Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Design: Template vs. player guided

I'm feeling a little more able to deal with design issues now that I'm post-holiday season.  Thank goodness.  I spent a little time trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the core house.

Initially, the PC's home base - the place where she eats, sleeps, and stores things - is pretty minimal.  There's a cave that is somewhat sheltered, and possibly another cave (although so far out of the way probably only the initiated would find it).  The primary intentioned shelter is a shed on the farm premises.

As time goes on, the PC can build a nicer place to live, and also improve the starting shed (adding windows, etc.)  I'd originally planned to make this free form, with the playerspecifying which rooms to build, and where the exits would be. Thus, if the player wanted a eight-story house with twenty-six bedrooms and no kitchen, he could.  I figured I might even be able to guess at the nature of a room based on its furnishings - if the PC put in a bed, it probably was a bedroom.  A toilet would mean a bathroom, etc.  I still kind of like this idea, but after some experimentation, I'm not convinced I could pull it off well.

Part of the problem is that I want some meta-commands that will cause issues here.  For instance, I want the option of automatically delivering food to the kitchen, and putting it away.  I want to be able to ">TIDY UP" and have the PC move clothes, dishes, etc. to appropriate locations.  >COOK BREAKFAST should move the PC to the kitchen, where the cooking is done, and then to the dining room, where the food is eaten.  None of this is necessary, of course - it's almost all fluff.  But I fear that without commands like "tidy up", it's far too tedious to expect the player to type out all the commands necessary.

Of course, one could always have the game offer expectations for room use, and allow the player to override these.  But then we run into some issues with size and connection.

I'm not terribly bothered by letting the player expand the house semi-indefinitely, except that it complicates writing descriptions tremendously.  But there's a real issue in terms of connectivity - it's very easy to let the player decide the living room should be north of the entry, and the guest room north of the living room.  But you've got to either limit most rooms to one connection, or deal with the time-space continuum when the player puts the guest room south of the entry as well.  (Nor am I convinced, based on a few unscientific experiments, that players are good at creating layouts they'll remember better, which was one reason I got into this in the first place.)

I may revisit this one, especially if I follow up random generation for the outside maps.  But for now, I've got a pre-fab blueprint that the player can build room by room.  There's a limit - I think the total constructed size of the house including cellars and storage is around 4000 sq ft, which is enormous (more than 10 times the size of most of the places I've lived), but not exactly impossibly large (ignoring the basements, it's within one standard deviation of the average house size in the US).  (Wow, people in the US have a lot of space.)

The advantage is that almost every room is within two moves of the main living area, with the only exception being some of the most distant storage areas (three moves).  Most diagonal connections have been removed, which makes navigation easier.  I'm still tweaking connections a bit; I would prefer there to be only n/s/e/w/u/d, but it's a little difficult to do.  I also threw in Emily Short's Approaches, which is great, and makes it easy to get places.

I need to refine the construction process, which currently consists of typing ">BUILD KITCHEN" and having it appear by magic.  So figuring out what materials the PC needs to have on hand (and what "on hand" means - holding, in storage shed, in general vicinity of the room to be built?), figuring out how long that should take, adjusted by PC skill, and what (if anything) to do about various miscellaneous things like roofs and doors.  Doors especially - there's currently no reason to actually have a door, and I need to figure out if there will be or not, and if doors should be tacked onto doorways, or if they're just a distraction.  Then I have to figure out windows.  Windows are hard, especially if you want there to be actual things to look at.

Still, though, getting to this point was less difficult than I expected.  Hopefully it will stay easy.

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