BYCYE every day. (Ok there were three days when I got really sick and didn’t do anything, but other than that, everyday). Some days I only work on BYCYE for five minutes. But I do it every day. Our good friend Dan F. not only suggested this, but pings me once a day to make sure I have done my daily work and keeps a running tally of how many days in a row I have worked. Currently we are at 78 days in a row (we skipped the sick days because I really was super sick).

I crawl along on this game, but things do get done, even at a glacially slow pace. But more importantly I think, my brain is in the habit of THINKING about BYCYE. Which means when I do get a slightly larger window to do some work, I’m ready. I know where I am in the project and don’t have to spend 15 minutes – an hour just looking over notes and remembering where I am.

For awhile when I was working at Telltale, I would be working on half a dozen projects at a time. Occasionally one or two of these projects would have to be on hold for a couple days while I focused on priority concerns. When I returned to the project it would take so long just getting myself re-caught up to where I was.

I’ve noticed too that since I’ve started writing the blog “once a week” instead of every day, it slips. Its not a habit anymore. So I am going to try an experiment where I keep a little daily log and then post the week’s worth of logs at the end of the week.

Momentum and habits. Possibly the keys to productivity. But how many things can you do every day? I wonder….


Dev Diary #31 — Taverns, Sites, Art

Hi all!

I feel really bad that I missed last week’s blog. Last week was a contracting nightmare, and I’m really glad its over. I worked so many hours, and at weird times, that it was almost like a studio job! Except that when it was lunch time I got to hang out with my family. So that was cool at least.

The game continues to come along. Today I finished up the text for the monstrous scene that occurs in the bar. Whew. I need to go in now and patch and tidy up and sew together all the logic, so that everything works right, but getting this monumental scene done is a relief.

I like the scene too. The player character can hear stories, learn a great deal more about the city and get pulled deeper into the mystery of the missing children. The characters feel good, although I may give them another look over. Things that happen make sense. :)

Cut from this scene were the gambling mini-game and a few of the other characters that were hanging out in the bar. Although a really kind friend offered to program up the mini-game for me, I decided that it just felt out of place in this game. I would have to make up things to barter for, I’m trying to keep the player character from having any real inventory items, etc. It just seemed like it would feel awkward and existing just for the hell of existing, rather than having a real place in the story. If there were an economy in the game and you could win or lose coins then it might feel a bit better.

I liked the other characters that were planned for this scene, but they just had to be cut because the scene was already getting out of hand length-wise. One of the surviving characters had her interactions cut back significantly for the same reason. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to revisit these interesting people, but for now they are going to fade into the background.

We have the new community site up! Yay! You can even login with your Facebook account, so you don’t need a new login. Robert doggedly transferred everything over from the Ning site, even the forum posts. Check it out and sign up:

http://www.bycye.com

Right now Robert and I are also working on putting our plan for soliciting art into play. I’m hoping to start contacting artists who’ve previously offered to do art for us this coming week, and then after that I will start reaching out to artists on Etsy that I really like. If you have suggestions for artists who you think would be interested in contributing illustrations in exchange for exposure to a new audience, please let me know!

Take Care and Dream Well,
Heather


Dev Diary #30 — Muddy Waters

So another week gone. I actually got a goodly amount done on the game this week. I feel like I’m paddling upstream through a river of mud but I am nonetheless making headway.

Still in the bar, but I’ve completed the talk with the bartender, a chance to swap stories, and a small bit of espionage. I continue to want to add things, and I continue to make cuts even as I’m going along.

I have no idea what this game is going to be like when its done. What I hope it will be is something — special. The image in my head is of someone sitting curled up on their comfy couch, maybe with a cup of tea and a pet lying nearby, and playing BYCYE on their mobile device as if they were reading their new favorite book for the first time. Only time will tell.

Oh yes, it seems that we will be moving our community site from Ning. >sigh< In order to use the features we want on Ning, it will cost me $20/mo and that’s not something I can do right now. But we have a new community site in development and it is almost where the Ning site is. If you were already on Ning, it will have invited you over. If not, no worries. I’m going to just set up a couple more things and then I’ll encourage everyone to come on over.

