Adventure Gamers - Forums
What would entice you to help make a community game?
I’m programmer that loves puzzle/adventure games and am interested in getting a group of people together to make a not for profit game. I’m not looking to break into the game dev scene as a job (I have a full time one already doing other things) - it’s more that I really love coding and making games, and hanging out with like minded people online.
What I really want is to get as many people as I can involved - even if they can’t code, or make art, if they can come up with puzzle ideas, see flaws, test the weekly builds, I’m sure we can find something for people to do, and can potentially share skills as required.
My question is - what sort of things would get YOU interested in participating? These are some of the areas i’ve considered, and would love any feedback or comments. Even if it doesn’t interest you at all - why?
Financial - I’m leaning towards any profit being donated to charity, that way it truly is more of a group project.
Game Type - I don’t want to be too prescriptive in terms of the type of game, but obviously would like it to appeal to those working on the project. My personal preference would be a first person 3D game (ie, Quern, Obduction, The Witness), however I’m quite flexible.
Time commitment - Minimal - people will drift in an out, contributing when they have the time without feeling they are overcommitting.
Decision Making - I favour the benign dictator approach, so that decisions can get made, however I think anyone can pitch ideas/suggestions changes to be discussed widely.
Scope - Small. Maybe 1 hour of game play. Aim to get a first draft out in 6 months.
Initial Progress - I’ll probably start putting a small demo together so at least you can see some commitment on my part - however without a firm idea of the game there is only so far I can go at this stage.
Let me know!
Let’s consider some community games I consider successful.
Cragne Manor is a text adventure made by over eighty authors, who collaborated to submit rooms in a massive supergame: https://rcveeder.net/cragne/
It’s sometimes frustrating, but generally quite fun. Here’s what makes it work, in my opinion.
* The unit of each contribution is clearly defined. Each author makes a room, and each room has a different ‘feel.’ Some are serious horror, and some are comedy. More are comedy than horror.
* The overall plan of the game makes broad sense - it’s clear that locations were planned out in a way that makes them feel connected to each other, creating a world that has some coherence.
* The game was inspired by Anchorhead, an existing text adventure, so everyone knew what they were going for, broadly speaking.
* Elements from one room are allowed to affect puzzles in another, but in ways that are not too fussy. Contributors listed items that they would need for a puzzle in their room, and items that could be provided, and a gigantic dependency graph was worked through to make sure the game remained winnable!
* Collection puzzles and other elements are used to pull together the locations. For example, the player needs to collect tons of library books and return them to the library room, and these books are scattered throughout the game.
* CRITICAL: A _LOT_ of work was done to harmonize and connect the submissions to each other, including the addition of a contextual hint system that tells the player whether they have the necessary items to solve a puzzle in a room.
Town of ZZT Remix, an ASCII game remake of Tim Sweeney’s classic The Town of ZZT that introduced entirely new puzzles and scenes. I contributed to this one in a minor way: https://museumofzzt.com/file/t/TOWNRMIX.zip
What made it work:
* Again, contributions were coordinated carefully, using a Google Doc to allow contributors to claim rooms (game boards).
* People were familiar with the original game they were rewriting, and used it as a skeleton to build upon.
* The original game had a modular structure: player collects 5 purple keys, which can be gotten in any order. So the contributions did not have to rely too much on each other.
* Lots of work was put into organizing and collecting the rooms and making sure they all worked together.
Commonalities between the examples that worked:
* The game should be highly modular. Rather than making a linear story, the puzzles should be fairly independent and can be solved in any order. If one section is badly designed, people can try a different section without being held back.
* The sections should have a shared theme, location, or inspiration, but allow a lot of freedom within that theme.
* Shared elements and goals that interact between sections should be agreed upon in advance.
I suggest doing a Colossal Cave remix. Here’s why:
* The original version of Colossal Cave appears to be in the public domain:
* At least one open-sourced versions of it have the blessing of an original author, Don Woods.
* It is literally one of the first adventure games, if not the very first, and so it has major community relevance.
* Gameplay is nonlinear, and the goal is to maximize points. Bringing back treasure from the cave gets points. Thus, if one section turns out to be unfairly designed, no big deal - the player can do other sections and earn score from there.
* No real plot to coordinate, but plenty of atmosphere.
* Remaking Colossal Cave is something of a tradition in interactive fiction, and is effectively how Zork came about.
* Some versions of it get really goofy - you can put anything you want in those rooms! Zork put a whole underground empire there.
* If we accept that this can be a “goofy” version (like Zork) rather than a more geographically realistic cave (like the original), then the connections between scenes can be pretty loose. A tunnel can take you from the ‘room with the big underground carousel’ to the ‘room with the secret Dwarven vault.’ Caves naturally make it so that rooms are not visible from other rooms. No need to have a sprawling landscape that somehow looks coherent after all of the pieces are put together!
First: the idea that I can contribute something of value. I’m not an artist, coder or designer and I’m not too confident in my abilities in any of those fields. I’m a health care worker, so I could provide support for people who feel like they’re losing their mind creating this game. Jokes aside, I’m glad you’ve addressed this point - if anything, I could test and provide feedback, help with brainstorming, stuff like that.
