Alabaster Interim Status Report (Release 18)

I am still working on Alabaster’s edited beta; in case anyone is interested, I’ve posted the latest build (18), but this should be regarded as just an interim thing while I continue to work on a release candidate that can be sent around to testers.

Things done so far:

  • Optimized the core system somewhat for speed. The trade-off is that the game spends some time on start-up caching information in order to make individual turns run faster.
  • Somewhat revised the color scheme of the conversation index because I didn’t care for how it looked.
  • Did some basic debugging of the physical model: making the sky untouchable, guaranteeing that the player can’t burn anything or touch Snow White while time is stopped, adding more interesting responses for trying to take or cut parts of Snow White, etc.
  • Added lots of quips to cover basic topics that hadn’t been covered so far. I want the player to be able to show everything in the game to every character at least once, and get a response, so some of the new quips are just replies to in-game objects.
  • Added some story background about Lilith, if you get to where you can talk to her directly (this isn’t easy).
  • Worked on conversation flow.
    • Made NPCs volunteer new information more of the time when it is in their interests to do so (for instance, so that you can get through the conversation with Happy without asking leading questions all the time, because he is motivated to propose the pact anyway and will keep chatting if you say nothing).
    • Gave Snow White a bunch of additional responses to seeing you do things, so that she seems more observant.
    • Added “nag” properties to a number of the restrictive questions. (Basically, the deal is that if an NPC asks you a question that you’re supposed to answer, the conversation system lets you add a “nag” line to that quip to get the NPC to ask you over again on subsequent turns if you fail to reply. This is to get around the dullness of having an NPC ask you something and then sit silently for 15 turns until you get around to issuing your response. The nag property can have the NPC repeat the question over and over, or say different things on various turns, or pester you for a while and then give up and change the subject — and all of those options are appropriate at different times here.)
  • Added a help menu, instructions, and a setting to turn off the “You could…” dialogue hints, in case anyone wants to try playing this as hard-core ASK/TELL. (Probably not, but you never know. In any case it’s really not hard to do with this system.)
  • Customized a bunch of the specific “You could…” prompts to be less generic.

Things still to do (and I’d welcome thoughts from collaborators on any of these):

  • Make sure that there are enough ways for the conversation with Happy to end. Currently if you don’t ask all the right questions, you can get stuck, and it’s not always easy for the player to figure out why or what trigger he missed.
  • Provide for an ending (proposed, but not implemented, by Rob Dubbin) in which Happy’s soul is contributed to the magic mirror. (Now partially done — the conversation set-up is there.)
  • Make Snow White’s responses to being asked about vampirism more consistent after you’ve found out the definite truth.
  • Do more with the apple riddle. Currently it’s possible to solve the riddle, but not necessarily to go anywhere interesting after that.
  • Come up with an explanation for what is going on with the king. There are lots of hints (possibly internally contradictory?) that: the king vanished at a full moon; the king is not Snow White’s father and has never even met her (which raises the question of how Snow White is the Queen’s stepdaughter — by another husband?); that the huntsman has been engaged in some sort of plot to bring him back; that he is still alive somewhere. I’d like to draw all this together into a coherent picture that goes with the rest of the story, but it’s a little challenging. If people who contributed to that part of the story had ideas about where it’s all going, feel free to let me know.
  • Add conversation with Snow White after you’ve exorcised Lilith.
  • Add an ending in which you can sort of save Lilith.
  • Add more endings where you get killed. There are two basic ways one can approach danger in IF: warn the player away from it, and let him get killed all the time (but make it so he can always UNDO back out of it). I think the latter option is actually more interesting for the present project.
  • Do something more systematic about tracking the mood of the conversation. It’s not really surprising given how disjointly the game was written so far, but the diction and the emotional state between the characters fluctuates really rapidly sometimes, and I’d like to add some variables to track how things are going and smooth out that fluctuation a little with sensible text substitutions in some circumstances.
  • Add systematic testing instructions and give the game a good workout before sending to beta.

7 thoughts on “Alabaster Interim Status Report (Release 18)”

  1. The apple riddle was my contribution; I’d intended to come up with some twist on the original story, making apples an item of protection somehow – maybe one the Queen doesn’t know about. Alack, didn’t have time for it (and the game seemed to be branching out in other directions). My intention – partially in order to bring in the apple element, partially because “looking for apples” is easy to work into a game as a task to accomplish, and they might be another tool in-game, and partially a stab at re-imagining the poisoned apple scene (which probably wouldn’t show up within the game – but I could imagine Snow White recognizing the Queen in her peddler disguise, and STILL taking the apple – either thinking she was tricking the queen, thinking the disguise was just an excuse to enter, and not suspecting the apples, or else being so weak and tired that she was willing to chance the poison to enjoy the protection. …all that would have taken a lot of writing, and I doubt I would’ve gotten that far without others contributing other trains of thought as well :)

    I was also the one who suggested the huntsman is trying to start some sort of conspiracy to restore the king; this was my attempt to build on top of other writers’ contributions – to wit, to expound on Snow White’s revalation that the woodsman is a traitor, and to go somewhere with the existing line of inquiry about the king. I hadn’t given it much more thought than that, and I’d hoped others would build on that – if they haven’t, though, then adding a plotline from thin air might be a bit unnecessary. (It DOES give the woodsman a chance to display some personality and motives of his own, though. But seems difficult to reveal his motivations and plans to the player in this dialogue.)

  2. The apple riddle was my contribution; I’d intended to come up with some twist on the original story, making apples an item of protection somehow – maybe one the Queen doesn’t know about.

    I’ve gone with some of that — you can’t actually find an apple in-game, but there’s an explanation of why Snow-White-possessed-by-Lilith wants one, and that may shed an alternate light on the poisoned apple scene. (Which is an idea I quite like.) It’s not quite as full-blown as you might have originally imagined, but we’ll see when we get to beta.

  3. Also, I’ve now posted Release 19, again not because it’s finished but in a spirit of transparency and in case anyone wants to look.

    The conversation graph at this point is insane-looking. That’s partly because OmniGraffle isn’t doing a very good job of optimizing the graph, but it’s also because a lot of the recent changes have been to add links between conversation snippets that already exist: in particular, queueing Snow White to add things or make leading remarks. The idea is to knit the existing dialogue more tightly together, so that setting off down one avenue of exploration doesn’t prevent the player from finding another.

    We’re up to 240 quips.

    I’ve added more interaction with Lilith, and the possibility of a new ending there; and provided more prompting about that strand if the player pursues the apple riddle.

    I’ve also added a follow-up event if you cut the heart out but don’t speak to the hart — my feeling was that unless you knew that conversation branch was there, there just wasn’t enough clue that you could actually talk to the animal (which is, after all, apparently dead). I may still want to add more along those lines.

    Added a bunch of mood stuff, both to set Snow White’s mood and to modify the output accordingly. A lot of minor text has been tweaked: atmospheric events are mood dependent because we want the whole tone of the game to get scarier when she’s in Creepy Mode; the terminology she uses to address you (and that you use to address her) change based on your relationship; stuff like that. In a lot of cases it’s possible to completely change the emotional feel of a line without modifying more than a few adverbs.

    All the same, there’s still a lot to do. Even if I don’t get distracted by other obligations, I suspect it will still be at least a week before we’re ready to beta this. (Sorry.)

  4. I just stumbled across your blog, etc., and was wondering – is Alabaster in any way influenced by Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples”?

  5. is Alabaster in any way influenced by Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples”?

    Nope. I hadn’t heard of the latter until someone brought it up apropos of Alabaster.

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