Halloween Jam 2022

Hello everyone!

I come to present to you a new section in the Jam. Mara’s interview Friday. My first interviewee is Jim Datillo @JimD . One of the most prolific writers on the platform with games on all Cog’s branches. His Saga of apocalyptic games is among the best sellers and valued. He is also a great friend who has already put up with me all these years, complaining about Emma an entire decade. Look for his profile and buy his games. You won’t regret it.

1-You are an author that has touched on several genres in your career. But I think one thing It permeates all your stories is an atmospheric mastery of storytelling. Can you suggest how to set the tone of a story?

It’s important to set the tone of your game from the start and stay consistent. Many of my games are both lighthearted and dark and horrific. I try to maintain a good balance throughout the entire game and never lose sight of the tone. It’s also important to read other works in the same genre or just those that inspire you.

2-Does the genre affect how you design the stats and choices?

It certainly plays a part. For example, with a game like Safe Haven, I always pictured a variety of skills that it would take to survive an apocalyptic event. Therefore, it’s useful to create a system wherein the player can build characters that will utilize those skills. Plus, I know players enjoy customization, and the more skills or stats lead to more variety a player can have.

3-One of the most challenging parts of the contest and jams is working inside a deadline. Can you give us advice about planning an account with that in mind?

I have always been good at sticking to deadlines. One of my tricks is to set a date that seems realistic and stick to it no matter what. When I set a date, I usually post on social media or on the CoG forum to set an expectation with my readers. I don’t want to let them down, so it keeps me on schedule.

4-Do you prepare the code before or after writing the scene’s text? How has your way of coding changed through years?

I typically write and code all at the same time. I have done this from the very first day of using Choicescript until today. It really comes down to writer preference. For me, this has always worked.

5-Do you consider stats part of the storytelling, or do you see just a game mechanic?

It’s truly both. Stats can enhance the storytelling, because it allows you to build characters and also to track how those characters progress through the story. You can then use it to cater the story to their choices. Creating impact based on player choice is one of the most powerful parts of this craft.

6-Romances are trendy same mysterious and thrilling settings. How do you balance NPCs to be more Than the romance option?

NPCs are still characters in the game that need to be multidimensional. I don’t enjoy stories where romantic options are simply put there to serve as flavor text or accessories. They need to have wants and needs and flaws. They also need to change over time, so players become interested in their stories.

7-Many novice writers suffer from stress and uncertainty when they have to show something publicly. Have you ever been through that? If so, how are you able to cope with it?

The hardest thing is to grow confidence in your own writing. The only way I have found to do so is to start posting your work publicly and getting feedback.

Most feedback is going to fall into one of three categories. First, purely negative feedback (example: this game sucks). These types of reviews provide nothing of value and can be thrown away.

Secondly, purely positive feedback (example: this is the best game I’ve ever played). While great for your confidence, they provide little of value and can be thrown away.

Thirdly, constructive feedback. This is the best type of feedback you can receive. Value this feedback and study it. Make changes to your game. Ask questions to get more information out of your reviewers.

If people are providing you the third type of feedback, the constructive type, then you are doing something right. A reader is taking valuable time to write to you about your game. These are the people that should give you confidence that you are a good creator.

I have definitely gone through periods where I have been anxious to share my writing, but the best way to cope with it is to post your writing and start getting feedback.

8-Any advice to people starting to write?

First off, start simple. I see a number of writers posting WIPs with tons of features and a huge scope of work.

One of my most successful games, Zombie Exodus, had very few stats or features. As I grew to understand Choicescript, I included more features and made my games more complicated.

At the start, you need to get comfortable with writing, meeting deadlines, editing and testing, and responding to feedback. You don’t need to add complexity to your game until you are comfortable with all of the other aspects of writing.

Focus on one game. We all have great ideas, but it can be a mistake to start a game and then shift your focus to another. I have seen people abandon impressive WIPs to start another project and never go back to the first one. Stick with one game and see it through to the end.

