Way Too Twisty

Q: What do a remote-controlled spider, an Ikea stepladder, a cigar-store wooden Indian, a hyperactive mummy, and a big bag of Purina Pterodactyl Chow have in common?

A: They’re all featured in my next text adventure game, “The Only Possible Prom Dress,” which may perhaps be finished and released someday.

I’ve been working on this game, off and on, for six years now. It’s a sequel to the very first game I wrote, “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina,” which was released in 1999. The new game has the same setting, although portions of it have been remodeled. The player’s quest is rather similar, though little Samantha is now a teenager. Some of the puzzles echo, directly or indirectly, things that happened in “Ballerina,” but many of them are entirely different.

Having picked up “Prom Dress” a few days ago, I was surprised how much work I’ve already put into it. It’s more than half finished, which means I may only need three more months to get it ready for beta-testing. Many of the more complex puzzles are already coded, though a few remain on the drawing board. I’ve barely started on the other characters, however. As the story unfolds, you’ll encounter a dozen or so odd people, some of whom will help you along, some of whom you’ll have to outwit or outmaneuver in order to make progress.

“Prom Dress” is unabashedly a puzzle-fest. Its literary qualities, if any, are mostly accidental. (Well, okay, technically it is a love story of sorts, though neither of the lovers is entirely human.) Some of the puzzles are, I hope, quite easy. Others will require some head-scratching and teeth-gnashing. At least one is clear out in the read-the-author’s-mind category.

The game will contain a complete set of hints, so it’s not possible to get stuck. However, I’m planning to implement the scheme I first used in “Ballerina”: The more hints you use for a given puzzle, the fewer points you’ll get for solving it. If you read a given set of hints clear through to the end, you’ll be able to work the puzzle and move on with the story, but you’ll earn no points at all.

There are, I hasten to add, no mazes. (There were four mazes in “Ballerina,” because I simply didn’t know that players had gotten tired of them.) There are a couple of things that look like mazes, but they’re not.

As a teaser — and this may only entice you if you actually played “Ballerina” — here’s the intro of the new game:

The Story So Far…

For the past ten years you’ve managed to avoid shopping at Flogg & Grabby’s Stufftown. Not much of a hardship — the stores there are second-rate at best. The drive to the mall at Emerald Ridge is longer, but the merchandise is higher-quality and the ambiance far more modern and pleasant.

The real reason you stay away from Stufftown, though, isn’t because you don’t like the stores. No, it’s the memories of that weird Christmas Eve, ten years ago now, when you had to burgle every single store in the shopping center in order to finally get your hands on Sugar Toes Ballerina, the impossible-to-find fad doll of the decade. Your young daughter Samantha was sure Santa was going to leave Sugar Toes for her when he came down the chimney, and you couldn’t bear to disappoint little Sam on Christmas morning, not even if it meant wholesale breaking and entering.

So Stufftown brings back bittersweet memories. But this afternoon you’re going to have to face the memories. There’s no way to avoid it.

Samantha is seventeen now, and tonight is the big night she’s been waiting for for months: her senior prom at Harry S. Truman High School. Coincidentally, the prom this year is on Harry Truman’s actual birthday, May 8. Also coincidentally, today the Truman High School lacrosse team won the state championship.

Lacrosse is about the biggest thing in town, and when the team brought home the trophy on Harry Truman’s actual birthday, a parade was hurriedly organized. The parade is going on right now, on the other side of town, and just about everybody in town has gone off to cheer the team.

Now, about the prom dress. Sam’s little brother Stevie may or may not have spilled the black ink on it deliberately. He claims it was an accident, but it was a pretty unlikely one. You’re planning to sort that out with him later. The problem is, Sam’s date for the prom is the captain of the lacrosse team, and she really, really likes him, and this will be their first date, only now her prom dress is ruined, and the prom will be starting in about four hours.

The fashion boutique where she bought the dress happens to be in Stufftown, and on the phone they told you they had one more in stock exactly like it — the same size, same style, same color. But when you called, they were just closing up so the sales staff could rush off to watch the parade. The clerk you talked to was practically giddy about the lacrosse championship! You tried to explain to her that your daughter’s prom date is the captain of the lacrosse team, figuring that might convince her to keep the store open until you got there, but somehow you got disconnected, and when you called back all you got was the machine.

So now you’re on your way back to Stufftown, this time to get Sam a prom dress. You’re hoping maybe this new foray will be easier than what you went through ten years ago, but you have a dreadful premonition that it may turn out to be even harder.

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