Thursday, November 15, 2007


(There will be some spoilers for BioShock in this post.)

When I was writing A Crimson Spring, I was made aware of the graphic novels "Watchmen" and "Kingdom Come". I intentionally didn't read either one because I didn't want to be influenced by them in making my little text game. I would have liked to, in theory, had the same thing going on with Cryptozookeeper and BioShock. I say, "in theory" because who would have guessed that a first person shooter would have any effect on how I'd be writing a text game?

It does though. I don't think any computer game can go forward without the designers asking themselves what BioShock has made irrelevant and what games *must* have to stay competitive and interesting in a post-BioShock world. And I say this, keeping in mind that the last two scenes of BioShock - escort mission and multistage boss fight - were horrible in every respect. But it did so many other things well that I can forgive them going to the Big Book of gaming cliches to end it.

I think the first major thing I've taken from BioShock is that a designer needs to give his/her players the means to overcome the things that initially suck about the game. Or are at least restrictive. I hope I am not spoiling CZK by saying at some point that cryptids are going to get into a fight with each other. If I am a regular player going through, I might say to myself, "Man, I wish that this guy had more hit points, or could attack faster, or do more damage." And in most role playing games, there is a mechanism for that: leveling. What BioShock did is make leveling interesting and filled to the brim with choices again. The D&D model of leveling up has you killing things to get the experience points necessary to gain a level, and you then get all your benefits at once. With BioShock, you can "level up" at almost any time by buying things that overcome the obstacles the designers initially set forth - obstacles that are present in almost every first person shooter.

For example:

- Man, these Big Daddy monsters are tough. (Here's a way to make them fight for you for a little bit.)

- Man, everyone seems to be homing in on me. (Here's a target dummy to draw away attacks.)

- I'm bad at hacking. (Here's a powerup to get less bad tiles.)

... And so forth. For every restriction in the game, or everything that is difficult to navigate around, BioShock gives you the chance to overcome those things. It's like it gives you access to the cheat system just by playing.

How does this relate to IF? Well, what things are restrictive in text games? Well, actually, it's the whole "typing the right phrase into the prompt," but beyong that. I think not knowing certain facts about the NPCs you encounter, at least in one of my games, is a restriction. Wouldn't it be great to get the game's state of Some Monster? So let's put in a way to scan its hit points, and easily see its weaknesses. Let's provide an interesting path to getting health packs and extra attacks... faster healing and recovery time. Let's provide a way to make these things better in combat than just having them slog through a Mortal Kombat-style fighting pole. And I've been thinking about how to do this for several weeks, and I think I have a good idea on how to accomplish this for CZK. I'm just not ready to lay it all out yet.

(Oh, and I think having screens that break up the action and give you advice are critical. There's no "LOADING" screens in IF, but there are chapter breaks, at least in my games. In BioShock, I found out that some weapons have a zoom mode in BioShock on the last level, because I was told on the loading screen. Nobody reads the manuals any more, if they even get them, so having help like that is awesome. And it's pretty easy in IF to have randomly-displaying chapter screens. So that's a good idea, too.)

Maybe this is just a long way of making some carrot and stick comment, but my expectations for what I hope to accomplish with CZK have definitely risen with BioShock, and I promise not to let anyone down.