- Digital Media Design for Learning (DMDL) degree, Narrative Game Studio (elective taken in NYU’s Game Design MFA program, Spring 2014).
- Medium (approx. the middle third of the term).
- Matt McGowan (solo project/assignment).
Create a game using Inform where the player must solve a mystery based on the traces left in the environment. As part of the concept of the world, establish events that happened in the mystery and that the player will have to reconstruct.
Your game should at least have one NPC [non-player character] to talk to, and there should be a set of mechanics that allows the player to input the solution of the case.
In the coding, the length of the strings is 140 characters. You can generate text dynamically that is longer than that on the screen, though.
The final game should be a short scene that players can solve in 7-10 minutes.
Here’s part of the description of “Mama Hen Is Sick” as originally conceived (with inspiration swiped from The Space Merchants and–the Sonmi~451 story in–Cloud Atlas):
The not-too-distant future, in a factory that grows and processes vat-grown meat, the mass of which is named “Mama Hen.” The processing is attended by three dozen human clones (all male), supremely loyal and compliant laborers who live in the factory where they work. Unbeknownst to the clones, however, the factory is about to get bought out, meaning the fate of the entire operation is up in the air. All senior management staff are off at a “retreat” (a Machiavellian buyout negotiation preparation summit), leaving the janitor (a non-clone human who also lives in the factory) and the factory AI in charge.
The story takes place at night, when all the other clones are asleep. The central mystery revolves around finding a saboteur who has infected Mama Hen with some kind of flesh-eating disease that’s causing her to rapidly (and disgustingly) deteriorate. She could be dead by morning. The player character (PC) is awakened from his sleep cycle by the factory janitor, who says he needs help cleaning up the unholy mess that Mama Hen’s deterioration is creating. The janitor also wants to see if the PC knows anything about what’s happening to the meat.
The principle/iterative difference between the finished product and the outline for the game is that I ended up getting rid of the janitor NPC, as the AI NPC served all the story purposes I had in mind just fine (and I only had 7-10 minutes of play time to tell that story).
“Mama Hen Is Sick!” is entirely a text-based game, but this is the “map” I had in mind when making it:
And here’s a game play screen from the opening scene:
This interactive fiction assignment was my first-ever intensive coding experience. I’ve since learned that Inform 7 is a…let’s say “weird”…place to start such a journey. It felt it. This fact, combined with the assignment’s constraints–the 140-character string limit, in particular–, made for an extremely challenging design scenario. It also made for one of the most educational experience I had in the DMDL program.
If you’d like to play “Mama Hen Is Sick!”, the zipped Inform file is here on Dropbox. (And if you don’t have an “interpreter” to play interactive fiction on, here’s a list of a bunch.) I plan on going back to work on–expanding, tightening, polishing–the game in the not-too-distant future; but, until then, if you do play it, feedback (good and bad) is most welcome!