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This was quite the rocky intro into game design. I've had one Java class, and one web design class (where I made a hypertext game before those were a real thing.) I picked up Inform, and started away on my 25-room grand vision. With hindsight, I should have maybe worked on smaller exercises first, because it was a huge undertaking, and I ended up writing a lot of redundant code. For example, I ended up programming a door manually, instead of just labeling it a "door". Oops. Had to strip that out. But actually in diving in and sticking to it, I learned a lot: about the language, about design, about sticking to a schedule, and the importance of constant testing.
I wanted to create an atmosphere with a very real sense of danger, and give incentives for defending yourself appropriately. Wandering zombie encounters were created to punish lazy decisions. It's somewhat similar to The Zombie Survival Guide, in that the focus is on basic survival: dealing with food, water, shelter and other survivors. It gets grim as you eventually realize that the survivors can be just as dangerous as the zombies. With that said, I think the closest inspiration would be Left 4 Dead, which you can see with the inclusion of the frying pan weapon.
There were several parts of the game that were very important to me, but also very difficult to pull off. First of all, I didn't want important objects to be listed at the bottom, in their own paragraph. I incorporated things organically into the scenery description.
In a similar desire to create an illusion of organic flow, I did not want to use diary notes to tell the story, but instead rely on scenery evidence. The piled dead non-zombie bodies, the broken barricades, the headache in the radiation room. They all told a part of the story that was present to the player to piece together. I did resort to one set of medical notes, as an optional read, but only because I imagined hospital workers would have cared about making accessible medical notes on the epidemic that is overwhelming the hospital. It wouldn't have made sense for doctors to not have any notes, to not write down whatever information they could about something so dangerous.
That was another goal of mine: internal logic and consistency. Taking too many pain relief pills kills you. Shooting too many bullets means you're out. Mixing ammonia and bleach is a bad idea. Keep that consistent attention to detail and maintaining in-game logic was very important to me in creating a good game.
Finally, I cared about offering options. The player is given the opportunity to commit suicide, which while dark, would definitely be something many people would consider in the circumstances. You also have the option of "approaching" a zombie and accepting your fate. I personally never would, but I included the choice.
Anyway, the game placed 11th out of 26th in the competition, which was a bit disappointing, but there were some silver linings. I heard repeated over and over that the 2010 IF Comp had some of the highest median scores overall out of any comp. My game didn't do well comparatively, but stand-alone, as a first attempt, it was really rated highly, and I'm proud of how it did for what it was.
Room for Improvements
As a first attempt, the game was mostly a learning experience. I made some mistakes, and there are quite a lot of things that I wish had gone better. The game ended up being fairly bug-free, but it could have had better design elements. I don't plan to go back and fix them (because I want to keep moving forward with newer, more exciting projects) but I did want to note things I should have done better:
- I shouldn't have let loopy writing stay the main game. Jokes that felt hilarious at 1am should have been reviewed and cut to maintain consistent tone.
- Making the player move two object in front of the doors was a timewaster, and unfair of a puzzle.
- The arbitrary time limit to find a reusable weapon was unfair, making the game harder than I intended.
- A currently untraced bug sometimes causes rogue zombie attackers to disappear. Since this usually happens when you are unarmed, it unintentionally makes the game as easy as it should have been.
- Because the PC is an employee of the hospital, he should recognize some of the corpses.
- There should have been more backstory and motivation surrounding the territorial survivor.
- The backstory with the man in the closet should have been better fleshed out, or given a different dynamic.
- Attempting to eat corpses should have ended the game.
- It needed better story, writing, and proofreading in general.
- I should have allowed more time for bugfixing and testing.