FX My Life 2.0

OK, I’m excited to get on with the next game, so let’s talk about what it’s going to be. I don’t have much time to play games these days, which tends to limit my playing when I do have time to the sorts of games that can be picked up quickly. Although back in the day I used to like reading the game manuals (and before that typing in the code), these days I need to be able to grasp something quickly and, if I’m going to play it for any length of time, figure out where the “juice” is. That is, what is it that makes the thing fun, challenging, interesting, etc.

Which brings me to Slayaway Camp! I don’t recall when or how I picked this up — I have about a thousand games I’ve collected over the decades which I’ve never played, which puts it up over the many hundreds of books I’ve never read (but am getting through!)—but it reminded me of some very old games, including Blackbox, which you can type in yourself and play if you have a compatible Basic interpreter.

Typing in something like that, by the way, can be very instructive. This is what we were dealing with back in 1980, folks. Literally none of the modern conveniences you have today existed on personal computers back then (except dynamic memory allocation, which would work until it crashed your Microsoft-brand Operating System).

Anyway, Slayaway Camp is a very slick, nicely animated take on an old type of game, and while the game mechanics are fun in a Sudoku-kind-of-a-way, the graphics and theming are priceless if you’re steeped in the ’80s slasher drama. It’s full of little Easter eggs and a kickin’ rock theme.

So, we’re gonna steal it. Not really, of course, because that would be illegal and possibly immoral, and a jerk move besides. But the cool thing about it, from a programming perspective, is how it presents: a well-defined space, strict basic rules, lots of room for variants.

The basic concept is that there is a player token (a slasher, in Slayaway) that moves around a grid in one of the four cardinal directions. Each grid may have a wall that blocks passage in a particular direction. Whatever direction the player chooses, the token goes as far as it can all the way to the end of the board — or until it hits a wall.

The player wins by reaching the exit.

In Slayaway Camp, the exit can only be opened by slaying all the campers.

We’ll do a fantasy theme: Our player token will be a knight, let’s say, and he’ll be moving around a dungeon. Here’s an example of a very basic “puzzle”:

Only one way out

The knight (represented by a circle till I dig through my licensed artwork) has four moves from this position: He can move all the way to the top, left or bottom of the grid. He can move to the right as far as the wall shown.

If he moves to the right, he can then move down to hit the exit (the filled in square), but otherwise, he’ll no longer be able to get out. You could make a vast number of puzzles just with pieces and walls, but what I like about this formula is how creative you can get with just a few “mods”.

Like, we can add an instadeath square: A pit. (Slayaway Camp has multiple kinds of “instadeath” which is thematically appropriate but doesn’t actually add any variation to the game. When we’re putting our game together, we’ll try to keep the variants meaningful.)

Let’s vary the map slightly.

OK, now if the player goes down from the first wall, he has to go right, down and left to exit. If he goes left first, he falls into the pit and dies. But every barrier suggests a solution. Here’s one not in Slayaway Camp: Let’s have a boulder trap.

The boulder trap’s rules will be that it is activated by someone landing on any tile adjacent to it (and our rules will always only deal with the four cardinal directions, or up, down, right and left — no diagonals!). When activated, the boulder rolls as far as it can. And a boulder cancels pits. (We’re getting into Nethack/Sokoban territory here.)

So:

So, the player would follow the blue path till he triggered the boulder. The boulder rolls to the pit and fills it. Then he returns to the green path that’s on the same row with the pit and the boulder, and can escape (because the pit is filled in).

We can achieve another simple puzzle variant by having “treasure” locations. A treasure location is a tile that the user can visit for more points, if we want to make a point-based game. We could also have, let’s call them “artifact” locations that the user has to visit before the escape opens up.

Also fun to have would be monsters: Slayaway Camp has campers, cops and SWAT guys.

You have to kill all the campers in order to exit. You kill them by trying to move on to their square, but if you get one square away from them without killing them, they run in the opposite direction. So, let’s say we have a “goblin” that behaves similarly:

In this map, the player must resist the temptation to kill the goblin directly. If he does so, he’ll have no way to get to the exit. But by going up first, then right, he ends up above the goblin, which then runs screaming to the bottom.

Now, when the player heads down, he stops at the square directly above the goblin, killing it, and he can escape to the right.

Slayaway Camp’s cops are those that arrest the killer when they’re approached from the front, but killed if the killer comes from behind or either side. Slayaway Camp’s SWAT guys not only arrest the killer when he comes from any side (unless it’s dark, in which case they only arrest when hit straight on), but also if he stops in the path of their vision (so they can take out an entire row or column of the board.

That’s pretty specific, when you think about it! You could have monster-pieces that captured anything within one square (including diagonals! which we said we’d never do!) or two squares or more! You could have monster-pieces that attacked other monster-pieces! You could have monster-pieces that you weren’t allowed to kill (or come to harm), like Sleepaway Camp has cats.

You could have tiles or walls that were deadly, but only at specific times, or with limited charges (sort of like our boulder trap has one “charge”). You could have objects that acted as barriers, but only once. In Slayaway Camp there are wobbly bookcases that occupy a location, but if you bump into them on one-side or the other they “fall” into the next location, killing anything there and becoming a permanent barrier on that location.

You can also have turn limits, so that the puzzle must be solved in X moves. Or give people higher rewards for certain accomplishments. (Passivist awards for not killing anything, etc.)

In other words, it’s the virtual antithesis of tic-tac-toe. We have tremendous freedom.

Although we will move pieces around because, hey, we want to play this fun game. If you’re an astute player (or maker) of games, you may be thinking, “Well, okay, the real trick is going to be designing the maps.” And if you were thinking that, give yourself a gold star because that’s exactly where the challenge is and where we can (forgive me) FleX our muscles.

Making a map designer is going test our skills, to be sure, and it’s going to test our testing skills, since I missed doing tests last time, and Lord knows if my “dyslexia” kicks up again, I’m going to need them.

So, I think our launch-point will be to kludge together some very basic basic concepts: A board, the knight — Wouldn’t it be fun to have different characters that had to handle the boards differently? Probably super-challenging to design and I’m already way ahead of myself — and, oh, let’s say the exit. Then we can start “play” and end a game.

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Blake

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger, traveling through this world of woe.