Private Games
July 20, 2019 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Emily Short thinks about games made for specific recipients or small groups of friends. “Many of my favorite games to write have been written for specific people … The first computer game I ever completed, I wrote for my little brother because he was bored with math. It was a dungeon where the monsters asked you arithmetic questions as a form of combat. Astonishingly he liked it, which shows you something about the power of personalization.

posted by adrianhon (13 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I definitely got my start doing the same, writing small games for my high school friends. I also love the related phenomenon of people inviting others to write games for them based on a prompt. It shows up in the interactive fiction community from time to time. There’s Emily’s own WalkthroughComp where people created a game or wrote a transcript from a fictional game given an unpunctuated list of text adventure commands, and the more recent First Quadrennial Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction for games written only to please Ryan Veeder.
posted by sgranade at 7:08 AM on July 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

At least a decade ago I tried my paltry hand at learning Inform so I could write a game for my then boyfriend. I have an almost negative technical background, so this was a hilariously bad idea, but I must have hammered out hundreds of incomprehensible lines trying to make my stupid puzzles work. It was a right mess from start to finish, and I’m pretty sure I was scrambling to fix something tremendously broken halfway through his first playthrough, but he was incredibly patient and waded through my woeful efforts to the bitter end. I haven’t touched Inform since, and I think my “game” is probably sitting on some long forgotten hard drive in a closet somewhere, but seeing as how I married the recipient shortly thereafter and he still cheerfully declares that to be one of the best presents he’s ever gotten, I like to think it was worth it.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2019 [22 favorites]

I made a small game for my niece for her birthday a month or so ago (this short text adventure, which is the first third of a slightly larger text adventure, and which was based on some monsters her and her younger brother had drawn when they'd stayed at mine a few months before), and she absolutely loved it - not the game itself necessarily, but just the magic of playing a game on her own tablet that was specifically for her (and that she had helped design).

Although now she keeps demanding the full game be finished right now and she cares not for my excuses and I'm pretty sure she's going to force me into crunch mode to get it finished before the summer holidays are over.
posted by dng at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

I had a game appear in a dream last night and I want it to work. What I remember is that it was played for big money between betting on horses (not important) and that it involved four dice.
You rolled the dice, grouped them in twos, choose a pair to be the magnitude of a vector and the other pair were the angle. It was played on a map with topographical features. You were maybe trying to find a treasure?
I want to recreate this game, but I first want to ask: does this sound like a game to anyone else? Like does it sound fun?

If the vectors are 2d, it seems like the winner would be horseshoes style closest to the target. If projectiles are being fired over hills, it seems... Math intensive. (Not that that's bad - I teach projectile motion these days, but I also know how few people would do that for fun.) I would want this to be a non computerised game.

In elementary school I made some text adventures in qbasic that were unplayable by anyone who didn't know exactly what I meant to happen next. I tried to get friends and family to play but nobody had patience for puzzles that could only be solved if you asked what colour the grass was, or told the right knock knock joke.
posted by Acari at 9:31 AM on July 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

My elementary school programing language of choice was MacPaint. I remember building elaborate mazes using the paint tools; gameplay consisted of holding down apple-z and moving the eraser through the open paths. The undo/redo function looped, so if your cursor moved off the path and erased a 'wall' the mistake would blink. I made a bunch of levels with different themes, features, and difficulties. Later moved on to more sophisticated programming software like KidPix Studio.

In middle school I discovered PowerPoint, where I made numerous games with hyperlinked slides/buttons. Shooting gallery style games, branching adventure games with full inventories and timed puzzles, animated cutscenes, all produced within PowerPoint.

I'm sure that some of these games never even got played by someone besides myself, otherwise only a friend or relative and my sibling and parents might have played a few minutes of each. Sadly I've lost access to all of it, but this is inspiring me to dust off my long dormant game making hobby.
posted by soy bean at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Acari, that game reminds me of the graph paper racing game.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wrote a short Infocom style game using Inform and Emily's tutorials, and I can really recommend this as a fun project to do as a present! Lots of opportunities to revisit in-jokes and shared history in the puzzles, and it being text only with a great development environment makes them pretty quick to do.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:31 AM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

maybe it's just how my life has been for a while, but I could see this sort of project being used in an extremely not good way.
posted by Baeria at 12:05 PM on July 20, 2019

I've been thinking of writing a small twine game but eh, it feels like a huge obstacle just to get over my internal editor. Inform 7 is really interesting but I find it confusing from the tutorials but someday I do want to write my own IF. Some day...
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:02 PM on July 20, 2019

When I was 4 years old or so, my dad was staying at home full-time taking care of me while my mom worked, and he spent spare time writing games for me to play on our AT&T Unix PC with a green-and-black screen and some proto-window-manager where I could pick programs to run from a list.

Some of the games were reimplementations of conventional game ideas -- for instance, he wrote Pac-Man (quite true to life, too, because he was a reasonably strong Pac-Man player and he knew memorized patterns that were supposed to work), Tetris, a connect-four implementation with an AI to play against, solitaire Mahjong. Others were educational games -- I fondly remember one that showed me sentences with a misspelling somewhere and if I found the misspelling fast it would print out something complimenting me on how good a speller I was.

Something about those games awakened a great exploratory feeling in me. I never knew if I got to "the whole game" or if there was something else in it that I didn't know about yet. Sometimes later my dad would add something new that wasn't there before. It felt as though each game had a limitless space of possibility.
posted by value of information at 1:50 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

When my daughter was just starting to count (and a serious pumpkin lover), I made a little counting game for her in Pico-8. Last Easter I made "Number Bunny", in which you tell a bunny how far to jump on a number line so that it can collect Easter eggs (desktop-only, so no link).
posted by Jpfed at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Short's article stems from her talk at the inaugural Narrascope and I just linked to another elsewhere so I thought I'd mention that slides and videos for a bunch of other Narrascope talks are available.
posted by Zed at 9:33 AM on July 23, 2019

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