Cherish your beta testers. With all of the new WIPs out there, we are all competing for beta testers. CoG has some of the best out there, and when you find good ones, you need to cultivate those relationships. Good testers are hard to find and even harder to replace.

16 Likes

I keep falling into the trap of thinking I have to write on the first part of the game, even though it makes me feel stuck and unmotivated.

6 Likes

My experience if you feel a scene of part of a project is dragging you or is a chore. That is your mind telling you shoul rethink the scene. If not you can always start writing other scenes and let your writing skills get recharged before return the scene you struggle with

When I get stuck like that I change gears to work backwards. Think about where you want the story to go and decide what steps you need to get there.

2 Likes

Should the whole game take place during the ball/party?

1 Like

No, there has to be a party but it could be just the final two chapters However, the party has to be something important for the plot.

For example, Your character group pretends to kill a rival party using the masked party as a way to get away with it. Half game is not in the party but the party is important element as the Pc is preparing for it

2 Likes

How strict is the ‘no public info’ rule?

Can we ask for ideas, feedback on small specifics, make a poll about which of certain ideas people like best?

No poll no public feedback. My advice and what I do and most people do is having a Alpha tester or two. Ask to afriend in pm and have it as a resonance chamber.

There is a reason for this. In many publishers and contest there are strictly no publicly talking about the project until certain develovepment phase.

As writers it is a learning curve learn to work without constant feedback and polls. We have to learn to stick our gut and our vision.

However, If a poll is key to your plot to the point of you cant going on without it You can give me your specifics and I will make a poll. But really It is not desirable

I do have other people I can ask, if I need to.

I think I mainly just miss the community and camaraderie there was present the first year.
The secrecy seems to have removed that, so everyone is just writing their game in isolation, without having fun together.

6 Likes

I had complaints last time that people felt discouraged of seeing others advance more than them and seeing other games.

I would take your feedback and others to think about change this to follow up jams.

Maybe even have a poll at the end of this jam if people want a discord server for writers that joined the jam.

This is a learning curve for me as Hostess so I am super interested in hear everyone feedback to make each jam better than the previous.

2 Likes

Okay, after talking with some people and hearing your overall feedback from community and participants I have decided to ease the policy of no talking about your games.

You can talk about your game and give details of it But you can’t put your game public until deadline

Except that limitation you are free to talk about it and enjoy sharing your experience If people want I can even create a Discord server exclusive to people who participate in the jam

10 Likes

I think a Discord server is a great idea!

2 Likes

I will do it. I will gave more information soon. Basically only will have access people who will sign up for the jam to me and will have different sections from art to feedback when people can help with snippets of games and as well a coding channel.

and of course off topic. This is for fun after all.

Edit actually writing a scene with one of my favourite songs for writing street brawl fighting scenes. Enjoy!

4 Likes

Open joining the jam time

You can joining here or if you don’t want make it public You can pm.

Joining only mean that you are working on a entry nobody will pressure you for it. We are together to learn and have good time.

The joining of the jam would gain access to the jam discord server I will create this weekend a server deboted to writing learn code gain feedback for the jam and having fun in the process.

Tomorrow I will launch the second interview to The Friday Interview. So, stay tunned!

6 Likes

That’s fun. I’m up for it!

3 Likes

I’m joining :slight_smile:

3 Likes

You are welcome when the server is running I will send you the invite

3 Likes

I am interested in joining the Discord as well. I don’t have a workable version to share yet, but I got most the plotting down. :smiley:

3 Likes

I’m joining too :blush:

2 Likes

Today I bring to the jam one of the most famous Interactive writers during almost two decades Endmaster many times he is polemic. Still, there is no doubt about his work quality and his knowledge about engaging villains and thrilling plots.

  1. Do you first create your characters and then design the lore and storyline, or is it the other way around?

There’s usually no set way. Most of the time I create at least some of the characters along with the storyline and lore first, and then more characters, storyline paths and lore as needed later. I usually have at least some of the major paths and endings already in mind, along with various major events, but with branching stories, there’s always things that pop up that I need to make up as I go along.