Sweet dreams!
~Heather


Dev Diary #28 — The BYCYE Corral

Its been a super busy week. Lots to do, lots to think about. In 10 minutes it’ll be time for me to corral my family to get ready and go to my sister’s (and brother in law’s) wedding reception.

It feels like corralling is what I spend my whole life doing. Corralling people and thoughts. I find corralling to be hard work and when its people I’m trying to corral, often very taxing. I need a magic lasso like Wonder Woman. Only instead of making people tell the truth, it would be completely sufficient I could just fling it out into space and it would mystically collect everything I needed at that moment. Oh, actually it would also be cool if it just made people think that what I wanted them to do was a fantastic idea, and more important than whatever it was they happened to be working on.

Anyway, despite the segway there, this week was a very productive one for the project. I re-wrote most of the accents in the game dialog so that I don’t hate them. I am getting very close to completing a really huge scene. I re-visited the thank you cards and got that moving again (I feel so bad that I haven’t sent these yet!) But best of all, I completed a sort of back-story, source book, bible thing about the city of Thlanviviak and the people who live there. This is going to be so helpful not only to myself as I continue to construct the game, but also to my good marketing friend Robert AND to the people who have wanted to work on side-quests and ART.

Yes, I think that as soon as this doc is ready for the public (it is currently being reviewed by a couple cool people for goodness) we can invite in the art. I will be talking more about what that process will be like when the time is ripe, but I am SUPER excited to have some awesome visuals to go with the game!

Well its time to get out my lasso and start corralling my family. I’ll see y’all later!


Dev Diary #26 — Rewards

I miss you guys…>sniff<

So I started contracting again this past week. While the gig itself has been fine, the lack of time to do anything else reminded me just how hard it is to make time for creative work when you have a job and a kid. I can't say it enough -- I am so, so grateful of the support that let me just work on the game for two months. Even though the amount of time I get to spend now on BYCYE is so small it hurts, the game has enough momentum now that I am positive it will be completed. Eventually.

I continue to work on the game every day. Some days this means I script for 5 - 10 minutes. It sucks, but its important to keep the momentum going.

Something I've been thinking a lot about is rewards. Specifically, rewards for exploration. I know that if I I am playing a console role playing game (for example) and I search out some crazy location because I expect that the game developer will reward me with treasure, I feel awesome if there is treasure actually there. On the other hand, I feel robbed if there is no loot.

But this isn't that kind of game. Still, I am aware of a conscious desire to put little rewards in the game when someone follows a side-quest or encounter all the way to the end. So far this has taken the form of inventory items, but there haven't really been any places to USE these items yet. The game doesn't really have inventory puzzles in it. It isn't that kind of game either.

So what kind of game is it then, and what sorts of rewards would feel actually rewarding to the player that will enjoy this kind of game? And make sense in the gameworld? And don’t take a whole lot of extra effort to track throughout the game?

That’s another whole ball of fish. As any adventure game designer can tell you, if I give the player a stick, the player is going to see “obvious” applications of that stick EVERYWHERE in the game and be very frustrated when the game system doesn’t support those applications. So giving people inventory items is actually kind of dangerous to this game, as the exact thing I am trying to do is provide an engrossing suspension of disbelief experience. The only thing you need to immediately break immersion and suspension of disbelief is having a stick and not being able to use it in a situation when a stick seems needed.

The other things games use as rewards also don’t make a ton of sense — experience points (nope), money (no economy), upgrades (to what?), vanity items (you never see your character).

Text adventure games (and some early graphic adventure games) gave abstract points based on your puzzle solving ability and (I guess) exploration of the game. Abstract points are so…abstract. But they do point to a more modern reward system — achievements.

