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Hugo Open House Competition

Back in December of 2011, Ice Cream Jonesy and Roody Yogurt (yes, those are their real names) suggested holding a “Hugo Speed IF” competition. The “IF” stands for Interactive Fiction (aka “Text Adventures” for you/us old timers); “Hugo” is the language the games were to be programmed in, and “Speed” part refers to works created in a very short amount of time.

The “Hugo Speed IF” morphed into the “Hugo Open House Competition”. Originally I declined to participate for a number of reasons — the top three being I didn’t have the time to work on a game, I didn’t have an idea for a game, and most importantly, I have never programmed anything in Hugo before. That being said … after play testing Jonsey’s game on December 30th (the day before the deadline), the bug bit me and I immediately set out to write my own game.

I spent the morning of December 30th reading about Hugo. It’s a scripting language that’s pretty similar in syntax and logic to Inform, which I have written a few text adventures with. At a minimum, text adventures need rooms and objects and a way to interact with those things, and after skimming The Hugo Book and the Hugo by Example webpage, I figured out the basics of those two things. Saying that I can “program in Hugo” at this point would be akin to a person saying s/he could “speak Spanish” after learning the words to “Feliz Navidad”.

The next part involved coming up with a story. I came up with an idea for a short story that, if you’ve ever read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or seen “Jacob’s Ladder”, well, the plot will not be particularly groundbreaking to you. I wrote enough of the story to know how and where things were going and then started coding the rooms and objects and custom verbs. Keep in mind that this was a mini-comp; unlike a formal game competition in which the goal is to release the best game possible, the goal of a mini-comp is to draw attention to a particular genre or language (in this case, works of Interactive Fiction written in Hugo) by writing and releasing small works of Interactive Fiction. At least, I think that’s the goal. If that is not the goal, things have gone horribly wrong.

Without giving too much away, the idea of my game was to tie together multiple scenes using common words and threads. For example, the first scene of the game ends with you (the protagonist) spinning, and the second scene begins with a record player spinning. This allowed me two opportunities. One, I could require the user to type in a command (“spin”) to move the game from scene #1 to scene #2. And Two, at least I hope, the somewhat interesting story and mystery as to what is going on would divert the player’s attention away from the fact that my Hugo programming skills are poor and that the game is (except for a few viewable objects and harshly-steered commands) essentially non-interactive.

One thing I found difficulty in was translating the story from first-person (“That was the moment I realized …”) to second-person (“That was the moment you realized …”). To be honest, I don’t know how well the game translates from first to second person. I specifically made the descriptions of the main characters vague in an attempt to allow the player to see himself in the main role. And yeah, in the game, you are a male. That’s just the way the story was written.

I didn’t officially finish in time (turns out, giving yourself 24 hours to (a) write a story, (b) learn a new programming language, and (c) write a game in said language) is not enough time, at least not for me. But, with an additional 24 hours tagged on to the end of the due date I was able to get my game submitted. Keep in mind that of that 24 hours, I was in the hospital with my wife for 7 hours, slept for 8 hours, and was watching my kids the other 9 hours. Not that I’m making excuses for the small stature of my game, but … those are my excuses.

Hugo allows programmers to insert pictures and music into their works of Interactive Fiction. I didn’t have enough time to explore those features, but I would like to in the future. Inform would be the perfect language if it were able to display graphics. Hugo would be the perfect language if it were playable through a web browser. As other ideas for works of Interactive Fiction come to me, I will have to decide which feature is more important for that particular work before deciding on which language to go with.

Once all the entries to the Huge Open House Competition have been publicly posted I’ll add a link to them here. For those who don’t care about playing Interactive Fiction games, I’ll probably just post a transcript from my game as well.

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