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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Lost Prototypes

After many years of waiting, I finally had a chance to play Grim Fandango and subsequently played Broken Age. These, in turn, reminded me of playing adventure games when I was much younger, which subsequently reminded me of something I hadn't thought about in years.

Starting in third grade, we used to play pretend at recess. That's not especially noteworthy on its own — lots of kids did that — but I made elaborate scenarios with continuity from one recess session to the next, and the plots ran for years. Individual sessions usually included puzzles to solve, enemies to battle, and friendly characters with whom to interact. (If I had known about randomizers like dice or any of the abstract LARP-style combat forms, this no doubt would have become even more elaborate.) By sixth grade, the damn things even had character sheets. (Just equipment lists, but still.) I think I even developed paper props once or twice.

It was only years later that I realized these were some manner of proto-LARP.

(Most of the characters were ripped from popular culture, but at some point, I should probably bring The King of All Trees into a game. Why I had some Green Man-style nature deity in my elementary school pretend games is probably a conversation for another time, although it probably has the same psychological root as my deep and abiding love of folk horror.)

The weird recess proto-LARP stuff I remember, and Nicole and I occasionally discuss it. (Lamentably, she always figured we were never interested in having additional players, and so never participated.) That's old news. The more recent memory from playing adventure games is this:

No doubt spurred both by this and by a diet of computer adventure games, at some point in sixth grade, I started writing analogue adventure games that we would run through at lunch. If you've played any of the command prompt or point-and-click adventure games popular in the eighties and nineties, you'll recognize the format: a map with a series of rooms, each of which usually features an NPC that requires some object or interaction (often from a previous room) to progress. These were all hand-drawn maps and characters, and while very linear (in the style of adventure games at the time), are recognizable as weird puzzle dungeons. I only remember one or two puzzles from them, but I now idly wonder if I could track any of those down...

(If I do happen to find any of them, and they're still legible, I'll no doubt have to scan them and upload them for general perusal. I wonder if I'll recall any of the puzzles from the time...)

I know at some point in seventh or eight grade, I started developing a scenario with percentages, but never sorted out the math and always assumed it would have to be some manner of video game. Again, had I known about d100s or random number generators, I would have been running and designing RPGs years before I "officially" started.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I suppose no one (least of all me) should be surprised that I started running role-playing games or messing with game design. The obsession started early, before I had the language or tools for it.

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