Achievements might be a valid way to go, but I can’t help but wonder: is it necessary to have any sort of rewards at all? In a story-based game, where the point of the game is the story itself, shouldn’t exploration of the game world have intrinsic value to the player? If the player doesn’t like the game, achievements aren’t going to make them like it any better. But if it is a player’s “kind” of game, shouldn’t they just want to play it without any rewards stringing them along? Could giving achievements actually HURT the game experience? Because players will be more interested in gaming the system to get the achievements than playing the game as a character they are representing?

Hmmmmmmmmm…………Well while I mull that one over….

In other news, we have a new site that you should all take a look at! Our new buddy Robert set it up for us. You can point your browsers to http://www.bycye.com and see the new community site. (Except at this precise second it seems to be down, but we’ll get that fixed). Explore the neat features and see how you like it.

Please begin to use the forums on the new site. The existing forums are going to be mothballed with the EXCEPTION of the collaborator’s forum. There is too much good stuff there already and I can’t password protect any of the parts of the new site, so the existing forums will still be used for talking about side quests.

Got it? Got it. Good. Good night!


Dev Diary #22 — Order of things

So today, inspired by that article I posted the link to earlier, I wrote up the critical path of the game. In other words, the path that will get the player from the first scene to the last scene. I wrote up all the scenes in the critical path and then determined the order in which to do them, based on priority (some scenes the game story wouldn’t work at all without) and alternating small scenes with big scenes.

This exercise helped create a more thought out road map than I had previously. It also helped me identify which areas were going to be the most work, and which areas the game couldn’t do without.

After I finished that I picked up the final scene again. One thing that resonated with me in Emily Short’s article was the danger of doing the last scene last, so that by the time you get there you fizzle out of energy. Also there’s a danger with doing the first scene first, because you haven’t gotten a change to “warm up” yet.

Ideally (and this has been true for other games I’ve worked on in the past too) you should work from the middle out. This is NOT what I did, and I will probably have to go back to the first couple scenes to polish them and make sure they don’t feel stiff. Originally my plan was to write all the critical path scenes first, more or less in order, and then write the side-quest/encounter scenes. Instead I’m going to stop moving forward and write the last scene next. Then I’m planning on experimenting with bouncing back and forth between moving forward and moving backwards until I meet in the middle.

Every day, I learn something new. That’s how I know I’m still alive.


Dev Diary #19 — Nineteen

I got a respectable amount of work done today. Its amazing how sometimes just changing the bit you’re working on can generate a lot of fuel. I finished up with a very dry bit — the player gets grilled by a city councilman about their intentions in the city. It was rough going. Then I switched over to the player investigating the meal that has been given to them and conversations with some of the other tavern goers. That flowed much more easily.

I am still sick, and concerned that my post-GDC crud is progressing into a sinus infection or something like that. But I will just have to drink lots of fluids and wait and see. Unfortunately, my daughter has caught it now too. As a result of being sick, she is very clingy. Usually she’s asleep by now but at the moment she is sitting on my lap drawing on all my post its.

On the topic of how some bits of the game flow more easily than others, I seem to have the easiest time writing any bits where the player is getting into significant trouble, and especially when they get killed. I wonder what that says about me?


Dev Diary #18 — Illusions

When it comes to designing a story based game, game design is all about magic tricks. Smoke and mirrors. I believe very strongly that over-designing and over-planning and over-programming are not only strategies for making you crazy, but they are unnecessary. If you have an intricate AI model programmed and I have a really basic “chatbot” but our NPCs both look and speak the same, then is the player going to care that you spent an extra two months programming it?

What is important is what the player sees, and what the player experiences and what the player feels. The “illusion” of agency is just as valid as “true” agency, as long as the player doesn’t run into the mirrors.

I feel like I am rambling. Indeed, I’ve been sick since GDC and my thoughts aren’t feeling very coherent in general. Despite this, I have been working on the market square scene. I am currently working on a segment where the player enters the Inn for the evening and talks to some folks, and the mystery deepens. Then the player gets a critical clue which…

Oh wait, I remember why I was talking about smoke and mirrors. I am blatantly borrowing a cheat from the Sorcery! books (its probably in the Fighting Fantasy books too). I was struggling with what happens when you get to the square, how you can mess around there until it becomes night time, whether to artificially “trap” the player there or not. Then I realized “Oh yeah, let’s just cheat here. Its night time.” So when you get to the square, no matter what you have done prior, night is setting in.

