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Why three indies built a one-of-a-kind text adventure in Unity Exclusive

Why three indies built a one-of-a-kind text adventure in Unity
February 12, 2014 | By Kris Ligman

Second Amendment is a short text adventure written in Unity 3D. An unwieldy mashing together of QWOP-like, one-finger typing and straight-laced storytelling, the game is almost certainly one-of-a-kind.

Gamasutra recently tracked down Second Amendment's three developers -- Ramiro Corbetta, Jane Friedhoff and K. Anthony Marefat -- to get the inside story on how such an unconventional game came about.

Gamasutra: Just to start out, would you mind sharing a bit about your respective backgrounds?

Ramiro Corbetta: Im the old guy in the group, I guess. Ive been making games professionally since about 2005. Right now I'm working on Hokra, which is part of Sportsfriends -- that should be coming out in February or March, or so I hope. However, the three of us met through Parsons The New School for Design, particularly the design and technology MFA program.

Jane Friedhoff: Ramiro worked with me on my thesis game for Parsons, Vici. I also made a little thing called Hermit Crab in Space, which was part of the IndieCade East game jam and went on to be an IndieCade finalist.

K. Anthony Marefat: Im currently attending Parsons in the same program Jane and Ramiro went through. Compared to them, Im a relative newcomer in the whole indie game design thing. Code and I got along really well [when I was growing up] and I took a liking to programming, participating in jams and working on little projects here and there. As the credits on Second Amendment suggest, this is the first official game that Ive released.

RC: And clearly, Second Amendment is our masterpiece. [laughs]

Gamasutra: How did the game come about?

RC: We were all in a class together at Parsons. It was a Unity development course being taught by Robert Yang (Radiator), who is himself a recent graduate from the program.

We had reached a point where we had to figure out what our final project was going to be. And I joked, You know whats missing from Unity? Text adventures. No ones making text adventures in Unity. Whats up with that? Anthony and I laughed, but then we took it further: how would it work? How would you control it? Obviously it would need to be in 3D, because Unity is a 3D tool and we need to use the tool to its fullest.

Our original idea would have you controlling the game with two mice, one for the right hand and one for the left. We didnt end up doing that because Well, I asked Anthony who agreed to look into it, I think. He spent two minutes on it and then we gave up and moved on.

KAM: I may have looked at like, the first two results on Google.

RC: We didnt feel like clicking on the links. It was too much hassle.

KAM: We were too hyped on the concept to bother.

RC: And while we were having our conversation, Jane overheard us from across the room and spoke up, saying she wanted to make it with us. And we said Youre crazy. Why would you want to do this? But I think it was actually Janes excitement that really committed us to doing it.

So we keep brainstorming. We came up with a simple interface, where the player would just click the left mouse button to press whatever key the hand was over -- but that didnt make much sense for a human typist so we decided, also joking, that the character should be a bear. Bears cant type, right? But we wanted the arm model to be human, so the concept evolved into its a bear having a dream in which he thinks hes a human, playing a text adventure.

That was our whole idea process!

KAM: It was quite invigorating, even if that sounds like we were spiraling downwards.

Gamasutra: When did it get to the point where you went ‘okay, we are actually going to do this?

RC: Well, Jane and I were in our final year working on our thesis projects. And Anthony was also working on a big project. So it came down to figuring out a time where we could actually meet. And what we realized was that we actually had no time to meet until the weekend before it was due.

So we met on that Thursday night, and we finished on Sunday night. And even then we were going this is a stupid idea, it doesnt make sense, lets keep doing it. It was a really feverish three days.

JF: It was like a game jam.

RC: It was. We sat and worked together, wed go home to sleep and then wed come back. We worked on nothing else for three days. And I mean, we had worked on little bits of it before that throughout the term, and we spent some time polishing it in the months after before we released it online, but the majority of the game was put together in those three days.

KAM: The push that really sent it over the edge, that wrapped it up with a bow, was that Jane had written a whole text adventure framework to work in Unity 3D.

Gamasutra: How did that work?

JF: It was a parser script, and it was actually way more in-depth than it needed to be. It could recognize both lower- and uppercase letters, even though in the final game you can only write in uppercase. But it could parse text and check against what scene the player was currently in, what options there were for where to go next It was actually pretty straight-forward. Honestly, the most complicated thing getting the blinking cursor to happen! Adding and subtracting 'blinkiness' without adding to the string that actually took me way longer than getting the adventure text to work. Priorities there, clearly.

RC: Keep in mind that at the time we were doing this, none of us were Unity specialists at all. We were all kind of learning Unity as we went.

Let's Play courtesy of Kotaku. Warning: strong language.

Gamasutra: The game is compared to QWOP a lot, largely for the slapstick element. Do you feel it also says something about how we tell stories through games?

RC: Theres something to be said for comedy in storytelling. Here, the comedy is not in the writing at all. The text adventure itself is completely serious. I think the game we made almost doesnt call for such good writing, not of the quality that Anthony delivered.

KAM: Well, the story does have an item called Gun-Shaped Key at one point.

RC: [laughs] True, theres that. But yes, I think that comedy through storytelling, and melding that through gameplay, is very interesting. Not many games attempt that, in my experience. Second Amendment is really more a comedy about storytelling rather than a comedy story.

KAM: We were cracking up the entire time we were making it, but the game itself isnt funny. It isnt laughing with you.

RC: The text adventure component is not laughing with you, but the game itself is.

JF: The moment that you see the Unity logo slide out from the side of the screen, but then youre looking at a CRT monitor, thats already told a bit of some kind of strange story.

I think a lot of the comedy and charm of Second Amendment comes from the fact that we used the absolutely least suitable tools, and underutilized them to an incredible degree to make the most inefficient user experience possible. I think there is something charming in that, using something in the absolute opposite way from how they were intended to be used. I dont think Ive seen another Unity text adventure; have you?

Gamasutra: Well, Naomi Clark had some high praise for the game, so perhaps well start to see some imitators come out of this -- Gun-Shaped Key-likes.

JF: There you go! More seriously, I honestly think that that can be a really great place to start when youre brainstorming: try to think of the absolute limits of whatever youre working with and how to utilize them in an extremely optimized way -- or an extremely underutilized way, ignoring everything that you believe makes the tool relevant.

J.S. Joust is a good example. It uses the PlayStation Move controller, which is actually a really advanced piece of technology, but it uses it to track a very simple thing: has the controller tilted over enough to trigger this binary in-or-out condition. And thats really interesting to me. Its not interested in tracking what youre doing with the rest of your body, but rather this one point, which is unconventional for motion games.

I think when you explore those margins, interesting -- and sometimes ridiculous -- things start to happen.

You can play Second Amendment online here.

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