Now that some time has elapsed since 2018 IF Comp has closed, a number of authors have followed up with post-mortems (and in some cases, there have also been a few game updates based on player feedback).
This is a tradition that has grown up over the past couple of years, and one that I really like: these posts in aggregate represent a pretty broad picture of the thinking around IF design and development at the moment, and one often hears from authors who don’t otherwise blog about their craft.
IF Comp saw a high number of entries, and there’s a lot to look at in the post–mortems. In fact, there’s more than I personally could track, but with the help of my new blog assistant (“Mort”), we’ve done a little curation on posts to call out some interesting content and sort them by subject covered.
Just as a reminder, these all link to posts that are riddled with spoilers, so consider this your warning on that score.
Presentation & User Experience – These post-mortems shed particular light on questions regarding user interface, design, and what the game would be like for the player.
Instruction Set (Jared Jackson). Jared wrote his entry with Scratch, which is fairly extraordinary given how very much Scratch is not a language designed for text presentation. The post-mortem explains a bit about why he took that approach, and what he learned from coming into IF Comp from a non-traditional direction using a different set of tools.
Abbess Otilia’s Life and Death (Arno von Borries). This piece invested heavily in presenting something that looked like a medieval manuscript, but that raised challenges and some players complained about readability. The post-mortem looks at the implementation challenges and trade-offs between readability and historical accuracy.
Bogeyman (Elizabeth Smyth) “The nature of those weekly life-or-death decisions remains at the core of the game. It’s the only choice you really get to make: good vs “good”; conscience vs authority; defiance vs submission; integrity vs survival. Almost every major choice is designed around that conflict.”
The 2018 runner-up Bogeyman has a wonderfully detailed post-mortem that delves into concept, design, character, and the Bogeyman himself. In the end, though, these elements were created in service to the choices in front of the player/character, as Elizabeth Smyth produced a game straightforward in its design, but emotionally resonant for those who experienced it.
Creative Process – These post-mortems gave insight into creating the game, and what the experience was like for the designer.
Master of the Land (Pseudavid)
Erstwhile (Maddie Fialla & Marijke Perry)
Ailiphilia (Andrew Schultz)
The Origin of Madame Time (Mathbrush)
Bullhockey! (B F Lindsay)
Border Reivers (Vivienne Dunstan)
Forgotten Tavern (Peter M.J. Gross)
Ostrich (Jonathan Laury)
Alias ‘The Magpie’ (J. J. Guest) “It had been a source of deep regret for me that I had not released a brand new game for 8 years, and I decided to do something about it. I threw myself into the game, and over the next year poured hundreds of hours into getting it finished.”
J. J. Guest’s post-mortem for 2018’s 1st Place game is quite broad in its scope, with discussion covering all of the major topics listed. We included it here with the other “Creative Process” posts because there is a substantial opening section detailing what it was like to make this game from a personal point of view. It’s worth reading the post-mortem in its entirety, as Guest explores the relationship of puzzles to the chronology of the larger narrative, the desire to maximize the player’s options during gameplay, and the considerable amount of beta-testing that shaped this year’s winner.
Narrative Structure – These post-mortems gave extra attention to the subject of story, and the narrative aspects of the game.
Tethered (Linus Åkesson) plays with changes of narrative viewpoint and real vs imagined events — raising some of the same challenges as an unreliable-narrator game. (I’m being intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers.) The post-mortem particularly looks at which of those choices worked well for players and which could have been differently executed.
The other very notable point about Tethered is that it was developed with Dialog, a new IF tool by the same author. Dialog is documented and discussed via these posts on the intfiction forum.
Grimnoir (ProP). This post-mortem goes into some depth about the characterization of its protagonist and the genre influences in play.
Lux (Agnieszka Trzaska) “I think Lux may be summed up as a game about piecing together events that already happened. There’s a lot of scattered backstory to discover.”
Agnieszka Tzaska, whose Lux took 10th place, wrote a post-mortem that could just as easily fit in the User Experience category as in Narrative. But in the case of Lux, these two factors are closely linked. Players experience the world of Lux through a protagonist who is blind, and the backstory is illuminated even as the player is often in the dark about what’s happening in the present. A word of warning – this is one of the more ‘spoilery’ post-mortems out there as major twists are revealed (but worth the read!).
Puzzles and Challenges – These post-mortems were for games that contained a strong puzzle element, where the author goes into some exploration of that topic.
Space Punk Moon Tour (J_J)
Junior Arithmancer (Mike Spivey). Junior Arithmancer‘s math-based puzzles are based on a systematic mechanic of the kind I particularly enjoy. Here the author writes about the other systematic-puzzle games that inspired him, how the puzzles came together, and what inspired a few of the optional challenges.
A Little Bit of Everything – These post-mortems gave a balanced look at the above topics, or focused on something else not mentioned.
Stone of Wisdom (Kenneth Pedersen)
Dungeon Detective (Wonaglot)
Diddlebucker! (J. Michael)