Operation Autorun, a Plunkbat story in two parts

This is a story about a very stupid couple of things I did recently in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, aka PUBG, aka Plunkbat, aka the videogame everybody and their uncle is playing right now.

You don’t need to have played or watched it for the following to more or less make sense, but a quick summary for the absolutely uninitiated:

Plunkbat is a game where 100 strangers on the internet, alone or in teams of 2-4, parachute onto a large island and then, in the general mold of Hunger Games or Battle Royale, try to find weapons and armor and gear, and strive to be the last player or players not dead at the end.  But there’s a great big circle that keeps closing in, and if you’re outside the circle, you die.  And the circle gets really small as time goes on, one circle inside another inside another until you’re shouting distance from each other.  That’s the core mechanic that drives the game.  It’s all about being forced into a small shared space, or dying trying.  Whoever lasts longest gets the winner winner chicken dinner.

PART 1: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Autorunner

I was thinking about goofy stunt playthroughs the other day and was like, “what if all you did was autorun?” Just hit the “run forward automatically” button, and that’s…it.  My brother, a dad of two, did a version of this by accident because of a child care situation the other day and got in the top ten.

So I decided to develop the idea a little, to come up with some simple rules to basically remove any agency from the game, and then execute those. The sort of thing that a bot could do well pretty easily if there was bot support.

My ruleset shook out like this as I tried it a few times: Continue reading “Operation Autorun, a Plunkbat story in two parts”

William Can’t Sleep, a text adventure about William Carlos Williams

Spent some of today writing another very short Twine game (see previously), this time playing around with one of my favorite poems, “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams. And so: William Can’t Sleep.

I like the poem in its own right, but I also like it as a meme—refitting it to varying situations is a long-running joke on Metafilter, where all sorts of things seem to turn up in iceboxes or to prompt the need for forgiveness or to be describable otherwise as being x, so y, and so z.

I have in fact previously written a silly random This Is Just To Say generator, if you want to just reload to your hearts content. And Metafilter friend Joe Saunders collected mefi variations for a while on a tumblr.

But, so, yes: I got to thinking about the idea of the poem as a note, from someone to someone: why not from William to his wife, Florence? And if he’s leaving a note, why? How did those circumstances arise? What about the world where Bill didn’t eat the plums?

And so William Can’t Sleep gives the player a chance to explore that small set of moments. You can dotingly recreate the poem as we know it, or, depending on your actions and reactions and inactions, produce one of several possible variants, or something more or less totally unrelated.

Twine, and You’re In A Garden Or Whatever

I wrote a very short choose-your-own-adventure type game yesterday, and it’s called You’re In A Garden Or Whatever. It’ll take you maybe two minutes to play.

It’s really just a learning experiment (a “Hello World” in programmer parlance) for a new game development environment called Twine that I’ve been interested in trying for a while. Twine’s particularly interesting because it was designed specifically to be really, really easy for folks to learn to use. It succeeds wonderfully at that.

And not easy as in “compared to programming a game by touching actual metal wires together in the belly of a mainframe computer”; there are a lot of game development tools that are easy to get started with or relatively simple to work within compared to a full-throated traditional programming environment but which still present a very steep, very imposing wall of conceptual and practical barriers to someone who doesn’t already know a bit about software development. They’re useful, interesting tools, but they are not beginner-friendly.

Twine is easy as in “if you can understand how a Choose Your Own Adventure book works, you can do this”. A basic Twine game is as simple as a text description of the current situation the player is in and further description of maybe a couple of choices of how to proceed: do you want to push the lever, or go out the window? You write out labels for “push the lever” and “go out the window” respectively, and Twine will link those to the page you make that choice from.

So the code for the first page of You’re In A Garden Or Whatever looks like this:

You're in a garden. There's a tree nearby with some fruit on it.

* [[check that tree out]]
* [[just chill out, whatever]]

That’s it. Double square brackets for a link, and Twine will look for another little page in your collection of pages named that. Here’s what my page titled “check that tree out” looks like:

It's a big tree, with a whole bunch of fruit on it.

* [[eat some fruit]]
* [[man, it's nice out today]]

And so on. My game here has only 20 pages (or as Twine calls them, “passages”, which is a clever play on their role as both short passages of text and conceptual game “rooms” leading one to the next), and just a few more than 800 words, and I wrote it up in maybe an hour including debugging a couple of bad story links I’d created. I spent almost all of my time actually having fun building a thing, and I’m excited to tackle something a little more ambitious now in terms of story content.

If you like the idea of writing up a simple bit of interactive fiction, or grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure books, or always liked the idea of text adventures but couldn’t stand dealing with the guess-the-verb nature of classic text parsers (‘get sword’ … ‘I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET SWORD’ … ‘oh bite me, game’ … ‘THERE IS NO BITE ME, GAME HERE’ … ‘augh!’), give Twine a look. It’s free, it’s a cinch to install on both Windows and Mac boxes (and works with a little nudging on Linux as well) and it won’t give you a headache. There’s some nice, short, gentle walkthrough videos at the bottom of the Twine page that will show you everything you need to make something at least as polished as the game linked here.

Really all you need is a story you want to tell and a willingness to sit down and write it. Twine does a magnificent job of getting out of your way and letting you do just that. Give it a shot.

(Confidential to seasoned programmers: Twine does provide some more advanced facilities for more complex game interactions, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can write and read arbitrary variable states, you can inline arbitrary HTML and include CSS styling, you can toss in your own JavaScript hooks, etc. It is excellent at not making things difficult for the novice game writer but it’s got a bit of horsepower under the hood too if you want to go looking. If you like the idea of writing a game as in using-the-written word but want to be able to do clever programmatic things with the environment or game mechanics, there are a ton of little Twine hacks out in the wild that prove that that is very doable.)