Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inside the Guide: Alibi in Ashes

Welcome to a special Inside the Guide, a behind-the-scenes look at making videogame walkthroughs.  Recently, I finished my text walkthrough for Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes.  Believe it or not, the hardest part of writing this guide was dividing it up into sections.

When you write a longer guide, you need to break it up into different sections.  That way, people can easily find help with whatever they're looking for.  Some games break up into sections very easily.  For example, Mario games get broken up into different worlds, Fire Emblem games get broken up into different chapters, and so on.

Once in a while, though, you come across a game which doesn't easily split up into different sections.  Usually, these are more open-ended games, where you can do things in any order you want to.  Writing guides for these games is harder, because you basically have to make up an arbitrary standard, just for the sake of making the guide more organized.  Here are three techniques I've used in the past:

1. Don't split up the guide at all.  Instead, pretend there is a correct order to solving the puzzles in the game, even though there isn't. (Example: Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill)
2. Split up the guide, according to the various locations you visit.  (Example: Putt-Putt Travels Through Time)
3. Split up the guide, according to the various puzzles you solve.  (Example: Back to the Future: Episode Four)

The problem with writing a guide for Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is that it is a semi-linear game.  There are at least six different plotlines and characters that you have to investigate over the course of the game, and they are loosely organized.  Some investigations, like the "double-check the alibis of every suspect", can be performed at any time.  Others have to be performed in a specific order; for example, when you're getting fingerprints from the suspects, you have to get Alexei's fingerprint before getting Brenda's.

When writing my guide, I made a small chart of all the different investigations and how they're related. It turned out that five of the larger puzzles have "solve the evidence locker puzzle" as a prerequisite.  So I decided to use that puzzle as the arbirtary standard for my guide.  The guide goes all the way up to the evidence locker puzzle, and then the investigation section splits up from there.  It might not be the ideal way to organize the guide, but it works.

I put my guide to the test, by replaying the game and solving the puzzles in a completely different order than I did the first time around.  I also tried a 1% playthrough, where you do the absolute bare minimum in order to get through the game.  It was pretty fun doing this, and some of the results were unexpected:
  • You can get through the game without playing as Bess.
  • About four-fiths of the conversations in this game are optional.
  • You have to read the newspaper article in Nancy Drew's house in order to beat the game.
  • You need to learn that three suspects are hiding flammable substances, before you get the lab results that tell you which flammable substance was used to start the fire.
Anyway, that's all I have to say about writing the text walkthrough for Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes.


Inky said...

I have just one question folks:
Is 'Sammy' Arglefumph's mother? Because, I was, like, reading over several "sammy" posts and there's been a recurring theme in all of them, i.e. encouragement to Mr. Gray, snappiness at over critical/dis-agreeing commentators. Oh & don't forget, a motherly protectiveness tone in them vrs. that of a fellow gamer:/?
Could be there something more than adoring fan, and could that something more be family connect-ions? I guess time will tell.
-The Lol eNews reporter ;D

Sammy said...

@Inky hahaha that's funny that you think that about me, but I'm nothing like that. I am a fourteen year old Australian gamer, not Michael's mother. I'm in the debating club at my school and I love friendly arguments and putting my two cents in. I love Michael's walkthroughs and I always like to encourage him, but I didn't realise I sound 'motherly'! anyway thanks for the comment, you mad my day! :)

Jennifer said...

you mean "made"?

Anonymous said...

You don't actually get to see Ned do you?