Mobile gaming is a big business. If you do it right you can find fame or fortune, or sometimes both. One such game to receive wide acclaim is Wizard’s Choice, which we reviewed last month. However, this isn’t the type of game you’d normally expect to see on a high-end smartphone, it’s a text-based game, and we wanted to know why the developer – Sam Landstrom – opted for this old-school format.
“Personally, I wrote this because I like to write (I wrote a relatively successful sci-fi novel called MetaGame) and I like to code, so this was a marriage of both.”
Sam then quotes one of the gaming legends:
“As Sid Meier once said: ‘A game is a series of interesting choices’. Text games strip out all the nonsense and focus on this principal. There’s no learning curve, there’s no huge commitment of time—there’s just interesting choices.”
“The beauty of graphics wears off on me in a few minutes and then it just comes down whether the game is fun or frustrating and a waste of time? There’s often too much to do, too much trying to climb stairs, looking for objects, and otherwise doing tedious things. A lot of RPG games are like this.”
As you can imagine, writing a text-based game means that there are lots of words for Sam to put to (e)paper. Each chapter in the Wizard’s Choice saga consists of around 40-55k words and with five chapters already published, that’s about 200,000 words. Include the fact that Sam’s currently writing the sixth chapter and the word count increases again.
“Writing the whole story and compiling the code takes a lot of time – about four months per volume. I started working on Wizard’s Choice 20 months ago and it’s all created in my spare time. Initially, my wife helped me edit the first few books, but I recently started hiring people to help with the editing and also to create some art for the story. Sites like elance.com and guru.com are great for that sort of thing.”
Although there aren’t any fading screens, high-def explosions or 3D-landscapes, writing a text-based isn’t necessarily any easier to create, as Sam explains:
“Since this is the only game I’ve created, I wouldn’t actually know if it was any easier; but I can speculate. On the one hand, the engineering is much easier for a text game, but on the other hand, you have to write a book. I have 200k + words of storyline in Wizard’s Choice, which is double the size of the novel I wrote several years ago. Writing a novel isn’t a trivial task.”
Writing a book and writing a text-based game, although partly similar, do have their own challenges. In a novel, you can go into great depth, but in a game it’s different; you’re writing for a gamer:
“It’s important to not get too bogged down with detail, like you can in a book. You need to strike a good balance of story versus a fun game with challenges for the gamer to overcome. You’ve got to keep people engaged, both as a reader and a gamer.”
Sam has some tips for budding-app developers:
“Just make it fun and don’t worry so much about cool features.”
“And, get some good artwork for your icon so that you can attract customers. If you’re not an artist, use elance.com or guru.com and hire somebody to do the work.”
And also some wise-words:
“Test the crap out of it and polish it up. Get other people to test it, too, and get some honest feedback. Ask them ‘is it fun?'”
The past 20 months have been rewarding to Sam. Wizard’s Choice currently has almost 1,000 reviews on Windows Phone Store with an average star rating of 4.5 out of 5, with lots of people describing the game as exciting, challenging and engaging, amongst others.
But what are Sam’s future plans?
“I’m finishing up Volume 6 of Wizard’s Choice. That will probably be the end of that series. After that, I’ll start up another series, perhaps in a different genre.”
“I just produced volume 1 of a new series Zombie High Volume 1. Unlike Wizard’s Choice, I didn’t write most of the story, but it runs on my software. Erin Foster Hartley is the author.”