Blackbird (WIP)


#1

Summary
In this Lovecraftian mystery, you must search through the files of a missing archaeologist in an attempt to find and rescue him.

Set in the fictional South American country of Costaguana, Saint of Darkness will have you digging through the past thirty years of archaeologist Lucius Thayer's life. As you search through Thayer's files, you will need to uncover who his friends are and who are his enemies. And you will discover what dangerous treasure they are all searching for...

Author's Note
SAINT OF DARKNESS doesn't follow the usual COG format where the player travels through a narrative making choices. Instead, the game is presented as a database of files that the player needs to search through to find the solution to the mystery.

My hope is to create a different type of immersion using the COG mechanics. SAINT OF DARKNESS takes a lot of its inspiration from exploratory games like EVERYBODY'S GONE TO RAPTURE and HER STORY, nonlinear narratives where the player discovers the story. The link includes roughly the first fifth of the game. (I'm roughly 3/5th of the way through). I realize this will not be everyone's cup of tea, but please give it a try and let me know what you think of the game so far!

https://dashingdon.com/go/906

Thanks!


#2

I wanted to ask the CoG community, have any of you read a text game that follows this search format?

As I said in the first post, exploratory games like HER STORY were an inspiration. In terms of literature, Manuel Puig's BETRAYED BY RITA HAYWORTH, which is a presented as a few journal entries and letters, is a source of inspiration, as is THE UNFORTUNATES by B. S. Johnson, a book that is literally a box with 27 different sections placed inside of it, to be read in no particular order.

Reading similar works will help me with the kinks in my own WIP. I appreciate the help.


#3

Try the forum community game. (Search for Uncle Irwin's bookshop) It's sort of got a format like that.


#4

This format reminds me of @Vendetta 's Gangster WiP where there is a central hub with spokes radiating out and which you explore in free-form sandbox form.

Her Story worked because of the visual clues - I do think you set a tougher but ultimately more rewarding bar here.

I think where the community will have issues is that to "get" this story, you can't be casual about reading it. With most CoG/Hosted titles a person can multi-task and also skim through it and still have a successful experience. I don't think this level of casualness will be possible here.


#5

Thanks for your input. My big concern was that I wasn't writing in the second person "you," but you're right: I'm asking the reader for a level of attention that CoG readers don't usually give. (I'm the same way when I read most CoG and Hosted titles.)

Anyone with more thoughts on the gameplay? I'm hoping different mechanics will be enough to appeal to people to try the game. At point I'm still refining the clues in the "NEW SEARCH" function.

Thanks!


#6

Such a promising project I wonder whatever happened to it.


#7

This concept is very clever, the story is intriguing and your writing really conveys the feeling of the different types of documents and the characters' personalities. There is something really refreshing about the switch in styles (going from letter form to interview transcriptions etc).

I can't help but think Choicescript is the wrong medium for this kind of thing, though. I can imagine it being great in a more traditional style of IF, where the player actually types in text commands to search the files, like a cmd prompt:

>search thayer
Your search yielded 3 results
 1. thayer_bio.pdf
 2. letter_to_thayer1993.txt
 3. Miskatonic.edu/thayer.html
>open 2

As it is right now, I feel a little disconnected from the game. I think precisely because of the reason above, that I'm not actually searching through files myself, there is just a list of search terms that I can pick from... I'm sure the path I take through the files will have some consequence (or I hope it will), but it doesn't feel that way. Feels like I'm just clicking through the files at half-random and that they're presented in a sequential, linear order, so my choices don't really matter.

Ideas for improvement
If you really want to stick with doing it in ChoiceScript, I have a few ideas you might want to consider. (Not sure if any of this could work in this case, I'll let you be the judge of that.)

The "new search" menu bugs me because if I'm actually searching for documents containing a word like "Cardinale", I would expect it to show me a list of several documents that contain my query (as above). But I'm immediately shown a letter or other document. Instead of or after a search menu, you could have a list of files to pick, even maybe files named like files. For example: "letter_cardinal_thayer1993.txt" or "CIA_Transcript_Hartley.pdf".

