Stolen Hearts: Design Notes

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When I heard that the Jay Is Games' Casual Games Design Competition #7 would involve interactive fiction, I spent some time thinking about what would be involved in making interactive fiction more appropriate for a casual audience. I imagined that casual interactive fiction should be made entirely mouse-based. Although various commercial text adventures have included mouse interfaces, they have often used the mouse interface as a supplementary interface instead of the primary one. There are some modern mouse-based interactive fiction systems like RAGS, but they seem to lose much of the flexibility of traditional IF without really being significantly for users to use--they retain text adventure conventions of navigation by compass directions, etc. So I spent a while thinking about different types of interfaces that could capture the flavour of traditional IF while still being entirely mouse-based. Unfortunately, the CGDC7 ended up only accepting Z-interpreter-only games, so I couldn't enter anything into the contest.

But I kept thinking about possible interfaces, trying to keep with something simple that could be played in a web browser while also being playable using assistive technologies. Finally, I dreamt up of one possible approach involving one all-text "game" area where you just click on links. It's much like a point-and-click graphical adventure except entirely in text. You can have supplementary panels showing inventory information etc., but these are all optional. Obviously, using essentially a menu-based system ends up being more restrictive than the potential arbitrary actions allowed by a text-parser, but I think very few games actually make use of the freedom allowed by the text parser. And graphical adventure games abandoned text parsers long ago, and I think the end-result is better. I'm not entirely satisfied with the fact that the player has to perform actions by first choosing objects and then choosing verbs. That seems a little unnatural, but it's more flexible than having a limited list of verbs that you can apply to objects.

So Stolen Hearts is my tech demo that I used to try out my ideas for mouse-only browser-based IF. The user interface isn't too flashy, but I wanted to make something that would also work on the iPhone, and you can't have crazy scrolling sub-windows on the iPhone, and that severely restricted the structure of the final interface. I tried the game using the NVDA screen reader, and the result wasn't great, but it seemed workable. I'm not sure if the end-result is comparable to using a traditional IF game engine though.

The game is a short, linear three-room piece of interactive fiction. It's based on an idea I had for a short skit or something. I don't play or program much interactive fiction, but I think the result is sufficient to demonstrate the general idea of how a mouse-based IF system could work. JavaScript ended up being a little bit messy for actually programming the game, so a final system would probably need a custom compiler.

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