Friday, September 19, 2014


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
Usability Concerns
The Colors of Coloratura
Otherworldly Rules
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.

Musical Suggestions:
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
General Play

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.


  1. I just finished Coloratura. I played it in silence and without the map, having only just come across these notes after the epilogue, so the experience may not been exactly as you intended. Nevertheless, I love the game. It's truly ingenious, I've never played anything like it before. Thank you.

  2. I've just finished Coloratura and it was only upon reading the Maps and Reality article that I realised what I did when I silenced the Sleepers in the prologue. I finished the game wondering why nobody else on the ship woke up. Chilling. Thank you.

  3. Well, I just finished Coloratura. And I must say, it had me hooked. The combination of the alien perspective with the direct insight into the emotional state of the humans around you was absolutely stellar as a narration device. Am I doing the right thing? Should I be helping me or helping them? I was left in a constantly shifting state of orange, green and yellow. A fantastic experience!

  4. Really tremendous. I was hooked from the first.

  5. Great job! Played it through straight in a couple of hours; perhaps the most enjoyable game I've played in the new era of IF. Real kudos to you. Looking forward to your other games. The indirect gameplay reminded me at times of Suspended, and at other times of AMFV, but that may just be me misremembering and/or showing my age.

  6. Just echoing everyone else - what a fun and unique game!

  7. I just finished Coloratura. I played both Creatures Such as We and most of Sea Eternal and loved them both, which lead me here, and let me just say that nothing I have ever played compares to this. As a writer of science fiction myself I am in awe at the concept, the imagery, and how you got me to root for a protagonist who was ultimately harming humans throughout the whole story. What an incredible experience this was. I hope to play the rest of your works as well. You're a truly brilliant author.