And now for something completely different!
I'm doing something rather unusual: tinkering on a game engine.
Some of y'all might remember, about two years ago, when I started writing an RPG for cellphones. I eventually decided this was silly and stopped, but I had the basic foundations for a plot laid in my head.
In a conversation with Chris about a week ago, it came up — and I have new ideas.
I'm designing an engine for adventure-game type RPGs, in the vein of Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, or Out of this World. This genre of games has completely disappeared in the past ten years — much to my dismay, since it was a real hotbed of creativity in the early 90s. The games had depth, and had humor, interesting character interactions, and plot complexity that was totally lacking from their contemporary battle-oriented RPGs (like Final Fantasy). Other than flight sims and Tetris, they were really the only video games I ever got into.
In the early 90s, some friends and I wrote text-based adventure games of the Infocom style, like Zork or Hitchhiker. There was a package called Adventure Game Toolkit (which is still available for download!) that let you script text games in a simple file, and run them on all sorts of different machines. This was great, because it let you concentrate on the game design, rather than the menial programming.
So, fast forward twelve years or so. Sure, I was programming commercially back then, but my software design skills have improved over time. I'm going to try my hand at writing a graphical counterpart to the old AGT. And, to make things interesting for me, I'm targetting two very different systems: desktop computers and the Nintendo DS.
I just bought a DS, you see, and there's a thriving homebrew software community around it. It's a neat little machine, with neat programming problems to solve — and, with a pretty damn powerful processor, a touchscreen, and good sound, it's ideal for this sort of game.
And once I get the engine done, the exact same game data will run on both systems. Hell, I might even make save-games transferrable — the DS has wifi, after all — so you can play on whatever's convenient.
The programming will be a good challenge, but this lets me work in a number of areas, since I'll need graphics and sound as well. I'm designing a game as an initial use for this engine, and with any luck it will be quite neat: an intricate, dark, and twisted plot; hand-drawn graphics that swing between comic strip and surreal Vasquez-esque scenes; a multi-path plot that gives a good feeling of player freedom.
The scary thing, to me, is that I think I can pull this off. I've got some test graphics done, and discovered I've gotten pretty good at drawing people. I've put some basic music together, somewhere between Collide and Razed in Black. And as of yesterday, I've got a little guy walking around in a room — the basics are in place.
We'll see if I lose interest. It happens. :-)
Preliminary Game Synopsis
You play as Evan White, who's fresh out of college and has returned to his hometown to look for work. He runs into his old flame and some other folks he knew from way-back.
And, at about the same time, murders start — gruesome killings that have the town shocked and on edge. The local police force is out of ideas, and the FBI takes up the case. They take a particular interest in Evan, who arrived in town about the same time.
Evan, meanwhile, seems to be going slowly insane. He keeps seeing things. Weird things. And some crazy homeless guy is following him around yelling at him.
Things get weirder from there; I'm not telling where I'm going with the plot, in case some of you decide to try to play. Anyone who's read my fiction knows I love to put normal people in really twisted circumstances; you can expect plot twists, surprises, and character interaction similar to my novel (though it won't give you clues to the plot). (Matt, if you're reading this, yes, I will be playing with your emotions.)