Today and over the next few days, I’ll be publishing an overview of how Sub Rosa came to be. I’ll be discussing specific puzzles in some depth, so you probably don’t want to read past the first section if you’re intending on playing the game.
The initial plan was to create a very short puzzle game, like Mammal. Mammal took a weekend to write, takes about twenty minutes to complete, it isn’t particularly difficult, and it has one mean trick that makes the whole thing worthwhile. I was collaborating again with my friend Melvin, and we had a longer project that had gone through various revisions in the years since our last entry in 2012. That project wasn’t going anywhere fast so we decided to make a small game to get back into the swing of things.
Usually for games we just raid my backlog of ideas and dormant projects for something good. Both Calm and what became Escape From Summerland (then still called Ghost Monkey Robot) were ideas I’d had some years prior to creating the games (Calm was originally a very experimental table-top RPG). Here though there was nothing suitable, so we hashed out some ideas over lunch one day.
Following the Mammal model, we decided a simple treasure hunt was in order. The setting grew out of a desire to have magical artefacts that the player has to manipulate in order to solve various puzzles. The game that we eventually submitted had these artefacts, but it also was much bigger and more complex than anticipated.
The game took two and a half years to make but most of the work was done in the last six months. Each time a Spring Thing or IFComp was on the horizon we had another burst of activity, but then that died down and we put things off for another few months. Part of that was busyness, we both started working full-time shortly after Escape From Summerland was released (in contrast, I made seven games in 2012 when I was only working part time a few mornings a week). This meant that the basic framework of the game (the rooms, some of the library books and consultable entries, a few puzzles) had been implemented for over a year before we actually decided on plot, motives, and the contents of the secrets. We started with the house and some puzzles and then built up the world and setting around that. But in this time, I was thinking about the setting, slowly inventing new little things to add in.
The way we work is that we decide upon what we’re implementing and make up a job list to that end (usually over lunch) and then Melvin programs it leaving [description needed] tags everywhere, which I search through and write up descriptions for. Typically, there’d be fifty or so things to write a description for (mostly action reports for trying different things) in each pass. Often we’d have working days where he’d come to my house and we’d each take a computer and work on different tasks.
When it came to beta-testing, one of us would compile the game and send it to the other without the source. In this way, we had to play the game naturally: habitually using the IDE makes it hard to take a genuinely fresh look at the thing.
So what was originally going to take at most a week or two ended up being spread out over two years…
[Tomorrow I’ll get to the puzzles that made the cut, and the ones that didn’t…]