Computer is Bored

I used to think that if I ever wanted to get involved in the creation of a game as a writer, I would basically have to make it as a writer first, then get involved in games second. I don’t think that’s an uncommon attitude, and if I ever do become a part of the games industry, there’s a chance it would on the strength of my other writing. But one thing I’ve definitely discovered recently was that it wasn’t so much my lack of IT skills that was holding me back from making my own games, but my assumption that it was something only ‘computer people’ could do in the first place.

I’ve been messing around with RPG Maker and Twine for a long time, and they’re fun tools. I’ll probably talk more about the various different bits of game or interactive fiction making software I have been or will be experimenting with in another post. But, for now, here’s some snapshots of the first ever coherent and complete game (in the sense that it has a beginning and an end) I’ve ever made. Its a fairly daft conversation game, in which a skynet-type AI is bored and must be ‘entertained’ through smalltalk to prevent it destroying the world.

Currently, I don’t have any screencast or videos that work with wordpress, so screenshots will have to do. At of the time of writing, it looks like this:
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Which is pretty basic-looking. But on the other hand, it feels like a pretty big deal for something I threw together myself. Speaking of which, here’s the ‘boredom meter’ I cobbled together in MS Paint, to track how close the player is to a game over.
boredom-meter-full
Apart from that, all the art and music either game packaged with RPG Maker or was filched from google images, so if I ever decide to do anything professional with this I’ll have to find replacements, at least for the computer eye graphic. Which is a shame, because I like it. Reminds me of Portal and Paranoia.
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This is what the game actually looks like in the editor. Weird, right? Just a bunch squares. But that’s because this software is designed for grid-based RPGs. What you’re looking at is a grid, normally filled with tiles that make up a level of the game, with the transparent squares being ‘events’ that sit ontop of them. Normally these are the active or interactible parts of the game, like characters, doors, treasure chests, whatever. But I’m using this software to make more of a visual-novel type game, using almost exclusively the dialogue functionality, so I don’t need any of that. I just want units of conversation, organised in a way that helps me visualise the path of the game.

And this is what the actual code looks like. Well, its probably misleading to call it ‘code’. Its way more abstracted and simplified than that, presented in a very ‘natural language’ kind of way for less computer-savvy people like me to understand. RPG Maker does allow you to go into the code and edit it, and if I want to do anything more ambitious with the software that’s something I’ll have to learn. But for now, this does the job.

The left block represents one of the choices in the game, where the ‘Computer’ offers the player a choice of music for the last part of the game (which triggers when the ‘boredom’ variable reaches a certain level). The right block represents a linear section (the player gets no choices), but one that is influenced by the choices they’ve made so far (more specifically, by the impact those choices have made on the ‘boredom’ variable): the characters \V[****] prompt the game to print the value for that specific variable, and the conditional branches at the bottom determine which version of the ‘boredom meter’ to display (i.e. how full).

I also ended up using the characters \| and \. quite a lot in the game. When printing text (in this case, dialogue), these prompt the game to pause for 1/4 of a second and a second respectively, and I used these to try to make the in-game dialogue reflect realistic speech patterns and make it a bit more engaging to read. For example, when the Computer says something in inverted commas to indicate skepticism, I added a tiny pause before and after that work in an effort to reflect how it might actually be said. A minor feature, but it was interesting to play around with.

Stay tuned for more games projects, as well as possible updates on this one.

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