Running the Game
- Make sure python3 is installed
- Download the python file and photo from this
- run python3 septimus.py
My game is called Septimus Morbidius. It has undergone several name changes. With each name change, it has experienced a new shift in gameplay. How many name changes? Three. There have been three different games. For each version, I playtested and I improved by taking in accoutn the emotional responses of the testers. Each one was very different from its predecessor, but each iteration’s mistake lends to the success of the current one.
- Cringeworthy: Awkard Dream Reality
- Prisoner’s Dilemma: Pair of Locks
- Septimus Morbidius
Cringeworthy: Awkward Dream Reality
Original Premise and Map (Changed over the iterations)
My original premise is much different from the one that I ended up choosing. Original Premise: You encounter a bunch of awkward and embarrassing situations. For each one, you have to make a choice between if you were just dreaming it or a lived reality. If you choose one to be a dream, then the other situation is real. Like Inside Out, they navigate the emotions o their own body trying to break out of this awkward dream reality. Each obstacle is a different form of embarrassment: secondhand embarrassment, faux pas, etc. For the map, I was considering either Stanford campus or the human body where each part of the body would focus on some sort of embarassing story involving tha part.
In the scenario, you’re a student in CS377G and you’re about to give a presentation. Your crush in the class winks at you and lets you know that they’re really excited for your presentation. This makes you excited, but oh no! You have go go to the bathroom. You run into the hall and rush into the all gender restroom. You enter a stall and you’re about to do the dirty, but you hear your crush enter!
- Do you hold it?
- Cut the logs
If you held it, you leave the stall and bump into your crush at the sinks. They let you know good luck. You end up pooping yourself during your presentation.
If you cut the logs, the sounds of the bathroom are much louder than you expect.
- Do you wait in the stall?
- Rush out
If you wait in the stall, you miss your presentation.
If you rush out, you bump into your crush, adn they’re disgusted with you.
This was only the beginning of the story, and I wanted to playtest it to see if the idea was viable. Later on in the story, I was planning that you run into your crush at TAP or the dining hall. I was consdiering to have a score of how attacted your crush is to you and another score for how successful you were in your day. For example, holding in your need to go to the bathroom would increase your attractive ness score but lower your scucess score because you missed your presentation.
For my first playtest, I conducted it verbally. In other words, I was the vessel for the game. Leading it, I had a lot of fun interacting with the player. I was able to express emotion that words on a screen would normally be able to deliver a more cringey scenario. Because of this, it partly confounded my results as I couldn’t determine if their laugher and apparent joy was from the game or from my delivery.
The player was able to predict that if they held in their need to go to the bathroom that they would poop themselves on stage. This was suposed to be my big surprise if they decided on this path. They smiled and laughed, but they didn’t seem particularly embarassed. I achieved my goal in creating apparent joy, but I failed in creating actual shame and cringe.
In the end, when I was explaining the story, I felt as though it was more cringey for me to tell the story than to actually play the game. The story itself wasn’t cringey enough but the fact that I would try to make a game out of this scenario was cringey. Furthermore, I couldn’t create enough embarassment because the scenarios weren’t real. Becasue the gmae is made up, I couldn’t simulate that same sort of emotion. I needed a mechanism to create some sort of real embarassment, which led me to my next iteration: Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Prisoner’s Dilemma: Pair of Locks
Learning from my previous mistake that I couldn’t evoke embsarssement, I figured that I could if actual people were involved, i.e. more than one. Thus, my 2 player idea was birthed. Effectively, each player would be embarassed because of each other. Now, the issue of a fake reality still exists. I struggled with generating an idea to address this, then my light bulb materialized over my head (this mechanism explained later).
Now, for my new premise, I strayed way from the akward dream reality, and I moved towards a prisoner breakout game. I also wanted to introduce game theory, escape rooms, and social judgement into this iteration. Thus, I chose Prisoner’s Dilemma: Pair of Locks. This satisfied the game theory part the prisoner’s dilemma paradox. By making a pun out of paradox, I get pair of locks which satisfies the escape room part. Social judgement satisfies my previous iteration’s constraint to create some sort of embarassment.
You, a prisoner, are locked in a room with a window facing someone else. Your goal is to escape the prison with the other individual. Along the way, you observe their actions and question what they’re doing, ultimately doubting their morales and raising if they’re a bad person. For example, you may see your fellow inmate killing a dog. On your end of things, you think this dog is super cute and nice. From their perspective, the dog has been attacking them and stealing their food at night while they sleep.
To accomplish this, I thought of a question answering system. Both people see the question and answers on the screen. One person is asking the other the question and they respond. Then, the respondent asks the other person a different question. The trick is that both people see the same answers, but they actually see two different questions. For example,
- Hypothetically, who would you ask for help on an assignment in class?