In terms of presentation/design: the games you describe seem hard to pull off, from where I’m standing. I would say that simplicity in this field would make a project more accessible. Text or ascii providing the lowest threshold. Then again, I have 0 experience with 3d modelling, so I can’t really judge.
I would rather contribute to a free game, or a cheap game where all proceeds go to charity. Then again, if I’m just a free beta-tester, I’m ok with contributing to a commercial game.
I’m cool with working for a lead designer. In theory, the process would work best if most goals are set beforehand. I’ve seen a couple of projects fail because people were working towards conflicting goals, sometimes only realizing this until the proces came to a standstill. A team might want to leave some room for pitching and discussing ideas, hearing and addressing people’s concerns, etc, but it shouldn’t get bogged down in open-ended planning.
That ZZT reference, though.. I did contribute to several group projects in ZZT, but it’s hard for me to look back at that time without a ton of painful memories shutting me down.
I’ve been thinking about your responses, and here’s one mad idea that might be fun as a group:
How about a web based text adventure, that anyone can contribute to, in real-time. I’m not sure of the details as yet - but say there is a broadly defined plot. Users can add dialogue to the existing game in a way that makes sense to them. So for instance, start with a game that presents you with a door and a key. Put the key in the lock - game over. On the next iteration, someone might get a bit trickier, and say maybe put the key under a stone or something. Iterate through this enough time and see what you end up with.
If you’re right into text adventures - you might add an entire room or scene in between. If you’re not that confident, maybe just add a random red herring, like a vending machine that gives you a can of coke you can drink.
I’m not sure how we’d go about editing existing dialogue, or pruning some trees etc but it’s do-able, and might be a fun way to spend an evening with other people on discord.
Personally the idea of a community game as you put it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m sorry that sounds so discouraging, but I want to explain why.
I have some experience of making ‘freeware’ games as an amateur (they’re all terrible - don’t bother looking for them) and I have also worked on a couple of other people’s games doing creative stuff for freeware and some testing for a couple of commercial games. It’s something I have greatly enjoyed doing in my free time over the last couple of decades, so believe me when I say that the idea of making games, including with others, is one that appeals to me.
So what’s my problem with this idea then?
As anyone who has ever tried to make an adventure type game knows, even making an extremely short (5 min playtime) and really shockingly poor quality game is an absolutely unbelievable amount of work. More than that, even contributing a very small part to someone else’s game is a lot of work. With any ‘not for profit’ game the chances of it never getting finished are very high when it’s one person working alone. The chances with a team might be better in some circumstances, but the chances with a group of randoms must be close to 100%. I myself have been a part of more than one failed project. And what happened to the effort that I and so many others put in? Lost in the ether. I’m not bitter really!
OK, enough negative, from my very limited amount of experience of this what positive things can make a group project work?
1. People need to know that what they are working on is something they are interested in/passionate about. I can’t count the number of fan remake projects that have got together over the years to varied success (mostly failure it’s true) but they got as far as they did because people wanted to do it based on a game they loved. For me, the pitch here is too vague to pique the interest of many. If you have a good idea people will want to be involved.
2. I know the ‘Benign dictator’ seems appealing but (IMO) it is a massive error with volunteers. Where I have contributed something to projects that actually saw the light of day and it worked well, the common factor is that someone is in charge, knows what they want and asks people for something specific one small piece at a time. i.e. “can you write me a piece of music in this style for this situation?” Or “can you do x animation for this character”.
3. Having a core team who make major decisions is a strong card in any project’s favour, to steer the overall direction. Ideally something like an art director, lead writer, lead sound/composer or you’ll end up with disparate assets that cannot be fused together into anything other than incoherent nonsense.
Finally - examples of a couple of freeware projects which worked along similar lines to what I’ve suggested above and were either successful, or mostly successful.
KQ9 – The Silver Lining. By what became Phoenix Online Studios. So this one was never actually properly finished, but they got parts of it out and it was pretty impressive. I wasn’t personally involved in it but I did follow it along fairly closely and having a couple of passionate and organised people in ‘lead’ roles really helped get them as far as they did.
A Tale of Two Kingdoms. By Crystal Shard. Although this has now got a commercial release, it was long a shining example of an AGS freeware team project done well. Again there were strong ideas and direction from a core team and especially the guy in charge, who might have been viewed by some as less ‘benign’ and more ‘dictator’!
Anyway, that’s enough self-important preaching from me. But hopefully there will be some ideas there which might help in your endeavour.
3.5 time winner of the “Really Annoying Caption Contest Saboteur” Award!
Thanks Intense Degree - I really appreciate your input. I must admit, there are pros and cons for me as well, so am quite happy for people to give negative feedback about the idea.
I’ve also been involved in group projects multiple times (including Project Borealis), and apart from some of the open-source work I’ve done, none of the group projects have ever seen the light of day. The only ones that made it to completion were my solo projects.