Game Jam - Play M'Urda House

Every team had to begin their game jam design with paper prototyping: start with as simple an idea as possible, one mechanic, write down some rules on sticky notes (as few as possible), start playing. When it sucks, breaks, or stalls, then add, change or remove a rule. Repeat. Use dice, tokens, pawns, poker chips, playing cards, index cards, post its, markers, or whatever else could be foraged to design the game without code or art. Once the idea is locked in, then proceed to art and code production. Gameplay development really is that simple to begin with. An idea, rules, and paper.

Thus, we decided to share some of our fun gameplay experiments with you (and introduce you to the teams behind them). Full disclosure - each gameplay experiment will require a unique amount of effort to play, and we promise without a shadow of a doubt, you will hit some bugs! 

We kicked off our Game Jam spotlight with an unexpected dodgeball farm game in Bumpkins, then kicked it to the other end of the spectrum with a unique print and play boardgame - Dendrites, and now bring it home in text adventure style with the appropriately titled - M'Urda House

A text adventure game about a perfectly normal house, the M’Urda House, where nothing bad ever happens.  Ever.  Built using Inform 7

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD M'URDA HOUSE (ZIP)

HOW TO INSTALL M'URDA House (PC and MAC):

  1. Download the M'Urda House Zip file from the link above and unzip to any folder
  2. You need to be running a Z-machine player. The links below are to an outside website that is not controlled by us and all content found there is pursuant to that website’s terms and at your own risk. You may also use other Z-machine players.
  3. Once you have a Z-machine player running, navigate to the folder from step #1 and select file MUrda House.gblorb from within the player.

HOW TO PLAY M'URDA House:

  1. Simply type text words to progress through the story. Experiment with different words and see what works!
  2. CRITICAL TIP - make sure to type "knock the knocker" in the opening of the game, it will help you progress =)
  3. If you need help, you guessed it, type HELP, watch the magic unfold!

 

From left to right, M'Urda House was created by Santa Monica Studio "Team Text" - Sound Designer Heather Plunkard, Programmer Mike Urda, Senior Game Design Manager David Hewitt, and Production Assistant Carlo Casella. While Carlo and Heather didn't escape, David and Mike made out of the M'Urda House to chat about the inspiration and process behind their Team Text design.

TELL US A BRIEF HISTORY ON YOUR GAMING INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE AND ROLE AT SANTA MONICA STUDIO?

Mike: I got my start in Chicago for a small independent studio, six years ago as a QA Specialist (man, has it really been that long?). Build Engineer/Programmer is my title at Santa Monica Studio which sounds incredibly mundane but I get to stretch my technical aptitude and work with a ton of great people.

David: My background is mostly in Game Design and Creative Direction working at smaller third party studios. I came to Santa Monica Studio about five years ago as Game Design Manager, and have now transitioned into a role as Senior Managing Producer, helping support the design team working on Internal projects here. So I’m still tangled up with Design, but perhaps a little rusty in some of the hands-on aspects!

WHAT INSPIRATION LED TO THE IDEA FOR M’URDA HOUSE? WHY A TEXT BASED ENTRY GAME?

David: The idea of forming a small team to make a text game was suggested right at the start of the Game Jam. Mike, Carlo and I agreed to join up and so we started from there – the idea of a text game came before the idea for the game itself. The theme was “support”, and we quickly landed on the idea of a group of people helping support each other through a horror-movie scenario. In thinking up a premise for the horror movie setup, we went back to the “support” theme, and thought of a big scary house, and various charities coming to knock on the door to ask for support for their cause, and them all getting murdered horribly. As we worked on the game, the 80’s theme and the idea of a troop of scouts fell into place very naturally over the course of the first hour or two. The third idea that came from the theme of “support” was the victory condition: to defeat the house by removing its support and bringing it crashing down.

Game Jams remind us why we are here. They are the embodiment of our culture: we create things and revel in people enjoying them.  It’s really that simple.

Mike: The text based aspect was something that we really believed in. It became the bedrock of the remainder of the design.  The inspiration for M’Urda House was kind of spontaneous. We were looking for a story to tell and we ended up with a murder mystery because who doesn’t like a good whodunit. We were in a room together and because (apparently) we are terrible we kept coming up with humorous ways to kill people. So the whodunit rapidly morphed into essentially a player run death trap.

HOW DOES THE DESIGN PROCESS IN CREATING THIS GAME RELATE TO THE DESIGN PROCESS WHEN PROTOTYPING AN ACTUAL FEATURE IN A GAME?