- The developer of this game (Michael), The teacher (Christina)
- Who is the most attractive person in the room?
- Nobody, I prefer not to answer, Michael, Christina, Me, you
The person answering thinks they’re asking a question about who they would ask for help. the other person thinks they’re asking a question on who the most attractive person in the room is.
In order to reinforce the idea that they’re answering the same questions, I start with a few primers
- What drink do they like? ASK “Which drink?”
- Mountain Dew, Sprite
- What food do you like? ASK “What food do you like?”
- Spaghetti, sushi
Here are more examples of how this would be played out
- Who do you think can eat more glizzies?
- The developer of this game (Michael), Some other guy
- Who looks like they’re the smartest in the room?
- Nobody, I prefer not to answer, Michael, Christina, Me, you
- Pop Quiz: What political party was Mike Pence’s part of?
- Big time Republican or big time conservative
- What political affiliation are you?
- Republican, conservative, moderate, libertarian, independent
- How many steps do you think you’ve taken in your life?
- Less than a million, more than a million
- How wealthy are you?
- $0-10k, $10k-100k, $100k-1M, $1M+
Running this Version
Navigate to this and download the Prisoner’s Dilemma html file. Double click and it’ll open twine in your default browser.
Feedback to Playtest + Reflection on Core Mechanic + Brainstorm
When I playtested this with two people, one person was surprised by the mechanism. The other person saw through it because he had a similar idea in his game. One helpful piece of feedback is adding another mechanism to avoid this sort of contrived sort of conversation “Why can’t I just ask them to clarify the question?” They suggested adding a warden who would regulate their conversation. Overall, they seemed to enjoy the idea. The other person still seemed confsued as to what was happening or waht the point of these questios even were. They also liked the voice of the narrator and thought it was humorous.
Talking to the teacher, we had a whole new set of ideas. Perhaps, their could be an intermediary inmate who has to pass notes between the two players. All the while, the third inmate is changing the contents of the notes. The two players devleoip mistrust for each other. This also led to a conversation about how the game can play on stereotypes and preconveived notions. It would’ve been interesting if each player had to make a judgement call on each other based on their strereotypes. Perhaps, the inamtes can’t see each other until they’re in person and their biases don’t match their expectation. I wrestled a lot with these ideas, and I just couldn’t be satsified by a definitive two player game. In the end, I removed the two player component and focused on one player. I shifted focus more onto the scape room idea.
In my final iteration of the game, I decided to focus on puzzles. You’re awoken to some voice talking in your head. You find yourself in an elevator. On each floor, you have to navigate to find a riddle. Solving each one unlocks a new floor.
SPOILER WARNING: This game is named Septimus Morbidius which is approximatley Latin for the seven deadly sins, which is the theme of this game. It turns our you’re in purgatory and you’re in an elevator going to heaven or hell.
Puzzle Questions and Answers
- Puzzle: I see so many pieces of treasure everywhere! I’m going to take it all! https://im-a-puzzle.com/share/4711bd6779ddfd8
- Answer: Greed
- Explanation: Solving the jig saw puzzle leads to the word greed.
- Puzzle: I’m looking in all these mirrors, and I’m proud. I strike a pose in each one. One is standing straight. The next one is standing straight, left arm down, right arm bent up like a 90 degree angle. The last one is kneeling with their butt on their heels. Their back is curved and their head droops down.
- Answer: 142
- Explanation: Each body poses makes a number.
- Puzzle: I do like to eat. What’s Michael’s favorite food?
- Answer: macaroni
- Explanation: This is a joke
- Puzzle: WHAT DOES THIS PHOTO MEAN??? ARGHHH
- Answer: lose your temper
- Explantion: The person is finding something. The word temper is hidden on the left side of the photo
- Puzzle: 🥪➖🥜🧈 ❓ 🆚 🍓🔨
- Answer: 🍓🧃
- Explanation: Sandwich – peanut butter = jelly. Compared to jam, which is mashed fruits, jelly is fruit juice. Thus, they had to respond with the strawbery and juice box emoji.
- Puzzle: Valentine’s Day gallllssss! Just like Caesar, I want to seize the day! From M -“Shout out to T”- M You got me saying gibberish sbza
- Answer: Lust
- Explanation: You use a Caesar cipher shift. M is linked to T, so the shift number is T(20) – M(13) = 7
- Question: Ugghhhhh! I hate taking the stairs. It’s so dang hard to navigate all the paths on each floor. I regret even entering this stupid building. Septimus Morbidus! What does that even mean?? I’m going back to the elevator.
- Answer: Groans
- Explanation: Each map on the floor is one of these numbers, successively: 1, 2, 6, 3, 2, 3. Each puzzle also corresponds to one of the 7 deadly sins. Use each of these numbrers to index into the deadly sin.