If I absolutely had to pick which one I tend to focus on in the beginning, it would be the storyline since that’s the whole major point of what the protagonist has to go through. The characters the protagonist meets or has to deal with are developed as needed for the various paths and branches.

Been plenty of times when I just created a character for a minor thing and then they turned out to play a much larger role in the story. The reverse is also true too, like major character I had in mind turns out to not be very important after all. Developing the lore sort of depends on the story in mind. Fantasy and scifi type settings might go into a little more background lore if needed, but I usually try to make stuff like that as an optional choice so it doesn’t bog down the rest of the story.

  1. What do you advise us, beginners, to do to better plan our characters and stories? Any program to help us?

Start small and do some basic outlining of the story before everything else. You can get overwhelmed if you don’t organize and attempt something too large if you haven’t done it before.

While I’m sure there are programs to help with organizing, I’ve never used any. I tend to just keep extensive notes on everything on Word documents. Keep track of major characters, places, events, etc. Along with major paths I need to work on and choice branches I still need to finish.

Basically I have my own system of doing things and don’t feel like changing it up since it’s been working fine for two decades now.

  1. There is a fine line between well-created evil characters with a deep and credible personality of flat and edgy evil characters who have no real reason for how they act. What do you recommend to create good villains?

As with any character (good or evil) you just have to design motives and personality for them. Always found that memorable dialog helps with villains, though I like to write a lot of dialog in general.

It still sort of depends on the story you’re going for. There are times you really don’t need a complex villain because it isn’t necessary and just want one that gets on with the baby killing, not brooding about how she didn’t get enough hugs as a child. Of course if you do have a shallower villain, the main thing you still have to focus on is to at least make her entertaining. Have her juggling the babies or something before she throws them against the wall. Amusing stuff like that.

But going back to the deeper villains, I tend to write a lot of villain protagonists so of course those are going to have more personality to them since they’re what the reader is playing as.

The question then becomes how to go about writing a good antagonist rather than traditional villain. The same method applies, which is to design them according to their own motives and flesh out their personalities as you would with any major character and stay consistent. You just have a lot more range with it since these can be the noble type looking to stomp out your brand of villainy or they might be worse than you are.

I’ve found that when writing a villain protagonist, it’s best to just go all the way with it.

Most of the time when an “evil choice” is given in a game, it’s an after thought. It’s sort of just there as an option as if to tick off a box. (Like romances) Sometimes it doesn’t even make that much of a difference, other times there is no real path so much as its just killing everyone in sight. Which while that can be fun, that’s not necessarily the brand of evil you were trying to go for. If you just avoid any type of noble or heroic pretenses whatsoever there’s less dilution and you can focus more on what’s important. (Evil stuff)

Of course this isn’t to say your villain protagonist can’t still do nice things within the story. No reason to kick a puppy if that isn’t the way the story is going.

  1. I and many novice writers suffer from stress and uncertainty when we have to show something publicly. Have you ever been through that? If so, how are you able to cope it?

Not really. I’ve never cared enough mainly because I’m never writing with an audience primarily in mind, I’m writing mainly for myself.

Anything I write is something that I would want to read and play through, so if it’s pleasing to me, then that’s all that matters. I’m not really worrying about what others think of it, if I did that, then I’d never write anything. If someone else likes it, fine. If they don’t that’s fine too.

Besides, really angry negative reviews are funny. Honestly I’m probably doing something severely wrong if I’m not offending someone out there.

  1. You have been decades writing games of great quality many of them you need years to finish. Without the pressure of commercial publishing. How do you maintain your focus and will to finish your games?

Any story I’m writing it’s something that I find interesting and I would want to read. So that helps keep the focus most of the time. There’s also the fact that I really hate leaving things unfinished. Like I usually really can’t move on with another project unless I get the one I was working on first out of the way. I have done it before with a single detour for another story, but it isn’t something I like to make a habit of and it would drive me nuts to have several unfinished stories.

