Bring Out Your Dead: Nuts and Bolts

Emily Short is currently running Bring Out Your Dead, an invitation for developers to post unfinished works that will probably never be finished. So I’ve dug out an old IF project: Nuts and Bolts, aka Man vs. Machine, aka Robotopia. It’s the opening puzzle to a planned much more complex game, so while there’s not much there to play, I do have some commentary on the process.

I wanted to do an IF game with a bunch of robot NPCs, on the grounds that if my NPCs were a bit stiff and repetitive it would only add verisimilitude. The story went through many iterations before I settled on one where the PC is a scrappy human rebel against the robot overlords. I had hazy ideas of a puzzle mechanic based on reprogramming robots to do your bidding. If the game had continued beyond that opening scene, the robots would have gotten increasingly sophisticated, to the point where the player had to grapple with the ethics of reprogramming them and whether this was tantamount to taking a sentient being’s free will.

The trouble was, my puzzle ideas were so vague that I couldn’t implement them when it came down to the nitty-gritty. (The nuts and bolts, if you will, giving the title a certain retroactive irony.) I flailed about trying to figure out how to make a parser-friendly puzzle out of reprogramming a robot. At some point I had a half-baked idea of using square dance as the inspiration for a puzzle, thanks to this post; I still think it would be cool to make a puzzle like that, but I suspect it would have to be very visual, which makes text adventure a poor choice of medium. Without a solid puzzle mechanic, the whole thing fell apart, and the game never got past scene 1.

I still like the opening, though. I’m not sure if I had listened to Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully before writing it, but that sitcom also had a protagonist whose investment in the romantic notion of being La Resistance was disproportionate to her actual effectiveness.

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