She has completed 10 escape rooms before and enjoy puzzles. This is a photo of her plaing the game on my computer. The two pages are her work for playing the game. She did a wonderful job being persistent and solving the puzzles.
- She liked the typewriting animation on terminal
- Instead of typing Up, Right, Left, Down, use North(N), SWE for faster typing and orientation
- Make it clear that you can click on the link for the jig saw puzzle
- “Can I solve part of it” – a common puzzlign technique is to solve part of it
- She thought the answer was “greed is good”
- Explain it’s a one word answer
- Repeats prompt annoyingly
- If it’s already solved, don’t keep prompting
- Make it case insentive on the input
- Provide a piece of paper so it’s easier for them to figure it out
- She sadi “I think i’m getting it now” for navigating the mazes
- Wants to know when she reached a dead end
- She confused the final nubmer in 142 to be 146
- She wants to know if she is already done with floor
- Liked michael’s favorite food, thought it was funny
- “Oh it’s a circle” – began to see the links between the room
- Tokenize words so that the answer doesn’t have to be exact
- Drawings are flipped
- “Whoops whoops whoops” on typing – make it easier to type
- Make it easier to input emoji answer “must be a way to get emojis”
- Option to give up and hints
- Go back to elevator
Septimus Morbidius was an interesting game to play, the premise of 7 puzzles that represent the 7 deadly sins is fun to read about and frames the gameplay in another light. Although I couldn’t find an explicit statement of learning goals— in other words, a functional description— through the gameplay I was able to speculate about what the learning goals might be— embracing challenge and mystery, having persistence through braving difficult puzzles, and exploring the space.
I ran the Python script in the terminal, and I think that added a lot to the gameplay experience and vibe. Line by line there was a script and things to type, and that added to the implementation and embodiment of values such as embracing the challenge and mystery of whatever comes at you. It was relieving to be able to see my options of what to type out as to not have to keep on aimlessly guessing as well, offering a nudge to the puzzles.
My interpretation of the topic to care about was persisting through puzzles and mysteries. To that, I think the game gets you curious about. I am still unsure how much it gets you to care about the puzzles, however. Each choice definitely inspired a curiosity in me, especially at the beginning, where I was asked to go into the elevator or walk around and explore, and that could be said to serve as a means of verification of values. However, that theme of exploration/mystery/puzzle fun wasn’t as clear as it could have been and this could serve as a point of improvement. Again, I liked the medium a lot; although this varies based on where you run the Python script, having an interaction on my terminal which has a black background with white text and a code-y font made for a fun, mysterious experience fit for puzzle-solving and exploration. .
Although the puzzles were interesting (jigsaw puzzle, emoji puzzle). Choices felt a bit deterministic. There was mostly one way to proceed (through the puzzle, maybe walk some bit), but many ways to explore the space. There may have been fewer options because this was moreso like a parser game, but the gameplay felt a lot like a walkthrough. One thing I thought was awesome was that the puzzles were really creative; a point of improvement could be to make the learning goals/narrative a bit more clear and to expand the world and choices to explore. Cool premise!
Septimus Morbidus is an “escape room” style IF where the players navigates seven levels, each representing one of the seven deadly sins. Each floor consists of a maze and then a riddle, and the player must solve the riddle before proceeding to the next floor. For the riddles, the game incorporates several meta-puzzles (such as a puzzle that the player has to open and solve on a browser, a picture with a hidden message that is included with the game, and a riddle about the game creator’s favorite food).
In terms of Values at Play, the game leans more into entertainment than teaching any specific value. However, “persistence in the face of challenge” is a value that the game requires players to act out, and this could be thought of as one of the values this game professes. It seems to lightly touch upon human folly (the seven sins), poking fun at humanity’s gluttony, for example. The writing achieves this by being somewhat satirical and self-referential (‘Why am I here?’ / ‘That’s for you to find out buckaroo. Get on with it’). It’s certainly a challenging game, and plunging players into that experience could be part of a message about the nature of the human condition—we’re all sort of fumbling in the dark and grappling with our own limitations. Though this is a strong value that I don’t think the creator necessarily intended, it’s an aspect that arises naturally by presenting the player with a puzzle to solve. In other words, some value about the nature of human struggle is naturally communicated through any puzzle solving games, of which this is one.
I really liked that the creator took on the challenge of creating their own game, which led to a unique experience that wasn’t defined by the structure of a format like Twine or Inform. It results in an experience that is confusing at times (most of the riddles I had to use the walkthrough for), but I think it’s definitely understandable given that the creator took a creative risk with the project. I enjoyed the meta-puzzle format and thought it was refreshing and innovative.
If the game were to be expanded, I would like to see a change-up in format between levels (7 levels of the same elevator->maze->riddle->elevator format gets a little repetitive). Also, some of the riddles could be made easier, so that the player can solve them reasonably without a walkthrough.