I made a little game this last week for the Ludum Dare 22 Warmup Week. The game is called “YOU CAN’T GO BACK” and you can get it here (direct). I thought I would spend some time before Ludum Dare actually kicks off (in two hours as I write this) to discuss my Warmup Week process. I will be explaining the entirety of “YOU CAN’T GO BACK” here, including how it was designed and how the game works. As such, if you’re on a Windows machine and you want to play it first, go do that before reading on!
What Is “YOU CAN’T GO BACK”?
“YOU CAN’T GO BACK” [YCGB] is a mouse-driven text adventure in which you are chasing a character called “The Madman” through some sort of bizarre castle. The gameplay is simple. The game presents you with the description of the room you’re in, which always has two doors, and asks you if you want to go left or right. There are two large buttons that say “Go Left” and “Go Right” for you to click on, accessing the next room. The process repeats. It is, in a way, a maze. The goal is simple: find The Madman.
Why Did I Make YCGB?
This is a long and laborious question 🙂 Let’s start at the *very* beginning. That very beginning starts when I was 10 (there is an alternate very beginning, which I will get to later). When I was 10 or so, I graduated from making games in presentation software to playing around with QuickBasic. This was my foray into programming. The first game I tried to make was called Path to Oasis. It was a text-based game wherein the player was searching for something in a temple. The temple had a series of rooms with two doors in it. Both doors led to the same place, but some doors were easier for some characters, but harder for others. The player had to pick and choose based on how they were described and based upon what they knew about the character (which was nothing). The game only made it a few rooms. I never finished it, and it was good that I didn’t. The concept was bad and it was really bad execution. That was fine, the game was mostly for programming self-instruction.
For the other very beginning, we jump back to the start of the week. One of the key people for Ludum Dare, SoS, made up a random generator to give people out themes for the warmup weekend. I tried it on three different computers and got incoherence, madness and quantum physics. I didn’t know what to do with any of it, so I just started making something. What I came up with was a murder mystery game where the player could walk around and talk to guests at a party, then a murder occurred at midnight. You had to solve it by catching people in a lie or realizing when something that didn’t belong in the room was owned by one of the guests. It was a bit simple, a bit Clue-like (though more like the film than the game in structure). I started making that and then I decided that I needed a message box to display messages on the screen. The message box took me two days to get working. After I got that done I realized that there was just no way I could get the murder mystery game done before Friday. So I made YCGB instead.
YCGB is, basically, just a game that combines the mechanics of Path to Oasis (rooms with two doors) with the one tool I’d made in those two days: the message box. When you think about it, it was a fairly simple evolution. Eventually, I realized that the game fit with the theme of madness, and once I realized that, I made it even more so (which will be explained in the next section).
How Does YCGB Work?
YCGB works by making, basically a binary tree. There are fifteen rooms, and a special sixteenth room where The Madman is. They are laid out like this:
0 _/ \_ / \ 1 2 / \ / \ 3 4 5 6 /\ /\ /\ /\ 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Rooms 7 – 14 also have two doors, but those two doors randomly link up to either room 1 or 2. One of the doors in the set are set to room 15. After four moves, two doors in that last set switch with each other, entirely at random. As the name of the game suggests, the player can’t go back out the door that he or she came in from. Room 15 is special. There, the player meets The Madman, but the player still can’t go back. There are two doors in the room and The Madman indicates that exit is through one of them. Whichever door you choose has a 50% chance of sending you back to room 0, or for sending you to the ending sequence.
The game is that simple. It can take you a few minutes to play, or ten minutes, trying to get through to The Madman’s room, and then hoping that the door you choose doesn’t take you back to the start (which re-randomizes everything). The theme of the game is madness. The longer you spend trying to find the exit, the more you feel trapped in the confines of the game. Some people will just want to quit the game entirely, I’m sure. But that just means that The Madman has won out.
The game’s ending also points to madness. This is extra spoilery, so I will put this further down the page and give you this warning now 🙂
At the end of the game, you receive this message:
Stepping through the door, you find yourself in an alleyway, somewhere in the streets of London. Looking down at yourself you notice that you are splattered with blood, which had at one time, belonged to the young woman torn to pieces at your feet. You are as naked as your guilt, except for a crown, which encircles your neck as if it were a noose.
It seems that the player is either The Madman, or that the player has become The Madman. It could be taken either way. It’s just a touch of madness showing through. It makes one wonder exactly what transpired during the game. Was it real or imagined, was it a fight for survival? Did the player win or lose? I leave those answers to the players.