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Post Mortem: "Open Sorcery"

Post Mortem for Open Sorcery, a text based puzzle game where you play BEL/S, a magical firewall: a fire elemental that is bound with C++ code. Gameplay is investigative, branching, and intertwined with the story.

Open Sorcery is a text based puzzle game. You play BEL/S, a magical firewall: a fire elemental that is bound with C++ code. 

Gameplay is investigative. Malicious spirits cause problems, but they're invisible until you scan for them. To scan successfully you have to identify aspects of the spirit by examining the effect it's having on the environment.

Water spirits make things wet. Chaos spirits create confusion. Once you've correctly identified a spirit's matter and motive you can see it.

The larger game is deciding how BEL/S develops as a consciousness. This is determined by how she deals with the spirits she finds.

She can burn them with fire, turn them all into tinder to fuel her power. She can talk to them and learn new things. She can ask others for help and deepen the relationships she has with the people around her.

Here are all the things I learned while developing, coding and marketing Open Sorcery.


 

You can make fantastic things (like magic) feel realistic by splicing them with mundane things (like programming).

Consider puzzles from the player's perspective.

       What seems obvious to you can be super confusing to them.

Make an easy to complete through-line for your game that anyone can accomplish.

       Then create optional branches with harder content for people who want a challenge.

Riddles are fun, but arbitrarily difficult. Make them optional.


In my first playtest, two people answered this riddle easily. Five struggled with it. Three gave up. One stared at it for a half an hour then murdered the spirit asking the questions.

Keep sentences short.

Avoid paragraphs.

Brevity keeps attention.

Be like Hemingway.

Achievements are an easy tool for leading people to content.


Here are all the things you can do. Figure out how to do them.

Display options that players don't yet have.


These grayed out options are not selectable. Displaying them lets players know that there are other paths they could take that will open up these options.

Start the game in media res. It's way more interesting. Trust your players to figure things out.

If you allow characters to be emotionally vulnerable, people will fall in love with them.

Give the player power:

       When they act, make the world tremble with the rammifications of their actions.

       The changes they cause should be significant.

       Color of the player's hair is not significant. 

       Emotions are significant. Changes to safety are significant. Achieving a goal is significant.

Changes that are eventually rendered pointless by linear plot are not significant and are in fact extremely frustrating for players.

       Never invalidate player effort with a plot point.

       I don't care how cool it would be to have their mentor betray them.

       If it means all the work they did for the mentor was pointless, don't do it.

       Stahp.

There are choices you can offer that don't affect the game state, but feel emotionally distinct to the player.

       The final boss offers to spare you if you betray your friends. Do you say:

       (a) Yes.

       (b) No.

       (c) Fuck you.

Options (b) and (c) are mechanically identical, but feel very different and giving that freedom of expression to the player is a form of power.

Establish game mechanics, then play with them.


A normal scanning puzzle. Scanning for spirits with simple elements.

 


Scanning the real world. There's a lot of stuff in the real world.

Don't let NPCs be incompetent.

       Instead, make the PC more powerful.

       Or make the problems harder.

       Or give PCs reasons not to go to NPCs.

       Having the PC do everything just because they're the PC is unrealistic and weaksauce.

People are scared of fears they can relate to. Use that knowledge when creating a villain.

       Most of us aren't scared of an orc invasion. (LotR isn't scary.)

       A lot of us are scared of needles. (Bioshock is scary.)

       The main villain of Open Sorcery is a personification of depression. (Fairly scary.)

Showing a game at conventions doesn't drive sales. However, conventions are a great place to make contacts, make friends, and do playtesting.

You can make a game with no heterosexual relationships in it and the world won't explode.


Thank you for reading! Open Sorcery and Abigail Corfman's other games can be found at this website.

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