I was contemplating doing some sort of system where I tracked the turns and then after X number of turns night starts to fall…Then I realized that was a complete waste of effort. The player (at least the first time they play) will not know that it just happens to become night time when they reach a certain location. For all they know, some sort of time system WAS programmed.

Except you all know now. Don’t tell, ok? :)


Dev Diary #17 — The Market Square

GDC was fantastic. I got to talk to many awesome people, generated more interest in BYCYE, had a fun backer lunch, and gave out some shiny postcards featuring BYCYE art. I wasn’t offered any generous publishing deals or handed huge stacks of money, but I wasn’t really expecting that to happen. And it might be for the best anyway.

So today I started working on the scene for the Market Square.

The Market Square was once the hub of the city. Merchants came from far away to trade all manner of goods in Thlanvivak. Once upon a time it was filled with all sorts of booths and stalls like a never-ending bazaar. Now however, on average one or two stalls can be seen on any given day. The storefronts that border the square are mostly empty as well. Well at least they aren’t stores anymore. Most of them have been converted into residences.

The square can easily become a danger zone for workload, as it is easy to get away and think about all the interesting shops that it could contain. Thlanviviak is a closed city. Only very few people ever leave the city, and then they get back inside as quickly as they can.

So its interesting for me to think about what kind off stores might be there. I figure that in order to be self-sustaining, the people probably have to grow vegetables in their own gardens. Would they have bread? Could they grow enough grain and process it? They would be able to raise chickens I think but probably not have enough grazing land for larger animals. Maybe some brave souls venture outside and bring back game though.

What about goods? I am thinking of a clothing store that makes, essentially, recycled clothing. People patch their clothes until it no longer makes sense to do so, then they can trade them in to the tailor who makes new things with them.

What other kinds of shops would exist in this kind of town?


Dev Diary #12 — brain is sludge

Just a quick note tonight, as I have to get myself to bed.

I don’t know why, but today was like pulling teeth. Still, I did slog through quite a bit of a scene. There’s a good possibility I can wrap this scene up tomorrow.

I’m trying a different approach than on the last scene. I am trying to do a pass that is mostly writing (with basic structure in place) and then go through and hook up all the necessary scripting magic on a second pass. Trying to switch back and forth rapidly from writing-brain to coding-brain feels draining and disruptive.

I hope tomorrow flows better than today did.


Dev Diary #10 — A Traveler’s Guide to Thlanviviak

Its been a challenging week for BYCYE. A week full of pitfalls and distractions. But I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten things churning again. I started in full bore on a new scene this evening. Also, today I wrote the following, as an exercise in collecting my thoughts. (RE: Mind-Mapping…I started writing that article and its going to be long. So I am going to wait until I have gotten another good solid chunk of work done before finishing that up for you guys).

Thlanviviak — A Traveler’s Guide to the City of Tears

Oh, welcome! We don’t get many visitors these days. Well, actually we get no visitors these days. I think you’re the first outlander I’ve seen in nearly ten years! Well don’t you worry about that. There are still many interesting things to see here in Thlanviviak.
Is this your first time in the City of Gold? Good Good. Although it’s too bad you couldn’t have seen it back when it really was the City of Gold. It’s not the same place anymore, that’s for sure. But no matter, no matter. Let me tell you a bit about the city, and you can tell me what you want to see first.

That mess you walked through on the way in we call The Brambles. The white marble you saw in the dirt was once part of the Great Thlanviviak Wall. Beautiful it was, massive and strong ivory stone. White with gold veins running through. Beautiful. All gone now of course. Fallen to the ground, covered in vines and thorns. You noticed no doubt the ruined houses out there too. No one lives out there anymore. Well, no decent folks anyway. I don’t recommend going out there after dark, to The Brambles. Has a tendency to fill up with all types of vile creatures – on four and two legs both.

