The Dick Johnson Chronicles

December 1, 2021 By Mason

Over Thanksgiving break, I completed my final project, a choose your own adventure game based on a play I wrote. You can find and play the game by clicking the link above. Making this project was a very long and difficult process, one which I will attempt to describe in this post.

Writing for this project was unlike anything I have done before. This project’s writing process is characterized by narrative writing and exploration of Squiffy, the software I used. The first scene, where the player interacts with Dick’s office, is where I experimented the most. I used this scene to create a system that gives players different options based on what is in their “inventory.” Players can choose to add items to their inventory, which triggers a code to change that item’s value to “yes.” At certain points later in the story, if the item’s value is set to “yes” the game will present the player with new choices. I also used this system to alter choices based on what clues the player had collected.

This system is integral to the functionality and purpose of my game. When adapting my story to this format, I wanted to take full advantage of the reader agency this form of storytelling provides. There is a heavy emphasis on player choice within my game. Until the player reaches McMystery Mansion, I provide several opportunities for the player to end the game before it has really begun. The game can end prematurely by ignoring the telephone, refusing to enter the mansion, and setting fire to a plant. In fact, I was originally going to add a potential ending where the player can find the address of a bar on a flyer in the wastebasket and travel there. While there, they would encounter a robbery they could try to stop. I decided to cut this due to its lack of relevance to the main plot and additional visual assets it would require.

Though it did not make it into the final product, the bar storyline helps to further demonstrate my goal for this project. I wanted to allow players the agency to do as many things as possible within the framework of my story, even if it did not contribute directly do it. This became increasingly difficult as the game’s main plot took more of the focus. At a certain point, I had to stop focusing on the funny side stories and work on developing the main narrative into something (relatively) cohesive. In the end, I do believe that I have given the player’s adequate agency due to the fact that, if they do enough investigating, they can end the story by imprisoning any one of the suspects they choose. Some suspects are more difficult to accuse than others, but I think that helps to create a varied experience for different people playing the game.

The second primary goal of my project was to be funny. This is very effectively reflected within the first half of the game. The first half is full of absurd moments and descriptions that work together to create a comedic atmosphere. Unfortunately, as I continued working on the project, I felt myself becoming more fatigued with implementing comedy into the narrative. This became especially prevalent at the very end, when most of my effort was directed towards wrapping up the mystery. There is still some comedy in the latter portion, most notably found within the books of poetry, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a large tonal shift.

In addition to the written game, I also designed multiple images in order to help tell the story. This paragraph includes spoilers. If you want to experience my game blind, you should probably skip this paragraph. Most of the visual assets I made in Procreate either from scratch or by editing pictures I took while at home. The only exceptions to this are the paternity test, Harrington’s will, and the image I use for the game’s “cover.” The paternity test is an edited version of an image I found online. Similarly, for the Will, I found a template and edited it in Microsoft Word to fit my narrative. For the game “cover,” although the majority of it is designed by me using tools in Procreate, the fireplace and portrait were both assets that are not mine. After working for so long on writing, It felt nice to work on some projects that were radically different from what I had spent most of my time doing. The majority of the assets I used in my final project can be found in the Twitter thread below.

In order to help develop a sense of atmosphere, I originally intended to include soundscapes to represent each location the player visited. Despite repeated experimentation, I was unable to figure out how to add sound into the game. Even with the help of forum posts, I still could not find a way to add my own sounds for free. Since I would still like to demonstrate some of what I have learned in class, I intend to make a short commercial just so that I can demonstrate some of what I learned about audio and video editing.

In the end, I am very happy with my game, even if it is not everything I wanted it to be. If I were to go back and change some things, the biggest would be adding a bit more comedy in the latter half. I would also go back and include the bar side story as well as a few other side quests and diversions just for fun. The final change that I think is important to make would be to change how accusations work. As they stand right now, I think they are a bit too linear and adding more flexibility would likely improve the playing experience.

This project has been the culmination of a lot of work. Adapting the narrative, making sure all of the links work, and creating visual assets have been a significant part of my life for the past few weeks and being able to see it all come together feels very rewarding. I am so glad to have been able to make this project and I’m even more happy to be able to share it with all of you.