Also, I noticed that a couple times I used a search term and the document it pulled up had none of the keywords in it. For example, the second "Xinnabela" choice pulls up the "archaeological excavation report filed by Dr. Thayer, L., PhD", which makes no mention of that word at all (which makes me wonder why it would come up as a result at all). Similarly, "Marco incident" pulls up the "from the CIA interview of Hartley, M" document, which made no mention of the keywords "Marco" or "incident".

I get that you can't make a list of every single file pertaining to a search query because you need to control the story progression. Which brings me to my next point:

There needs to be some sort of progress tracking or some sort of reason I can't access the latest, most illuminating files right from the start. I would suggest something like a "X% decrypted" stat on the stats page, you start at 1% decrypted, and every time you open a file it increases the decrypted stat, which then allows you access to new files. That would explain why a search term might not pull up all the pertinent documents from the start. If I pick "Thayer" in "Search Now", there could be a list of several documents, and the ones you don't want the player to see till later could be unselectable and marked as such: "letter_thayer.txt (9% decrypted)" That would make me feel like I have something to work towards, you know?

There could also be some sort of countdown of the time you have left to solve the case. Or just regular count of how many "hours" you spent searching the documents. That could work as a motivator to not waste time examining less helpful documents that you could bypass. It could also be used to determine the endings you get, like if you manage to save Thayer's life (if that's one of the ultimate goals). A simple count of the number of documents the player has read could also do the trick.

Another way to help give the player a feeling of progression would be to use achievements. Right now, I have no idea if what I'm reading is just general documents that basically everyone reads in every playthrough, or if I'm on a branch, a path that leads somewhere that I wouldn't have gone if I had chosen another option. If an achievement pops up says "You discovered X", then I'll know I discovered something cool/interesting, maybe unique because of my choices, and that I'm making progress.

So that's it from me, sorry for the wall of text, I hope I expressed myself ok and it's not too much of a garbled mess. This is a great, unique WiP, I wish more people would share their thoughts about it. I wish you good luck, I'll be keeping my eye on this one =)


#8

Thanks for the really thoughtful input, Sithwist. I really appreciate it.

One reason I'm opting for the using the NEW SEARCH prompts instead of an IF type of format is that I'm mainly creating this game as a way to better understand decision trees in game design. The openness of the IF format has its appeal, but I find I can also control the story by what choices I offer - and not just by what words I direct the player to.

For example (and this may be a failed idea) you mentioned there were times when the keywords didn't show up in the documents that the choices led to. The point of that is try to get the reader to search for the relationship between his or her choice and the document that it leads to. (Minor SPOILER) often when the choice is for Isabel Cardinale, the document will refer to BLACKBIRD and vice versa. There are several other instances where the name in the "search" options leads to a document with that person's code name instead of the actual name listed in the choice.

Your suggestion of progress tracking is a great idea. I kept thinking of it in terms of the "stats" that is the Choicescript default, but I'm going to take your suggestion of using achievements. I was also thinking about using a "live" communication to make the search feel time sensitive. You think that would play well? I'm still ambivalent.

Thanks again for the great input.


#9

Too much time pressure and it will feel forced to the average reader; its not like a movie where pace is under your direct and total control. This goes back to what I was saying earlier. Again ymmv.


#10

Right, I see what you're trying to do now. It's a good idea. Maybe if you emphasize that SERA is a very powerful state-of-the-art search tool in the initial message from the special agent it would clarify things. Actually, I think just rewording the "New Search" to "SERA search suggestions" or better yet "SERA found 3 related documents" or something of the sort would make it much less disconcerting.

Right now with "New search", it feels like I'm the one typing the queries and the system deciding what I get to read (not giving me any choice in the matter). If you reword it to say something like "SERA found 3 related documents", it would feel like the system giving me options to choose from, and me using my judgement on what to explore next. See what I mean? It's subtle, but it reverses the dynamic in a big way, making the player feel in control: they're making the decision, not the system.