No no, much safer in here. You entered the city by the New Gate, which is set into the New Wall. The New Wall isn’t nearly as grand as the old one, mind you. It’s been cobbled together with boards and slabs of stone from the old wall and anything else people’ve been able to scrape together. Its not a pretty sight, but it does keep the nasties out at night, and that’s the important thing.

Now then. Directly inside the new wall is The Warren. This is temporary housing for those unfortunates who lived outside the boundary of the new wall before it was built. Here you’ll see makeshift huts and hovels, built from whatever the people living in them have been able to scrape together. Some of these dwellings are stacked on the inside floor to ceiling with whatever possessions their occupants saved from their old homes. As the houses in the main part of the city become vacated due to death or abandonment, the citizens of the Warren are able to move in and have a proper home. Of course, the wait list is quite long. Many of those in the Warren have been living there “temporarily” for the last twenty years.

Continuing inward from the wall you find the main residential district. On these buildings you’ll note the quaint high-pitched shake roofs and classic half-timbering. These residences were all built with excellent Thlanviviak craftsmanship and so, even though many of them have not seen much upkeep in the past twenty years, they are all standing just as sturdy as the day they were built. Oh, the stones may be chipped and crumbling in places, and some of the timbers may be nearly rotted through, but these buildings have many years left in them and are still lovely in their own way.

Once you cross Market Street you cross out of the residential district and into the commerce district. Here you will find all manner of shops at which to spend your hard-earned coin. At least, that was once the case. Now most of the shops have been closed up, and townspeople have taken up residence in them. But there are still some fine places to buy basic supplies, food and household goods. I particularly recommend City of Gold Clothiers and Haberdashery. Especially if you intend to spend the winter, it can get bitter cold here and the purveyor of that particular shop stocks fine furs to keep the winds out. Best not to ask where he gets the materials from. Hah!

Many of the shops that are still in business border the Market Square. This was once the jewel of Thlanviviak, and the reason it for it being called “The City of Gold”. Used to be there was an open air market in the square every single day, selling every sort of item you can imagine. Now the square is generally empty, except perhaps for a handful of citizens that sell vegetables they grow in their gardens or hunters and gatherers that have braved the world outside the New Wall to bring back a variety of edibles. Coin has fallen out of favor as well, and the people barter for what they need.

If you find yourself in a pious mood, you can find the Church of Lusitaneous facing the square. It’s quite busy most days but I’m sure you can find space for prayer.

There are also a few inns and gambling houses that face the square. You should have your pick of the rooms, since there should be no other travelers currently present. Perhaps you should try the Crooked Cow. The place fills up with drunken revelry at night, if that’s what you’re seeking. The owners are a good pair – husband and wife. I’m sure they’ll be happy to put you up. Ah, but don’t ask old Gregor about his eye. Inquiring in that direction may get you tossed out on the street.

If you are really looking for an exciting evening, you may try the Fox House. The locals call it the Mad House. It was once an inn, but now is just a bar and gambling parlor. I never frequent the location myself, but I hear wild stories of the goings on there. I’m certain you’ll have a night to remember!

In the very center of the city, surrounded by a small (and unkempt) park is the Keep of the Regent. By all means admire the white marble architecture and carved gargoyles (what’s left of them) but don’t expect to get inside. The place has been closed to visitors for a long while, and will probably remain shut up tight for many years to come.

Well that about covers everything! Enjoy your stay in Thlanviviak and don’t forget the local saying: “Inside with sundown, live to next sunrise”!


Dev Diary 5 — Simplify!

Good evening!

I got some good things done today. I finished writing up the opening scene, which is a lovely little nightmare to get flighty potential players engaged. I then skipped character creation (for now) and moved on to the first scene in the story proper.

Today was a big day for the game structure too.

