Deprivation IntroComp 2015 Postmortem

Interactive Fiction and InfoComp
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IntroComp 2015 voting has ended, and the results are out. How’d I do?

Deprivation

Deprivation was my way of re-familiarizing myself with interactive fiction and TADS after a long absence. I remembered a lot, but had forgotten even more, so I was aiming for something a little less ambitious this time around. Since I’d been doing a lot of research on sleep deprivation a few months ago, I decided to use that as a central theme in a story about loss and psychological defense mechanisms.

I wanted to do something I’d finish, so I kept the scope relatively small, but layered it with a state machine governing your psychological mindset as you either grew more sleep deprived, or managed to combat your insomnia. That’s the fundamental choice in the game, between getting over what’s holding you back, or indulging in it. The bulk of this action takes place at 3am in your apartment on subsequent days.

The IntroComp Version:

The basic game loop has the protagonist puttering around his apartment from 3-5 am, trying whatever he can to fall asleep. Some of the things you can do will quiet your mind down and make sleep more likely. Others will have the opposite effect. If you manage to get restful before your alarm goes off you’ll get SOME sleep, at least. If not, you can try again the next night.

The version I released for IntroComp only covers the first night in your apartment, ending when you manage to sleep. I changed the alarm to give judges time to putter around and explore without having to restart every time the alarm went off.

Reviews:

Judges’ comments

I noticed you’re hardly a first-time writer, but it seems you concentrated on stuff that really doesn’t make a text adventure click. Despite these mis-steps, there’s some good writing, and it feels like you do have a plan for a full story. The problem is that “eye for detail” means something different in a text adventure than in a book, so we need to focus on that. I encourage you to read Aaron Reed’s book about programming with Inform 7, even though this was written in TADS. It helped me a ton.

Excellent point. Every media has different strengths and weaknesses, and different needs and elements, and I need to learn about IF’s little quirks. The book this person is talking about Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 (affiliate link), and I’ve ordered a copy.

I don’t know if it’s a natively available TADS thing, but clickable words that auto-enter parser commands is both a nice way of appealing to those who prefer one or the other input method, as well as a good way of introducing newbies to parser IF conventions. It was weirdly satisfying to put stuff away nicely, and there were some nice details, but with only this to judge from, I don’t know whether I’d be super interested in a game just about trying to fall asleep.

Hyperlinked commands a HTML Tads thing, and a nice touch. One of my general goals is to leave these games as newbie friendly as possible. Friendliest would probably be making a choice-based game, but I really feel like working on a parser-based game is more of a puzzle, and that’s half of what I enjoy about the hobby.

I thought the implementation and writing were impressive here; I can’t say I was really gripped by the game. I’d like to encourage you to write more … but perhaps something else!

Thanks! I’ll be finishing this game, but I’ve got a few other ideas.

There is no actual alarm item – even if in this version there is not meant to be a time limit, that is odd.

I just hacked the alarm clock out because that’s where the fuse was hiding, but that’s a good point.

Well-written, but fits too closely to the My Crappy Apartment trope. I think you could do something with the same basic premise but set it somewhere else (or at least make the apartment nice, rather than crappy). I will say that I enjoyed shame-eating in the shower, though.

This was a common thread to the reviews I linked above. It was semi-intentional, as a homage to “first games”, but I can see how that might be distracting experienced IFers from the actual plot. The nights of the game are still going to be set in your bedroom, but I’ll make it less “crappy apartment.”

I liked the hyperlinks used as shortcuts for some of the examine and movement commands. Personally, not too into the real life sim of sleep deprivation, but I can see the appeal. Decently executed with interesting descriptions (like the book content).

The books are all actual books written by actual authors, and I used their excerpts with permission. I’ll credit all of them in the actual release, and provide links to where the books can be acquired should players find their interests’ piqued.

I did a bunch of things but nothing would let me sleep. Eventually I asked for hints and managed to get to sleep, but I’m not exactly sure what exactly caused me to be able to sleep. The shower “shame-cake” episode sounded like it would help, as did watching a movie that helped me reflect, but it seemed like I then had to do some other things as well. Making these effects a bit more explicit might help, as well as some clues ahead of time about what things I need to do (and don’t need to do?). There are intriguing references to Shannon, presumably the protagonist’s (now former?) girlfriend, which presumably would be fleshed out in a continuation. I liked the green tower too.

Some things helped. Some things made it worse. If you did a lot of both, you’d end up going nowhere, basically. I’ll figure out a way to make this more explicit.

This is decently implemented, but I’m not sure how much it offers beyond the “my shabby apartment” trope that has been a long-running thing in parser IF. There are occasional hints about some specific history for the protagonist that would explain why things are so bad — the cake they won’t eat in the fridge, for instance — but if there’s a way to unlock more details about what happened, I wasn’t able to get at them. I did manage to take a shower, make my bed, throw out a bunch of junk from my fridge, and watch some of a movie on TV, which seems to have made me feel better enough to go to bed very briefly… but why do we care about all this, again? On the positive side, the implementation seems (as I said) solid, and I was able to navigate quite a lot of the game using the hyperlinks. If there’s some backstory I missed, the game needs to do a bit more to bring it forward, I think.

The backstory is intentionally a bit vague, as I wanted some ambiguity about what exactly happened. There are hints scattered around throughout letting players put together an image of what exactly happened to the protagonist, but I can make them a bit more apparent.

The Full Version

I’m now working on the full version of Deprivation, keeping in mind the feedback offered above. Changes:

  • Shifting the location from My Crappy Apartment to My Lonesome Hotel Room
  • More feedback about what sort of things help you sleep and what don’t
  • Clearer initial goal
  • More background hints

Sounds like a plan.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.
Michael Coorlim

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