Welcome, traveler, to the Dungeon of Venom. Will you enter, and will you escape?
All right guys! This is Sterling with my final project. This is based on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am playing with my friends wherein my party is tasked with stopping and investigating a pandemic. My project revolves around its story. I chose it because it satisfies the 80s course theme (D&D) and the theme of pandemic (self-explanatory). You can read more about the background here. There are three elements to this project: interactive text fiction, design, and audio.
First, let’s look at interactive fiction. The story, which is embedded below, can be played alternatively by following this link. I recommend you also consult the map above before you play, and listen to the playlist I have embedded at the bottom of this post while you play the game. CONTENT WARNING: there is blood, a little bit of gore, and death! Though this project is meant to be light-hearted, please proceed with caution!
This story, albeit (somewhat) short, took me an incredibly long time to write. I thought it would be simpler because it is based around an already-existing plot, but the point of interactive fiction is to have alternative choices. I had to consider what would’ve happened if my character had chosen to do something else, which was difficult because then I had to paths going down those routes. I’m not sure I would exactly qualify it as a short story because there are so many endings to navigate through. Even if you manage to reach the ‘GOLDEN’ ending on your first try, I encourage you to continue playing. What is most logical may not be the best choice…
I typed out 18 pages of coding: the raw code can be viewed here. The coding is simplistic, but tedious when dealing with several paths at once. It was easy to feel overwhelmed. I learned lessons from my previous works of interactive fiction, that in order to stay organized, you should either make a choice map or work on one ‘layer’ at a time. For example, in Scenario A you can do B, C, or D, which results in their own outcomes (which I will label ‘situationals’). After you’ve written out A, write out B, C, and D. List the situationals beneath them, but do not create their linkable outcomes until you have finished writing B, C, and D. This worked for my condensed choice web. For further context, please view this basic tutorial on Inky.
In this game, there are ten different endings. I consider four of them ‘true’ endings, one ‘GOLDEN’ (the most ideal path), and one ‘SECRET’. The secret one is pretty hard to get in my opinion, so I wish you the best of luck if you try for it! Regardless, after I typed all of that out, I exported into mixed files through Inky. Then, I used 7Zip to compress the folder into a .zip one so that it could properly be uploaded to the independent gaming website itch.io. That process was a bit more complicated than I remembered, but it was done. My only other notable struggle was that I started writing in a mix of present and past tense, which I had to go back and change (I also started to write WAY too in-depth). I hope you find the story interesting: it’s only a snippet of the funny, yet fun journey I’ve taken with my friends this past month.
Next, let’s talk about the visual design portion. In this part, I decided to recreate the beautiful map one of my lovely DMs (Dungeon Master) designed. For reference, here it is:
I was initially going to do something rather different than what you see as the header picture of this post. I had uploaded Elsa’s map to my favorite online editor (Pixlr Editor, which I would link but it’ll be deactivated this year) and I was ready to find pictures on Google to layer on top. It was going to be a realistic-looking map that you’d find on Google Maps, but then I decided I wanted a more unified and fantastical paper map theme. Out of curiosity, I searched Google for fantasy map creators. I wasn’t expecting much, but I became impressed with what I saw. I started with Worldspinner, which was fun but didn’t give me the capability to draw the terrain and rivers. Then, I tried Agzaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, which was actually extremely cool but didn’t allow for as much originality. (Where would you live in your personal Agzaar map?)
Then, I returned to one I had glazed through earlier: Inkarnate. I had avoided it before because it required an account and most features were locked by a paywall, though I figured that since I already made an account for Worldspinner, why not here? And it was a great decision. It took me at least three hours to create this map, (only a third of what I spend on the story) but I had a blast doing so. The interface is very easy to use. You get to draw your land with a natural-looking brush called the ‘mask’ tool. Then, you get to use the same style of brush (‘brush’ tool) to draw the terrain on top, including rivers. The ‘Stamps’ tool allows one to put down stamps of trees, castles, towns, banners, and more. I put every single tree down individually! The last tool I used was the ‘Text’ tool to label the banners. I fell in love with the fonts they used.
This is certainly a tool I will be returning to. I hope to use this for future campaigns and perhaps purchase premium one day. The options they provide you for free are good enough, though with premium one can make things from volcanoes to fairy forests and more! I had to get creative and use bridges as ground for our river-towns and play with the layering. If you do use this tool, be careful to save every so often. There is a convenient button for it in the lower left corner. It would be tragic to put in hours only to lose your work. I would still like to try my hand at creating a map using multiple images online, though, so maybe that’ll happen the day I become a Dungeon Master myself.
Lastly, let’s discuss the audio portion of this project. I put in quite a bit of time on the other sections, so I’m afraid I didn’t quite get to the standard I had imagined of voice acting and/or the epic 80s fantasy remix. However, I did put all of my sources in a playlist. I thought deeply of what should go in this playlist, using tracks that mean a lot to me. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) was my first Studio Ghibli movie, and really taught me as a child what fantasy can look like. It isn’t just European castles and princesses and unicorns. It can also be machinery and friendship and heroes of any gender.
My dad showed me the Lord of the Rings (1978) animated movie and its sequels when I was very young. I remember being on a then-vast hotel bed, not too long after my parents’ divorce, when this terribly ugly creature known as Gollum popped up on the screen. “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way” anyone? The following image of Gollum from the animated Return of the King is the one that stuck with me the most, likely because it is different. Movies like this along with my dad’s love for D&D inspired my interest in fantasy.
Of course, I made sure to put tracks and scenes from 80s classics The Princess Bride (1987) and The NeverEnding Story (1984). I encourage you to shuffle through this mix of fun while you’re playing my game. Orchestral mixes are just as lovely as cheesy 80s bops, in my opinion.
Overall, this was a fun project to do. I feel like it expresses myself and my interests quite clearly. I was able to practice making a longer, more advanced story that should be a backboard for many more to come. I now can freehand in this coding language, and I’ve learned that I need to work on my choice grouping much more since – fun fact – I had to create completely different pathways for some choices that happen early in the game. Doing so will make the work less-tedious. Discovering Inkarnate is a world-changer (literally), and I’d like to add onto the map I’ve created as my party ventures more into the world and encounters different monsters (we just faced ones that looked like Asparagus). I’ve also enjoyed creating that playlist, for I got to think deeply about what music would go with my own fantasy adventure.
Now, please excuse me while I try to get NeverEnding Story out of my head…