The Spooky Mansion is a text adventure game that I made for the Text Adventure Literacy Project 2022 Jam hosted by Adventuron.io. While the jam stipulated that any engine could be used to create the game, I opted for the Adventuron engine since I have had some experience with it and it makes it incredibly easy to get a fully fledged text adventure up and running in no time.
I had some help in getting the story fleshed out as I used a paper and pencil game of the same name that I had created for my 4 year old. It was a simple paper and pencil RPG about exploring funny things around a spooky mansion, since she loves ghosts and monsters. I integrated a lot of the characters that I had created with her, like the talking pickle, the ghost chef, and the hungry monster right into the game.
So, the layout and puzzles of the mansion were really the first parts created, as I fit those elements from our stories into a map. In fact, the entire mansion was pretty much laid out before the question of “why are you in this house?” was even asked. It took me some back and forth to come up with a convincing or fitting idea of why you would have to explore this mansion, while fitting the silly-spooky theme of the place. Losing a dog that runs away seemed like a good fit – worrisome enough to spur the protagonist to action, but not too high-stakes to overshadow the silliness inside.
I have always had a problem of feature/puzzle creep in the previous games that I have made, so I made a very conscious effort to stick to the bare bones number of puzzles and rooms needed to satisfy the contest requirements. Check out the jam page for the full list of requirements for all of the games.
Similar to my previous foray into the text adventure space, Save Bigfoot’s Christmas, I decided to go with classic EGA graphics at a resolution of 160 x 48 pixels. This is a pretty good sweet spot for me now in terms of creating decent graphics and still being able to get them done in a game jam time frame. I did decide to step up my graphics creation this time by using Aseprite to create all of my graphics.
Aseprite turned out to be a fantastic tool – not only did the palettes, layers, and dithering tools make low res graphics easy to create; its animated gif functionality made turning those backgrounds into animated versions incredibly easy. I had played around with a few animated gifs in Adventuron in my last game, and knew if I could add more in this game, it could really step it up. My animated gif creation in Bigfoot’s Christmas was tedious with the simple online sprite editors I was using, Aseprite made it sooo much easier to animate my backgrounds. I didn’t go overboard with any of the animations, just enough to add a little movement in many scenes – a spoon stirring a cauldrons, mouths moving in conversation, fire crackling, a hungry monster pounding his fists.
These sprites paid off, and got me first place in the graphics category!
As the rest of the rankings from the jam showed, the rest of the game was not as strong as the graphics! It is always very difficult to judge what is needed in the parser handling, and this time around I got a little strapped for time at the end and had almost no play testing. As I continue to learn with these adventure game jams, playtesting by many different people is so necessary for a polished game, because there are just so many different ways to approach typing in solutions to the puzzles in the game. This left a few pretty big bugs and holes in the game come time for release. I’ve cleaned most of them up since then, and none of them were particularly difficult to fix, but when they happen, really bring down the game.
Every single Adventuron game jam that comes out, I have an absolute blast with. Text adventure games are the first kind of games that I remember playing and have a fond place in my heart, and I love making them as well. I think the environment of the Spooky Mansion came together pretty well, and think I might be returning to it someday in a “Return to the Spooky Mansion” or some such title. Check out The Spooky Mansion and the rest of the jam entries for some great, quick modern text adventure titles at the jam page.