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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Design Diary, April 25

Spent a good chunk of the weekend with a friend in the hospital, but hanging out in the hospital gave me some nice reading time.  (He was in for non-emergency reasons, so it's not like I was reading about mushrooms while he bled out or anything.)  Read about mushrooms and bogs.  Turns out bogs are cool, and contain some useful stuff, but aren't productive enough to sustain life on their own.  (So it's just as well that mine are located on the far north part of the map, well away from intended habitable areas.)  I'm basically using bogs as one of the world barriers - you can go in a bit, and walk around, and drop things in it (never to be seen again, usually), but that's about it - beyond that point, it's too easy to get lost, or too unstable to continue.  I'd previously considered letting the PC harvest peat as fuel and rejected it, partly because there are literally square miles of forest to harvest, and because I couldn't find good data.  I think that was a good decision; American peat bogs tend to be wetter than their European counterparts, so the peat harvested is less ready to burn, requiring longer dry times.  Not worth it in terms of PC effort or programmer effort.  I do need to make sure there's a cranberry harvest, though.  (I have no idea how people can bear to eat cranberries without *serious* quantities of sugar, but I suppose hunger is a great motivator.)  Sphagnum moss is a possible resource - it's super absorbent, and might make a good field dressing if injuries ever make it in.  Seems like there might be other uses there, but I can't think of any off the bat.  The other big thing mentioned is the presence of white cedar, which is one of those great rot-resistant woods, and thus awesome for fences and shingles (and everything, really).  I am pretty sure that there's enough of it growing around that the player won't need to hike out to the bog (and since there's no rot in-game, it's not a big advantage anyway).  There's not usually much animal life in the poor bogs; plant life is pretty limited, and nutrients are tied up, so it's a good border land; it's poverty should hopefully encourage the player to focus attention elsewhere.  (And, yeah, there's messages to redirect the player, but it's nice that there's subtle in-game reasons to turn aside, too.)
The book noted a lot of different bog types, which will hopefully be helpful in writing descriptions.  

I managed to get my hands on a good field guide to mushrooms in the Iowa-Illinois area, which I'm assuming is close enough to Minnesota-Wisconsin for my purposes.  All the mushrooms I double-checked extended farther north.  I'm so used to edible foods being non-native that it's sort of surprising that so many of the edible wild mushrooms I recognized were native species.  (Chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, lion's mane, and a couple others I can't recall off hand.)  I knew intellectually that identifying mushrooms is a tough thing, but I was taken aback just how difficult it is, even from the carefully chosen pictures that emphasize identifiable characteristics.  I tested myself with the key a couple times, and would have confidently eaten a mushroom that would have melted my kidneys. Oops.

I was also surprised just how many species are "edibility unknown", and how many more were only mostly poisonous - some appear to poison some people but not others, and others are only intermittently poisonous. 

The primary goal for mushrooms is as a wild food source, and I think that will be fairly straightforward.  A lot of the species are strongly associated with a plant species or community, and a lot of them remain in the same place year after year, so first implementation stab is to "seed" appropriate locations with appropriate mushrooms, and then have them show up at appropriate times.  I'd like them to appear in locations in addition to being available via a gathering action (similar to the way wild animals should show up now and then).  If the PC learns where the morels are each spring, more power to her. 

I don't actually want kidney-melting to be a possibility in game, which means that the PC probably needs some sort of way to figure out edibility of mushrooms.  There's the traditional taste test, but for the seriously poisonous mushroom, this is a bad way to go.  I don't really want to encourage people to go around taste-testing random mushrooms, so I'm considering requiring some sort of handbook or a skill check or something.  Lots of possibilities here, but I think it would be worthwhile to reward a player who thought to take a wildlife survival guide or something along; perhaps give them access to some easy to identify shrooms, and more to those who got a dedicated book or something?  I dunno.  A more immersive option would be a requirement to have ID initially, and let the PC gain familiarity with individual species as she IDs them on her own.  (How long does it take to learn the difference between a real morel and a false morel?)  There's some implementation fun to be had with disambiguation and privately named stuff, especially if I let the PC pick mushrooms and ID them somewhere else, rather than IDing before taking.  Worst case scenario is a basket full of a mix of mushroom types, pre-ID.  ("In the basket are some mushrooms, some mushrooms, some mushrooms, and some mushrooms.")  An ID-before taking rule would prevent this, and with some limits to growth patterns, mean there would only be one unidentified mushroom per location at any given time. 

I'd like to at least leave hooks in case I decide to let the PC cultivate certain varieties.  Under ideal circumstances, each species would have certain requirements to fruit, and if those were met, it would fruit, whether those circumstances were artificial or not.  That's a *little* tricky to pull off, though, and would require some serious investment beyond the "mushroom X lives here and here, and has a 1 in 10 chance of fruiting after it rains during the spring" setup that I have in mind.  I don't know quite what to do about that; honestly, cultivation isn't a huge interest for me, but it's a reasonable thing for the player to try, with a modest potential reward.  One option might be to keep soil mushrooms wild, and restrict potential cultivation to stump or log-grown species.  There's only two or three of them, and if the PC is clever enough to haul an elm log to a shaded spot near her house and inoculate it with spores from the elm-growing mushroom, she probably deserves a few years of mushroom crops before the log disintegrates.  This seems potentially exploitable; I don't really want locations with hundreds of logs of mushrooms, although I guess it is a legitimate strategy.  Hopefully the higher irritant factor and relatively low caloric density of mushrooms will make it non-worthwhile; I might also look at realistically quick wilt or storage times, so even if there are fields of mushrooms, the PC can only get so many harvested or eaten before the rest go bad. 

So I guess hookwise, I'd like to set aside mushrooms that grow on wood as their own kind.  Let the mushrooms be associated with certain inoculatble species.  Inoculated logs will have similar chances of sprouting mushrooms under the right conditions that inoculated locations will.  Maybe prevent inoculated logs from being moved/used for anything (because they're too decayed/damp/whatever).  Have a few decay/appear each year.  That would give hooks for deliberate inoculation later, if it seems appropriate, without drawing too much attention initially.  There would probably need to be some additional details at that point (freshly inoculated logs shouldn't just sprout mushrooms the next day, it's more important to make sure the log is somewhere sensible, and not in the kitchen or something).

Side notes:  Mushrooms are a good dye source.  Don't forget to implement them if I ever get around to dyes. 

Random thought: it also seems like there might be uses for the poisonous ones, even if the poison is fairly slow acting.  Maybe as a fish poison or homemade pesticide/deer repellent or something?  It seems plausible that dusting your plants in ground Amanita might discourage locusts, even if I can find no indication anywhere that anyone has ever tried it.  (I'm not about to, because I like my kidneys/eyesight/life, but it seems a shame to just let a perfectly good deadly poison go to waste.)

I got a couple hours to hit bugs last night.  It was . . . surprisingly fun, actually.  As frustrating as programming can be, it's deeply satisfying when I can actually get in there and fix stuff.  A lot of the stuff I'm tweaking is second or third generation code - stuff cannibalized from examples or extensions, then tweaked a couple times and merged with stuff cannibalized from other extensions.  I'm not aware of looming bugs at the moment, except for some disambiguation issues that I'm ignoring.

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