Mike: To be honest, most of our work was planning not necessarily prototyping. We did a couple of quick prototypes between two interactive fiction engines but quickly moved into implementation. That all being said however, the brainstorming and implementation were immensely rewarding. Creation is one of the most beautiful things you can do.

David: It’s remarkably similar! We went through over-ambition, bickering over vision and priorities, scrapping everything and starting over, and then settling on an achievable level of complexity and a plan for splitting up the work and getting it done.

IS M'URDA HOUSE LIKE PT OR UNTIL DAWN? ARE THERE A NUMBER OF WAYS I CAN PROGRESS?

Mike: M’Urda has a number of victory or failure conditions but not nearly as P.T. or Until Dawn. It was rewarding to see people try to determine the right and the wrong ways to do things. I won’t spoil the surprises but there is fun to be had, regardless of how you define “success”. We definitely mined 80’s tropes, both general cultural and horror specific, as much as we could.

David: It’s a little bit like those...only much, much worse! We only had a couple of days to work on this, and we’d never seen the tool before! The house is non-linear, though, and there are a number of ways to progress through it, and even multiple endings. In terms of move inspirations, it’s 80’s shlock horror all the way.

WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE ON M'URDA HOUSE? WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO IT?

Mike: My role in M’Urda House (outside of the obvious use of my name) was the primary technical implementer. I did research on what interactive fiction framework we chose (Inform7). I also worked on how best to get the goal across in the most flexible way. Again, vague on details because I don’t spoil any of the fun for people.

David: As a group, we all laid out the structure of the house on paper and collaborated on brainstorming all the various horrible ways you can die (there are a LOT of these). Then we split up and divided the work, with Ariel and Carlo doing the writing, and Mike and I doing the scripting. Heather joined the team partway through and provided some amazingly gruesome audio effects! I’m personally most proud of pulling all the elements together and making it work. I set up the house structure and progression, and implemented most of the rooms from the writing that Ariel and Carlo provided. Mike used his superior programmer brain to handle the really gnarly underlying logic around tracking who is alive and dead and the system for combining objects, and other tricky things. So he did all the hard/interesting bits and Ariel and Carlo did the creative/interesting bits, and my domain was really just the connective tissue between those things.

 

WHY DO YOU BELIEVE GAME JAMS ARE IMPORTANT TO OUR GAME DEVELOPMENT STUDIO CULTURE HERE AT SANTA MONICA STUDIO?

Mike: GameJams remind us why we are here. They are the embodiment of our culture: we create things and revel in people enjoying them.  It’s really that simple.

David: They are a creative palate cleanser, they let you walk in someone else’s shoes for a few days, they are a fun way to learn a new skill set, and they provide opportunities to work with others on the team in a whole different dynamic. Honestly, they are a highlight of the year for me, and remind me why I do what I do, and help me understand how to do it better.

IF A TEAM OF 5 CAN COME TOGETHER IN 2 DAYS TO CREATE A GAME SLICE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE ASPIRING TO BE GAME DEVELOPERS? WHAT DO GAME JAMS ILLUSTRATE TO THOSE ASPIRING?

Mike: If you have something you are passionate about, just make it in whatever form you can. It does not need to be complete or perfect, just the act itself will be fulfilling and drive you forward. Passion is the key to all things, in my opinion.

David: Make something! If you can’t make something good, make something crappy! Just start. You WILL surprise yourself. I had to talk several people into joining the Game Jam this year, who felt they would not be capable of doing anything in such a short period of time, or had nothing to bring to the table. In 100% of cases, they were wrong, and made something amazing! So set the self-doubt aside for a couple of days and get amongst it!

FOR OUR NEXT GAMEJAM, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO CREATE?

Mike: I have no idea what people will want to do next year but whatever it is, I am 100% in. Easily one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in a long time.

David: Something unexpected! On the way into the studio on the day we started M’Urda House, I had no idea what type of game I would be working on. That’s part of the magic...seeing something crystalize from nothing, purely as a result of collaborating with a small group of talented humans with diverse, surprising ideas.

 

If you're interested in participating in our next GameJam at Santa Monica Studio, then please check out our Careers section to see if we have a role that fits you. We're hiring right now for our next PlayStation 4 project in development. If jammin together is the type of game development culture that gets you out of bed, we'd love to meet you.

VIEW OPEN POSITIONS and FOLLOW US @SonySantaMonica

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