In my long-ago thesis project, I based the choices that players had access to on a hodge podge of their personality traits. My method was basically to write down all the choices I could think of at any “node” (where you need to make a decision) and then assign which personality score levels I thought would map well to those choices. Sometimes I would break the game by not allowing certain players with certain personality trait combinations to have any choices at all. Then I would have to re-wire things around to make sure that the player always had at least two choices at any given time, regardless of their stats. Bleah.

My new approach, I decided, was to make each decision be based on only 1 stat scale. (The scales I am using are compassion to selfishness, courage to discretion and lawfulness to chaotic). Then I would make three groups of three choices each. One group would correspond to the left-most of the scale, one to exactly the middle, and one to the right-most of the scale. If a player’s stats were more middle-left or middle-right then they would draw two choices each from the two groups closest to them. This way everything would nicely overlap and there would be no concern about skipping someone who had some odd stat combination.

Once I started on the first “real” scene today however, it became clear that my on-paper approach wasn’t going to cut it. For one thing, trying to map it out mired my brain in a pile of goo (which may well have been your reaction on reading the above description). Then there was the fact that it just didn’t make much sense.

I am a huge proponent of organic game design. In a story-based game, I want all the mechanics to feel natural. I want the mechanics to assist the telling of the story, not detract from it. At Telltale I always pushed for the mini-games that felt like they were an organic part of the story that was happening.

So when I started coding the first scene, I quickly realized that I was artificially creating a structure that didn’t map to how players would expect things to behave. If you see a girl crying by the road, you may want to approach her for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to help her, maybe you want to hurt her, maybe you just want directions. These three options fall all over the compassion scale, so why would I only allow you to walk over to the crying girl if you had a very specific compassion score?

To make a long story short, I have adapted an approach that is easier both on me and the player’s sense of suspension of disbelief. I am still using (primarily) one stat per node, although an extremely high or low stat in something else may let you see an additional choice. I am still listing out relevant choices and assigning stat thresholds for them, but instead of my weird over-lapping method I am trying to allow two (or more) choices to be more neutral, perfectly reasonable actions that wouldn’t feel odd for almost any character to do. Those choices won’t require any collection of stats. Then there will be more choices that will be available based on the character’s personality traits. Bonus choices, if you will.

The key to actually shipping a game is to simplify, simplify, simplify! Or as Dan likes to say (constantly) “Make it smaller!”

Oh one more thing. If you have been checking out the forums you will note that I have posted a topic called “What Would You Do? (#1)“. From time to time in my game making process I find it super helpful to ask others what they would do in the fictional situation I’m working with, since my brain is only one brain. So I encourage you to post what you would do as if you were reading a choose your own adventure book, playing a role-playing game, or talking to your therapist. There will be more of these popping up so keep an eye out. Thanks!

Tomorrow: Scene 1 must get done!


Research Mode

Hello all. I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me the last few days. I have been sick, and sitting in front of the computer for any length of time has been making me nauseous.

I have continued working on the game by doing some reading. I’ve been reading more about Carl Jung, and have dug out my old Sorcery! books. The second book in particular, Khare: City Port of Traps, I am eager to replay (re-read? What is the proper term for these types of books?). I remember it being about a twisty labyrinthine city, and I might like to borrow some of the feel of it for BYCYE.

While reading about the Sorcery! books on Wikipedia, I found out about the Fighting Fantasy series, of which Sorcery! was apparently an off-shoot. They have recently been re-published so I’m going to have to pick up one or two of them.

It also seems like there are iPhone apps coming out for both Sorcery! and the Final Fantasy books (oh look, that one’s out already)! Will the presence of these apps be a force for good or ill for our game? Not sure. My hope is that these games will whet people’s appetites for this kind of content and that the deeper nature of BYCYE will draw them in…bwah hah hah…. Only time will tell.

Tomorrow: Back to work!


Dev Diary 3 — Tutorials

I spent most of the day in Santa Cruz today, on UCSC campus. It is a beautiful place. Redwood trees are magical.

This evening Mr. Dan Fabulich came over and talked my husband and I through ChoiceScript. He also helped me think about story structure a bit, especially with regards to how the game is going to start. My tendency is to lull people in to a story, much like a fairy tale.

“Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in tall tower. The tower was covered with ivy and bushes with fragrant purple flowers clustered around its base.”

There’s something to be said though for catching a reader’s attention right from the first sentence, or in our case, the first choice. Especially since the game will exist in a medium that players can easily dismiss. If you come to my game on my web-site, skim the first page and its all about a tower with purple flowers around it, you will may very well just quickly browse elsewhere.

So I am devising a new opening scene to the game, which I hope will combat this problem and grab the player right from the beginning.

Dan would make a great game studio producer. Before he left my house he railed at me to make everything shorter and then demanded to know what my next deadline was.

For the curious, the next deadline is to have a scene done by Friday, and use that experience to inform a production plan.


Dev Diary 2 — ChoiceScript is a yay!

Today I read through all the ChoiceScript documentation, downloaded a text editor to write the game in (I settled on Notepad ++) and downloaded all the ChoiceScript files.

I’m really excited about ChoiceScript. I had started using it once before but my brain must have just been in a weird fog mode last time and I hadn’t gotten very far. This time it all makes sense to me, and seems really fun and easy to use. I think it will help too that I downloaded a text editor with some neat features that will help me read everything I’m writing much more easily.

So all of that was done by lunch time. Then I took my daughter Celia for a walk and we went to Barnes and Noble so I could get a new sketchbook and she could play with the train table. It was a beautiful day, and a really pleasant way to spend a lunch hour.

Post lunch was much less productive. I was annoyed at how the forums wouldn’t show the topics of any recent posts, so I blocked out an hour to work on the forums. This crawled on to two hours as I was just having a horrible time figuring out how to add plug-ins to the forums and why they were breaking. The instructions one finds on the phpBB.com web page for altering one’s forums assumes one is far more tech savvy than this one (me) seems to be. I guess they think that if you can get as far as installing the software, you should be able to figure out everything else. I didn’t have to install the software though, since Dreamhost had a one-click install for phpBB. They should re-think their assumptions.

Then I had a phone call that completely knocked the wind out of my sails. It was an offer for a steady three months of contract work. But it started at the beginning of March.

I told them no. Then I cried (not really, but I did tear up a little). Then I took a nap.

Let’s be honest. This is scary. There is a lot riding on this project. There is no way to know for sure that at the beginning of April I will be wishing I had taken that contract job.

I’m on the road now. Nothing for it but to keep marching forward.

My update will be late tomorrow. I am going down to Santa Cruz to see some awesome people, both experts in field of Interactive Narrative. That’s actually just a coincidence, as I’m going down to talk to them about other things entirely. Then in the evening Dan the Fabulich is coming to my house to talk to me about ChoiceScript. I will write an update after my in-person tutorial is complete.


Dev Diary 1 — Getting started

Well, I did get the ball rolling today.

I had three big goals for today: Finish setting up the forums and this blog, Creating a production schedule, and start reading the Choice Script Documentation. I also had a backlog of email to deal with, and I needed to get groceries. :)

I did get the forums and blog up (yay!) and fixed the permissions errors on the forums (yay!). I do like the WordPress theme I am using for the blog, but eventually things will have to be adjusted so that this site seems more like a professional site for the project. The forums don’t look awesome, and there are some plug-ins I want to install. But its a good, very usable start.

I spent longer than I had intended at the Library and Trader Joe’s (grocery store).

I wrote up a schedule for pre-production. Basically this means I made a plan to make a plan. But there are some glaring unknowns I need to address. I don’t have a firm grasp on how long it will take me to write and script a scene using ChoiceScript. This week will be dedicated to figuring out ChoiceScript and assessing how quickly I can create content.

I got a bunch of email cleared up, though there is a ton to go.

I didn’t get to the ChoiceScript stuff today. It is on the top of my list for tomorrow.

So tomorrow my goals are to:

  • Read the ChoiceScript documentation
  • Work through the tutorial

Good night everyone!