demodulated assets

digital media portfolio for Brian Devins

New game – Markham Mingle —

Play Markham Mingle

My workplace offers a social event each month called the Markham Mingle, hosted by a different department each time. Last month it was hosted by our hospitality department which includes educators about tourism, hoteliers, restaurateurs, and flight attendants. They had incredible, intricately presented food and a beautiful faux-restaurant environment.

I work for IT and volunteered to help with the invitation, and I wasn’t about to let another department one-up us! I made a cutesy PDF invitation poster as is the norm, but decided to try something unique and spent part of my long weekend creating a video game invitation in Twine.

As the event occurs on October 31 my challenge was to incorporate the themes of information technology as well as Halloween. It also had to be enjoyable, palatable, and playable by non-technical audiences. Twine was a good choice because the mechanics are no more difficult than clicking hyperlinks, and the structure is that of a choose-your-own-adventure game.

I ultimately made a light trivia game with a little story thrown in for colour. The story is told in second-person present tense (“you are”) which I thought was appropriate for the audience, and involves the player in a fantastical scenario where they attend the event with a humorous supernatural tone.

Unfortunately, the game was rejected for publication – despite my efforts it was deemed “too techy”, and the reviewing committee wasn’t open to the idea of a video game with only text and no graphics. It’s alright – this was an unlikely shot in the dark.

I’m posting the game here for posterity along with the Twine source code, and Twine compiles the game as a single HTML file so you can view the source to see how it’s put together. I stuck with the default “Sugarcane” format because it looked pretty Halloweeny out of the box, and because I was only willing to put so much effort into this unlikely venture.

Play Markham Mingle

Download the Twine source

New game – You Are What You Eat —

play You Are What You Eat

This was my first, an so far only, “real” game. It’s a text adventure created with the web-based Quest engine.

I’d piddled around with Twine, another text adventure engine specifically for “game book” style games aka choose-your-own-adventure, several times prior and was ready for a new challenge. Although I’d played several text adventures from Infocom as a kid such as Planetfall and Wishbringer I was too young, with too limited vocabulary, to really get anywhere. I even bought an Incredible Hulk text adventure and never got any further than the very first scene with Bruce Banner tied to a chair.

The concept of text adventures fascinates me but I find them pretty well impenetrable. I wanted to make something with story and character and attitude but minimal frustration and vocabulary guessing. Due to my skill and programming savvy I succeeded only partially.

Before I get too far I need to give a shoutout to the fine folks at Bento Miso here in Toronto. I joined their monthly Club Get ‘Er Done which is a forum for game developers and artists to stand up and state your goals for the next month in front of an audience, and also report on your progress since last month. This helped me enormously and made me feel accountable to myself and to my peers, and it was comforting to know I HAD peers even on this solo project! After 3 meetings my game had been started and finished.

I’d hoped to finish the game in a month but it took closer to 2.5. I scaled back my ambitions a little bit and consolidated the game down to 3 scenes and 1 puzzle. Due to the limitations and immaturity of the web-based tools I had to use some ugly hackery to get some things to work (there’s a great Portuguese word for this – “gambiarra”). One nasty bug stumped me for over a month which was very discouraging but I rethought my puzzle and accomplished it a different way. What a brain-bending experience!

The programming was the hard part. I did most of the writing on lunch breaks as stream-of-consciousness braindumps. That was a major benefit of using the Quest web client, by the way – being able to resume work from anywhere! I’m mostly happy with the writing though in retrospect it’s kinda long-winded.

When I was finished I took advantage of Bento Miso again to show off my game. I went to one of their biweekly Games With Friends social nights and passed my laptop around. A few people were gracious enough to play from start to finish and give me some feedback. Particularly fond memories are one guy blowing through the whole game in about 12 minutes, and another guy taking about an hour and occasionally looking up at me and repeating phrases he liked. I got some great constructive criticism and probably more praise than I deserved.

At the next Club Get ‘Er Done I was invited by the mediator and all-round impressive dude, Henry Faber, to present my game on a projector to the group. A text adventure is not exactly a multimedia extravaganza so I just read a few passages and invited people to shout out some commands. What surprised me was how difficult I found it to actually describe my game succinctly; I really stumbled over myself!

A handful of other people played my game and many got stuck in the same place. I made several adjustments to phrasing, giving hints about what to do, but my inability/unwillingness to edit source code meant some unhelpful error messages continue to mislead people a little bit. It’s tough to know where to draw the line – some people have no trouble finishing the game on their first try while others flounder a bit. Next time I’ll test early and often!

The last worth mentioning is that I considered writing a soundtrack for the game but ended up asking my good buddy Henry Smola to do it. I gave him a few passages and descriptive words about the scumbag jerkwad protagonist and he got right to work on a brooding downtempo song. The result, Iconoclasm, is just stunningly beautiful and fits the tone and themes like a glove. I embedded a Soundcloud player above my game and was all set.

I’d love your feedback on my game if you care to share any. My next major project will be a graphical adventure, probably, so I’m skilling up on Adventure Game Studio and similar engines in preparation. I’ll be writing an entire soundtrack myself for that one!

play You Are What You Eat