Cyberganked, or how to make a CRPG in a text adventure language

Hand-crafted games! I think this qualifies! Let me tell you about the one I am working on, friends.

I started really programming games after moving to Colorado in the summer of 1998. I could have gone either way when it came to making a certain style of character role playing games, or text adventures. The community around text adventures was much, much more vibrant than anything I could find with CRPG creation. Plus, I don’t think the tools were quite there for CRPGs. Text adventures had wonderful Usenet groups and programming manuals and even some tutorials, so I went that way.

I started thinking about what it would take to make a CRPG in the style of Wizardry, the Bard’s Tale or Might & Magic when I finished Cryptozookeeper. Cryptozookeeper already had combat that was very similar to those RPGs. I started to really think about what pieces were missing and if it would be possible to make a classic RPG in Hugo.

The first hurdle was going to be naming, saving and restoring specific characters. Hugo, like all the other text adventure languages, pretty much starts you with a single entity that makes up the “player.” I wanted to be able to support six adventurers, let the player name these characters whatever they liked, and then let the player refer to characters with syntax like the following:

**>**Trundle, trade scimitar to Mac
**>**Brittany, inventory
**>**look at Jonathan

Since the player could name their characters whatever they liked, I either needed to put every single possible combination of English words in Hugo’s dictionary (so it would understand who the characters named above were) or add these words to the dictionary. Which, with Roody Yogurt’s help, I did.

… With some limitations. I have a routine that lets you give two names to a character. The first is a (longer-ish) “full name.” This full name can have spaces and it’s what is displayed in the character status window. Like “Rick Deckard.” The game then asks for a nickname which has no spaces or special characters, like “Rick.” It makes the game’s text look a lot better when it’s displaying just one word instead of two or more. It’s a compromise. The way to get around this is to either not have the game let the player refer to their characters by name at all, but I was happy with this being a sort of text adventure/CRPG hybrid.

With naming characters comes depicting them. Of the things I can do in a computer game, 3D modeling is not one of them. I decided I was going to use actors and actresses to represent characters. With Cyberganked, though, I wanted to give the player loads of choices. Instead of casting talent to play individual characters, the player picks a portrait during creation.

This meant, rather than having (for instance) four main characters like I did in Necrotic Drift, than I would have a upper limit that was more defined by choice. If you roll a character, how many portraits give you a wide range of possibilities? 10? 10 didn’t seem enough. 20? Well, the thing is, it’s not just getting people to play these characters, but photographing them in a setting as well. This is where the local Haunted House comes into play.

A very good friend of mine named Randy operates the best haunted house in Colorado during the last couple of weeks in September and all through October. He supports his passion with his day job in IT. (Though he has put together a real business with employees and customers and – the critical part of knowing you’ve “made it” – unreasonable customers.) He agreed to let me use his haunted house as a backdrop to Cyberganked. It made the game possible – since I don’t know what actors a player will pick, I need all actors to be in the same locations doing the same things. I can “green screen” some of them (and have) but it’s far more manageable to have real people react to the real things that they see. Unless you’re George Lucas, but that’s just an amazing director getting world-class performances with no nouns in the room.

I realized fairly quickly that I was out of my experiences hiring people to be in this game. I made friends through the haunted house and they were up for being in the game. I used craigslist to drum up interested people. It’s an odd thing to “sell” – it’s a modeling job, with pay, in a haunted house. But the pictures are going to be manipulated and used for a computer game. It’s a computer game with thousands of static photos and any given player may or may not choose you to represent someone. Or, hell, they may pick you six times.

So far, the development is going pretty well. I’ll be at three years in July. I bought a fixer-upper house with my girlfriend recently, so Cyberganked is gonna be delayed by a little bit, since we’re over there every night making the house a home. In my next message I’ll try to talk about why I picked four colors and four colors only for the game. :smile:


Hey, wow, cool, I definitely want to read more. It’s kind of mind blowing to read someone’s been in the community that long making games. Well, maybe I would’ve, but I chickened out early.

Reading people doing stuff they didn’t think they could do helps me do the same, so keep it up!

Yeah, it’s interesting stuff. Keep 'em coming!

Thanks, everybody. I’ve been working on a trailer for the game, which I’ll post below. Gonna try to get it on Steam Greenlight next.

It’s on Steam Greenlight now:

I will try to update this thread first chance I get. I can say that about half the people who have commented have been jerks. The other half give you the best feedback and constructive advice you can hope for, haha.

Wow. That crowd is so hostile it makes you wonder whether it’s worth it to be around them long enough to get your game greenlit - think of the permanent brain damage you’re risking!

EDIT - Also, “Calm your tits, virulent funsucker” is classic Sherwin, and if they don’t like it, they’re just not ready for you.


Thanks guys, haha – the only thing that really bothered me was that one guy said I was deleting comments, which I didn’t do. (And probably wouldn’t do unless someone just unleashed a string of profanity.) It was weird to see others run with it when the first person stated it.

Some good has come from Greenlight. I mentioned on Twitter that someone said the screenshots had bad fonts - Marco Innocenti tweeted me and I became aware that regular folks aren’t as enamored with Times New Roman as I am. (I think that after growing up with a PCjr and XT I’m still amazed that modern computers can have any fonts that don’t look so silly!) I also got feedback that people would like white text on a black text window, and some other stuff, which is all great.

I wouldn’t say the IF Community is a hugbox, but we do give reasons why stuff isn’t working for us. That isn’t the case everywhere. And while I am glad I am doing this one in Hugo (and I’ll use Hugo again in the future) for whatever game I do next I think I’ll want to try Unity. CRPGs are being released at a decent rate and while the gameplay is the same as what I am doing – move around rooms, cast spells, fight monsters without having to button mash – the 3D worlds they are using are very pretty. :smile:

Well, yeah, sometimes the trolls have a hint of truth to 'em. And sometimes that is helpful, and you realize what you can do for people who actually like the game. If so, you win.

I agree about thinking ANY fonts can be cool & it’s tough to see what people don’t like. You really can miss a lot of big picture things by yourself & hearing what others have to say certainly helps.

Contrast the Greenlight to this with the Greenlight to the new Porpentine game greenlight…

“Hurrr this is gonna be awesome!” “I love it!” "VvVVV other random characters and ascii vaginas


I am loving the Max Headroom avatar.

I have been moving for the last week and a half (cleaning old house, cleaning new house, boxing stuff up – it didn’t take this long to empty out the dorm room, that’s for sure) so I’ve done nothing to promote the GL campaign. It’s getting about one vote a day on its own. I’ve done nothing to appeal to CRPG fans, so that’s an avenue to explore, but seeing what it does on its own is fascinating.

The guy who is making Jetpack 2 stated that he forgot all about its Greenlight page, only to find that it got through. I suspect at some point games rise up to the cut-off point as long as they have something going for them.

And yet most of the obvious feedback I’ve seen there are from people who are totally into CRPGs and are buying into that aspect rather than it being also a text adventure. You musta done somethin’!