6 – A Four Hour Game; A Four Hour Game

EctoComp 2023 is an Interactive Fiction competition that happens in October each year. Submissions have to be in by the end of Oct 31, and then judging begins.

There are two categories:

Le Petite Mort – for games written in four hours or less. I am highly suspicious of this category. Given that the podcast Clash of the Type-Ins, one of the hosts confessed that the entry he put in took longer than the four hours allowed, but the organizers didn’t mind.

Le Grand Guignol – for games that take longer than four hours to write. I’m a bit sus about this one too, given that it can include games that took five hours – or five years – to write.

I had intended to do this in the four hours. The fact is, though, that I hadn’t used Inform 7 in 12 years, and I was … rusty is a generous word. So while I began writing it for four hours, it took nearly that long to get a few rooms in and working.

I soon lost track of the time involved, and every time I thought I had completed a basic simple game, I realized I could not release it as it was.

I mean a four hour game would mean that only the things important to the game are dealt with, and default responses, and descriptions of things that don’t exist would have to be the norm.

That didn’t sit well with me as I started in on the game.

I think I had the meat of the game functioning within the four hours (if you don’t count my struggles with the language, with errors, and with my unfamiliarity with my own laptop’s keyboard) but it was by no means fun or nicely playable.

So then it was “Oh I should just add this…” or “Oh shoot. I mentioned that in a description, so now I have to make it an object and let you do things with it” and then getting better default responses to a bunch of commands whose default fail responses are just… not in tune to my own narrative voice.

Of course I can’t update all of them, but I did take a significant amount of time implementing default responses to many common actions that now sound more like me.

And of course I wanted a “Hit SPACE to continue” thing at the very beginning, and again near the end. That meant studying up on Emily Short’s Basic Screen Effects extension, and as I was still under my .Z8 file size limit, I actually duplicated her extension into one of my own, removing any unnecessary bits so my compile didn’t blast past the .Z8 limit.

Which I blasted past pretty quickly after anyway.

Then it was little details, bugs, language flow and … accursed line break spacing that Inform 7 just does not handle well… because I got dinged before for too many or not enough line break spaces in the flow of the text.

Anyway, a few weeks later, I was finished.

Until I wasn’t.

I found some annoying aggravating thing I missed, and had to fix it. Some of these things meant implementing other new things to make up for the flaws in the story so far.

Then I stole a whole HELP section from my prior game “The Promise”, and rewrote the text entries, so now we also have a robust >ABOUT or >HELP section written with a new player in mind who doesn’t necessarily know much about Interactive Fiction, and so it gets down to some very basics.

It also has a bio, credits, and even a >WALKTHROUGH which will reveal the optimal way to get to the end of the game, but certainly not the most interesting. In fact if you were to use the WALKTHROUGH you would have no fun at all, and get very little of the story.

This is where I coined a new adage: “Don’t for a second imagine that when you add a small, harmless, innocuous piece of code to your game, that it can’t completely break the whole damn game.” Because that can happen. Hell, it DOES happen. Fuck. It HAPPENED.

Then I remembered a quote from years before that I used when writing other games, and doing other projects. It’s not my quote, but damn, I use it a lot. Because it is a fundamental truth:

The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time.
The last 10% of a project takes the other 90% of the time.

Anyway, since I blew past the four hour limit weeks ago, I am entering Le Grand Guignol and hoping for the best.