Thursday, March 27, 2014

After 8 Years, My Game Is Done


In development, there's something called the Second-System Effect.  Essentially, SSE means the second thing you build will be hugely more complicated and time-consuming than the first.  I am living proof of SSE, as I have just finished my second game, and it took me eight years to finish.

"But it's just a text adventure with a two-word parser!" you say.  "You did it in Flash!  How could it have taken you that long?"

Well, I'm glad you asked.  See, way back in the ancient mists of time (2006), I lived in Chicago.  My son was two years old, and I taught at the Illinois Institute of Art.  I'm actually quite a good teacher, much to my own surprise, but I had one absolutely horrible class.  I'd like to be able to blame the bad class on my students, who insisted on no homework, but I screwed it up.

I wanted them to work with very simple tools to reinforce basic level design theory (and understand the pain I went through making levels in Python).  There really weren't many good tools in 2006, so I built a text adventure generator in Flash.

Even with the tutorial I wrote.  Even with the sample adventure I made to show them how it worked.  Even when I made the assignment pass/fail.  Even when I devoted a whole class to how to do it, most of them decided to skip the assignment and fail the class.

As I said, they hated it, but I thought it was great and wanted to do something cool with it.  I took an old idea (a world which changed slowly as you played and a beginning like Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess) and began to code.

Then here were a few complications that slowed me down:

We moved back to the SF Bay Area.
We had another baby.
My pet died.
I worked on another game.
I got a job.
I started work on ANOTHER game.
I published a novel.
But of all the problems and slow-down, the biggest one was quality assurance.  Someone needed to test my game, but not just any someone.  I had tons of people try to test my game, but give up in frustration.  Text adventures are a lost art form that nobody gets.  I had to find someone who would sit with me and get it.

After two years of just sitting around on my laptop, my friend Patrick Goodspeed agreed to help.  He took the train down to my house and sat with me for hours playing through the first half of my game.  His help was invaluable, and all it cost me was lunch.  Suddenly, I had pages of bug fixes and suggestions to work through.  After a couple months, I finished and asked him to come down to test again.

But Patrick was having troubles.  After more than 40 years, he was being evicted from his rent-controlled apartment.  He fought in court, but lost.  Still, in the midst of all that turmoil, Patrick managed to find another free day to finish my game.

And here it is.

Ten rooms.  Five objects.  Three monsters.  Infinite worlds. Flux Warden

And here's my "games page" which also has links to the walkthrough.  Trust me, you'll need it.
www.vacuumgenesis.com/games.html

Also, if anyone has an apartment in the East Bay, please let me know.  Patrick is looking to rent a room.  He's honest, and hardworking, and quiet, and can fix any computer you put in front of him.

As for me, I'm looking for a new game to make.

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