Note that this is the main page for my commentary on Coloratura. It will contain spoilers.
Coloratura (main page)
Download file (Original Text Adventure version - requires interpreter)
Play online (Original Text Adventure version)
Play online (Twine version)
Click here for the map of the game world.
Coloratura was a fun way for me to combine three of my favorite passions: science, music, and horror into something truly novel and exciting. It also was a great exercise in game design and planning. It won first place in the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition and the "Best Game" award in the 2013 XYZZY awards, along with several other rewards.
I've made several pieces of behind-the-scenes commentary on Coloratura:
Maps and Reality
The Chile Triple Junction
The Colors of Coloratura
Coloratura - Final Thoughts
Coloratura and the XYZZY Awards
My primary goal was, of course, to make something fun, engaging, and interesting. I focused heavily on instilling players with the protagonist's desires: to direct players through environmental cues and protagonist-inferred need. I avoided oddball objectives, and I worked hard to redirect players through in-game hints whenever they started barking up the wrong tree or got stuck. For example, one of the ways I achieved this was through time-sensitive hints that would only trigger for players who were in the wrong area for several turns, to help encourage them to look for solutions elsewhere. This emphasis on player-focused puzzle creation help net Coloratura both "Best Individual Puzzle" and "Best Puzzles" in the 2013 XYZZY awards.
I also knew that it was important to get players to identify with the otherworldy protagonist instead of the human antagonists, so I focused on establishing and maintaining a discomfort and alien feel to what is actually a (somewhat) familiar kind of setting. I achieved this with the synesthesia descriptions, non-visible colors, inappropriate application of grammar tokens, and a liberal use of nonsense words. In the past, I've made other games with non-human Player Characters, but I didn't that feel I had done a good enough job of instilling that identity in players. That affected player progression when game puzzles relied on that aspect of the character's physiology. Players loved and connected with the protagonist's voice so much that it won "Best Individual PC" in the 2013 XYZZY awards while still in the nomination phase.
I also cared a lot about creating a realistic and fact-based world setting. I feel that the surreal can only work as a story device by having its own rigid rule structure and by a strict adherence to reality in the mundane. This greatly enhanced the game story; many of the more interesting puzzles and experiences were born from accounting for real-world limitations (such as the large-sized crew).
As a smaller, personal challenge, I was curious what it would be like to create a game where you did not take any objects. I instead focused on puzzles where you manipulated the characters and the environment, and it really enriched the characterization and gameplay. I did end up fudging that rule a bit by allowing the protagonist to carry some properties (like heat), but overall introducing this element of helplessness gave the gameplay better focus on the story and plot flow. It also helped emphasize the protagonist's discomfort and non-belonging to the physical world.
Coloratura is a very musical game.
These are suggested auditory pairings. They are presented here as
suggestions, so as not to feel imposed or essential to gameplay.
Blind One language
I had several inspirations with the game.
Robert D. Ballard's Titanic: Challenge of Discovery
They're Made out of Meat
Back to the Future II
Many, many cool horror adventure games
The Challenge of Discovery game was one of my favorites growing up. It was a FMV about getting together a crew to find and explore underwater wrecks. I had always loved the idea of doing underwater research, of being a part of the deep ocean. I wanted to make a game that paid homage to that fascination.
Solaris (or even to a lesser extent Alien) dealt with humans facing an unknown (and perhaps unknowable) alien entity, as well as what happens when that alien being pokes back.
They're Made out of Meat is a great short movie about an alien race that feels disgusted over an intelligent race made of meat instead of machines. I did actually change the creative direction away from disgust towards pity and confusion.
Back to the Future II may sound like a strange inspiration, but a large part of it deals with a movie taking place in the backdrop of another movie. There is definitely a human-sided horror movie to Coloratura, but we only get glimpses into that movie's story. In Coloratura, as with BTTF2, we're concerned with a completely different angle.