I’m a big fan of postmortems in projects. While they are interesting to read as an outsider to a project, they are most beneficial to the stake holders of any project. In Interactive Fiction, this is no different. They are usually very interesting to read, but of more importance to the author.
Following the results of IFComp 2014, we’re seeing quite a few postmortems appear. You can read quite a few interesting ones on the forums (http://www.intfiction.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=32). What I find great about reading these is you get an insight into what the author was thinking / feeling as they wrote their work, it’s just great reading about the inner reasonings behind their decisions and their reflections on what they learned.
I’ve released two games, not counting my IntroComp entry this past year which I’m still working on to get to a truly releasable state. I’ve written postmortems for both and while not as comprehensive as some I’ve seen come out after the comp, they serve the purpose I set out for.
My format for postmortems is simple. I simply find 3 things that went well, things that I want to do more of and then find 3 things that didn’t go so well, things I want to learn and grow from. With that simple template, I create a document for myself (and others) that is not only an exposition on the work that went into the piece, but also something that I refer back to from time to time.
I hope that more people take the time to write postmortems, not only for their comp entries, but for anything they release.
I just released a second release of my ShuffleComp 2014 entry White Houses. Now that the competition is over and I can reveal that this was mine, I felt it was time to do a postmortem on the game and see what I did well and what I could do better.
What I could do better.
- Be careful of the scale of my initial idea. Big ideas aren’t bad, but with the limitation on time to work on this as a nature of the competition, big ideas can be a dangerous thing. When I first went through my songs, I was less than thrilled by the ones I had to choose from. I knew none of the works and none were really in my genres of music that I listen to. So to listen to them enough to pick something out was really tough for me. Once I settled on “White Houses” by Vanessa Carlton, it seemed natural to me to choose to base it around the White House from Zork. I have always been a fan, so it seemed a natural fit.
However, my initial idea had about four different characters and would have required a lot of interactions and conversations between them all. I also had the demeanor of the main character change based on those interactions, based on items found and tasks performed and actions taken. This led to the potential story paths that could have lead into the hundreds if not more of endings. It all sounded pretty exciting and I had a large part of the map framework laid out and the characters sketched and then realized that while a pretty cool concept, there was no way I could finish in just a few short weeks. Time to scale back.
- I got caught up in trying to reproduce the white house from Zork 1. While this was fun and was actually part of the intent, I got caught up in reproducing Zork 1 (just with some minor detail changes) and forgot that while my setting was similar, my story was different. Yes I implemented the map pretty similar with a lot of the same objects, it was a lot of meaningless details that I didn’t need. Many items found in the white house have function that is important later in Zork 1, but beyond the map of my game. So the items are there, but serve no purpose other than to fill out the map. I think this gives the game a bit of an unfinished feel to it. I should have concentrated more on what was used / needed in my version of the game to expound on the story more.
- I need to expand on the story more. Partly because of the two issue above, the story that I had in mind was left a bit to the imagination of the player. While this may not be perceived as a bad thing, I don’t think my intent came through. What is the story between the characters and why are we in this White House? How is this all related to Zork? Does my story happen before or after the time of Zork 1? Many of these questions have answers, but unfortunately, they are still sitting inside my head. Even though I scaled the actually playable game back, I don’t think I scaled the back story that surrounded this very much. I also didn’t express it as well as I had wished.
What went well
- I had plenty of beta testers. I had quite a few beta testers. Thank you to Andrew Schultz, Peter Orme, Marshal Winter, Carolyn VanEseltine, and Hanon Ondricek. With their diligent testing, I was able to get this game to the point it is. Many suggestions they had, I simply ran out of time before the deadlines to implement all it. Had I done so, it probably would have been received better as they had some great ideas. Perhaps I’ll get around to an expanded version, but who knows as I have a lot of other ideas to work on.
- I enjoyed writing this one. I think half of the battle of writing any IF (or other works for that matter) is that no matter how great or exciting an idea you have, you run into that wall where it just is not enjoyable to work on anymore. I never felt that way with this one. There is so much material to draw upon in the Zork universe that I had to keep myself from trying to squeeze it in there. I love the feel of the Zork universe, with it’s fantasy settings and some dark undercurrents, yet always with that tongue in cheek humor. I could enjoy expanding on this one or doing other take-offs of this world.
Plus I like the old treasure hunts of old. I have a hard time calling this interactive fiction. I still like the term adventure games as for me, that is what drew me into this world back in the 1980s in the first place. But I did enjoy trying to make this (with varying degrees of success), less of a treasure hunt and more of an interactive story, yet have it in the setting of a treasure hunt without making it the focus. I’m sure it could be debated on how well I managed to do that, but I do think I succeeded at a certain level.
- I learned a ton. As always, what I enjoy about any kind of software development is the learning that always comes. This was no different. From suggestions from my beta testers to a few challenging technical pieces, I stretched my Inform 7 programming chops a bit more with this release. Now I feel even more confident heading into my next challenge and getting ready for my next release of my next work. When I stop learning, I’m done…..I don’t think I’ll be done for a while.