I was quite chuffed with myself for writing 50,000 words of Cuthbert last month; they were messy words, leaping between different scenes as I scrambled for something new to write every time I finished a scene or (as happened with a bit more frequency) got stuck and started a new one instead of wasting time staring at a blank-aside-from-all-the-finger-smudges-I-should-really-clean-my-laptop-in-fact-I-should-clean-my-whole-flat-perhaps-I-should-get-a-new-flat-perhaps-I-should-be-spending-this-time-investigating-mortgages-and-also-a-new-career-in-the-circus-that-comes-with-food-and-board-I’d-save-a-fortune-and-get-a-lot-more-exercise-and-nope-no-clowns-are-terrifying-that’s-a-terrible-idea-screen.
Nope. No. Bad idea. DollarPhotoClub
But I got a lot done in terms of word count. In terms of game progress, though, I’m a lot less chuffed. And leaning all the more towards this circus plan.
As I wrote during the 50,000 word challenge, in-between frantic writing and investigating the cost of coulrophobia-curing sessions, a horrifying amount of my 50,000 word total was dedicated to one single optional scene – 25,591 words. 51% of my whole month’s work!
That’s… Well, it’s a lot of work.
A lot of that’s to do with the sort of game that Cuthbert is – there’s a puzzle to solve and depending on what you do and say, some of the ways to solve the puzzle are locked up so you can’t do them; people get annoyed or they won’t help you.
Then there are the text options that have been put in to muddy the waters a little, make it less obvious what the solution to the puzzle is. And the funny options – the ones that are really only in for a joke and not something I’d expect someone to pick. But I’ve still got to write them. And what happens next, and any consequences that spins up for you.
No player will ever see all 25,591 words of that scene – if you see the scene at all, you might only see a fifth of it, or less. But it’s the fact that there’s so much writing – so many different options, so many rabbit holes you can go down which open up new puzzles or close other ones off – that makes the game different and unique to each player. It’s what Cuthbert is about.
But seeing the statistics is still a bit unnerving.
“Here, let me show you the month-on-month analysis.” DollarPhotoClub
9,706 words (almost 20% of the novel-length piece of writing I did) was one of several possible solutions for a puzzle. And a good chunk of that was just rap lyrics.
I didn’t even count how many words were me just listing the joke-y starting items
On top of the very unminimal writing and coding the game needs for the different rooms and characters you might encounter, and the different ways of solving puzzles, and the many, many ways you can wind people up, the fact that it’s presented in a stuffed-full-of-beautiful-artwork-so-it-doesn’t-give-you-traumatising-Commodore-64-flashbacks-but-still-crucially-a-text-interface adds a whole extra layer of problems: I need to write red herrings.
The screaming. The horror. Douglas Adams and Infocom
A more traditional point-and-click adventure would have you find the items as part of the puzzle; in a text game, seeing the one single item you need to pick up, listed on its own, somewhat reduces the challenge.
I really noticed it this week as I moved some of the so-so-much text I’d written into the game, into a marketplace you can visit. There are, at the moment, only two stalls in the marketplace. One you need to go to to solve one of the earliest puzzles in the game. The other displays as empty until you need it, as part of a joke.
That means you’re going to go up to a marketplace and see one single stall you can visit. It’s not exactly overwhelming you with the amount of choice and freedom you have, is it? You’re not really scratching your head, wondering what the game expects you to do.
But to add in options, I’ve got to sit and write more stalls – completely unnecessary, unimportant to the story stalls – and code them, and get artwork made for them, and spend time and money to make the scene a bit more realistic and a bit less story-driven. It will be worth it – it will add flavour and jokes and challenge to the game – but it definitely won’t be MVP.