Depends, what do you mean by that? Live communication with who? The agent in charge? @Eiwynn has a point, too much pressure isn't good, but I think some light communication at regular intervals (boss just checking in on progress) would help with immersion since this is supposed to be a somewhat time-sensitive mission. I did find myself wondering how I'd get in touch and when I'd communicate with my boss if I found out something interesting.

A related idea would be to have a persistent menu option that allows the player to initiate communication with the boss, and every time you discover something interesting it could open up a new discussion topic option with him. (If there's nothing new, the exhausted options would be greyed out and you'd just have the option to go back to the search.) That might be a lot of work for you though, this is just my sleep deprived just-putting-my-random-thoughts-out-there moment right now.

Yeah I mean you could definitely use the stat screen in a unique way. You can put a player's progress percentage bar based on how many files they have read vs how many files there are, how many discoveries have been made out of how many are possible, maybe even have a "Case notes" section with a very brief paragraph recap of the important character bios that the player can check if they forget who is who, recap of important discoveries too maybe.

Oh, and couple other things to mention:

  • If you pick "Dr. Lucius Thayer Biography" in the very first new search, there's a "404 error while loading game data" - I think the scene file "thayer_bio.txt" you reference there is missing from the folder on Dashingdon.
  • I noticed you have your *create name "" above your *scene_list, that could cause some problems later on, I think, it's best to declare variables after the *scene_list.
  • Right now the stats screen is bugging out if you click the button because choicescript_stats.txt is trying to reference variables that you deleted from the startup.txt file. But I'm sure you were going to get to that soon.

#11

Thanks again for the great input, guys. I'm taking a few of your suggestions.

  • If I decide to use "live" communication it will be more for tracking player progress than for making anything appear time sensitive.
  • More exposition on SERA and changing that text "NEW SEARCH" could also do a lot to make the player experience a bit smoother.
  • Thanks for pointing out the 404 message. It should be fixed now.

I may add more pages in the next couple weeks without making these broader changes. I have some work assignments coming up, so the Saint of Darkness will have to take a back seat.

Thanks again!


#12

UPDATES: "Saint of Darkness" now titled "Blackbird."

The newer version can be found at https://dashingdon.com/go/1064

I had to change the address because I'm having issues updating files on DashingDon. Not all of the files I upload overwrite the files that have already been uploaded. (For example, in-game, the title is still "Saint of Darkness" because I couldn't update the startup.txt file.)

There's about twice as much text as there was during my first upload. I've implemented some of the changes suggested in this forum, but I haven't yet implemented a trophy system to help the player track his progress.

Thanks for playing, and let me know what you think!


#14

Hey, y’all!

It’s been a while, and I wanted to let you all know my game is now out! Re-titled The Spy and the Labyrinth, Hosted Games released it last Friday.

Thanks to everyone who played the beta and who gave your important input. Judging by reviews so far, about half of the players don’t seem to be “getting” how the game mechanics are different than most COG and IF. Look, if you want to leave your two cents on Google Play or itunes - good or bad - I’d really appreciate it. A review that actually understands what the game is trying to be would be really helpful.

I don’t think we’ve exhausted the possibilities of what we can do in interactive fiction and ChoiceScript. Video games are getting more mature and sophisticated every year; they’re no longer about shooting everything that moves or moving a little Italian plumber from the left side of a map to the right side of the map. ChoiceScript game from COG and Hosted Games are probably the most accessible interactive fiction games out there, but aside from sheer scope, most have not explored what a powerful tool this language can be.

I hope all of you can imagine new ways to use ChoiceScript that can give a deeper player experience, and I hope to play your games in the future!

Thanks again!


#15

Congratulations on the release! I have not checked it out yet but will be glad to do so when I have a minute. Anyone willing to get experimental is to be applauded.


#16

Love the demo can’t wait to buy the full game, but I wanna ask does any feel like the red hood while playing it.


#17

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