That being said, there’s a lot of ideas that I have like a bare minimum outline for, maybe even a first page written, but in those cases, they’re really still more in the idea phase rather than an actual work in progress. I just make the initial notes so I can return to them hopefully when I have time to focus on them.

  1. What is your opinion on stats and romance?

Well let’s get stats out of the way first.

Stats are fine, never had anything against them in IFs. The old gamebooks I used to play back in the 80s were mostly stat based (Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, etc) to some degree. I actually gravitated towards those more than I did the pure choice text based ones. (The old original CYOA books)

Which of course is funny, because I only write pure choice text based stories. I toyed with making a more “gamey” story once and soon learned how much of an unfun slog it is to write. From there on in, I decided I was going to stick with writing pure text choice.

Now I think where problems come in with stats is when the writer is just shoving them in when they don’t actually do anything or very little. It starts becoming like an old RPG from the 80s where you had 50 skills to pick from, but only 10 of those actually were useful in the game.

Basically, if you’re going to have stats, make sure they’re at least useful in the game somehow rather than pointless window dressing where it doesn’t actually affect gameplay and you probably never need as many as you think you do.

Moving on to romance which everyone seems to think is the end all be all in IFs nowadays for some strange reason. Not talking about stuff that is specifically written with a romance focus. If that’s the focus then it’s what it’s supposed to be.

But for other genres, I’m unsurprisingly not really a big fan of it and tend to just roll my eyes at how many people seem to worry about what text waifus are available rather than more essential stuff like y’know the plot.

I will say this dislike probably extends from today’s RPGs where you got more people screaming about making this and that character romancible while the rest of the gameplay goes flying out the window because the developers were stupid enough to listen to the unwashed masses. (AKA Bioware Syndrome)

And this seems to happen to writers of IFs all the time along with shoving in romance because they feel they have to for whatever reason. Ultimately you end up with rushed or badly written character in general which is pretty terrible for an IF since writing quality is all you have.

If you’re going to write romances it would at least be better to just focus on a few deeper ones. Don’t have a whole bunch unless you’re really going to put the work in for all of them (and most don’t). And if some reader screams at you because you didn’t include whatever as an option, tell them to go find another IF or write it themselves.

  1. What is your take on publication and monetization?

Well I guess the only thing I can say about that is make sure you read the contract and make sure you’re getting a good deal if you’re trying to get published with someone.

If you’re a reader, I can see the appeal of getting a free demo of some of the game and then unlocking the rest of it, if you liked it enough to pay for the rest. Not really a fan of the concept of paying for special locked content though, I guess that one works out more for the author (or company) as far as making money goes.

Personally I wouldn’t lock anything though if I was selling something. Just a flat one time payment and you get the whole story.

  1. How come you haven’t tried to become professionally published?

I see no major reason to. I mean I’ve gotten offers in the past about such things, but they always seemed shady or disorganized at best. Even the more established companies are pretty scummy with their business practices. Definitely wouldn’t go that route.

I imagine even if I wanted to do the whole itchio/twine thing I’d probably have to use more social media to get the word out, patreon to beg for money (While wondering if they’re going to ban me for content or something dumb), learn coding, actually have to listen to whining readers and all that all other crap that I have absolutely no desire to do.

Though I will say, I’ve already been “professionally published” when those guys created AI Dungeon using all my stories (And other CYS stories) to help build their AI and released it for the public. The hilarious results of what happened with that were way better than any monetary compensation.

If someone actually came up with a deal that actually was a good one, I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea, but until then I’m perfectly fine being the IF equivalent of crime cartel videos: Known via underground infamy, completely free entertainment if someone so desires to seek them out and most importantly doing it for my own enjoyment.

  1. Any word advice you want to give to the jam audience?

Just follow your vision and focus until your finish writing something you’re pleased with.

5 Likes