Scavenger Hunter
 
Interview with Anne Gregory 
by Danyboy
November 2, 2006

 

The Story:

It has been going on for many centuries.  In the dark ages missing treasures and artifacts were blamed on the devil and acts of witchcraft.  People gave accounts of seeing objects mysteriously levitate then vanish from sight.  Elaborate rituals were performed to protect precious items but often to no avail.

In the late 20th century archeologists discovered in a cave hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies a strange alien device, a ring of asteroid stone that turned out to be an Inter Dimensional Portal.  Our first explorations off world soon led to contact with other intelligent species.  We found out that they were also suffering from random unexplained thefts for countless centuries.  It was from our alien friends that we finally found out the name of the mysterious forces that could pop in out of thin air, steal somthing and vanish without leaving a trace.

They are called "The Scavengers" and it turns out that their continuing thefts have cost insurance companies, galaxy wide, untold millions in claims over many years.  Neither we nor our alien friends know where they come from and as yet we are helpless to stop them from the pillaging of our planet.

A small task force has been created by the Inter Universe Insurance Corporation called the Scavenger Hunters and since they have opened an office here on Earth, humans have started joining this elite team.  The process of tracking down property taken from Earth to other dimensions by the Scavengers has begun but we need more help.

Are you up to the task ?

Using a combination of alien technology and good old human ingenuity you will embark on missions to alien worlds that vary from almost Earth like to totally unearthly.  Each Hunter's mission objective is two-fold; first retrieve the stolen goods, and secondly, discover the secret of the power crystals and how they can be used to destroy these alien worlds.

The Inter Universe Insurance Corporation hopes that a continued assault by the Scavenger Hunter task force will turn the eye of this alien species away from our planet as a supplier of materials for their pleasures.

As a Scavenger Hunter each mission you elect to go on will be different from your last one.  There may be new worlds to explore, a new list of stolen property that we need you to locate and recover, and finally there will new puzzles every time you teleport off world.  Each new mission will be full of new challenges.

Finally, our alien friends have told us that the Scavengers are non-violent, very laid back race for such prodigious thieves, so you will never face any violence or course language during your off world explorations.

Introduction:

Anne Gregory first fell in love with adventure games after purchasing the Infocom Zork collection of interactive fiction.  Unhappy with the "play once" nature of adventure games she began working on an idea that eventually evolved into Scavenger Hunter.  Along the way, she learned numerous programming languages, mastered modeling and rendering programs and agonized over finding a game engine that would bring Scavenger Hunter to life.  With the help of her husband Hugh and the discovery of the Adventure Maker engine in 2003, Anne was finally able to make Scavenger Hunter.

General Questions:

DB - The story looks very interesting, can you be more specific about it?

The player will be assuming the role of a stolen property recovery agent for a very different kind of insurance company.  Each game will send you on a mission to retrieve a collection of stolen property.  These missions will have you visiting a number of different worlds where your problem solving skills and attention to detail will be put to the test.  When you have completed the mission to the best of your abilities and return to the office, your success on the mission will be assessed and you will be rewarded accordingly.

DB - How many worlds or places will we be playing in?

The game comes with a 'library' of 9 different worlds at the time of publication.  Every time the player starts a new game the AI will choose 5 of these worlds at random to create the playing field.

DB - What other characters are we going to see during our journey?

There won't be any other characters for you to see in the game.  One other "off stage" character is implied through the written text messages you will receive.  These messages are from Webley Vickers, the Scavenger Hunter Dispatcher, who assigns you to off world missions in search of stolen property.

DB - On the website it states that we will only be a member of a small task force without any name.  Why have you decided not to give our character a particular identity?

Actually, the character is a member of the Inter Universe Insurance Corporation's elite "Scavenger Hunter" task force.  This is made evident when you start the game and is also mentioned on the updated version of the website that went up while this interview was in progress.

The demos that are available for the game have been designed as training or recruitment exercises for would-be members of the elite task force.  Keeping along this path, in the full game, the player will be playing as themselves.  The voice of the Scavenger Hunter in the game is that of a female, who has an Australian aboriginal name (which you will find out when you purchase the game).

DB - Can you tell us what kind of tasks we will have to do during gameplay?

There are devices in the game which do not function (for lack of parts) and these will need to be fixed in order to access other areas of the game.

Upon starting a game, your character is provided with a list of stolen property that needs to be found.  These items are scattered throughout the game and do not always appear in the same spots from game to game so close observation is needed but the game does use a "smart" cursor.

Most of the buildings that are in the game have some sort of locking device that will need to be figured out in order to gain access.

There are crystals that need to be collected to be awarded a bonus at the completion of the game (the game can be completed with some or none of the crystals, but no bonus points will be awarded).  Acquiring the crystals will require some thinking in order to get the devices that hold them open.


DB - Will we ever be able to know by playing the game, who are the Scavenger Hunters and where do they come from?

Actually, the player is the Scavenger Hunter, a human being from our very own planet Earth. There is information on the Scavenger species available from the main menu of the game.

DB - Can you give us more details about the Dimensional Portal?

Travel between the separate worlds that make up a game is achieved by using the portals that are found on every world.

When you leave the Inter Universe Insurance Corp. office you will use an "ID" portal to reach one of the 5 worlds the AI has selected for you to explore.  The game AI decides where you will start.

Each world has two types of portals.  The Type One or Inter-World portal will take you to one of the other 4 worlds in the game.  The Type Two or Inter-Dimensional portal will take you to the end stage area, from where you can complete the game.  This "ID" portal is always missing the necessary parts to make it function (those Scavenger's are a crafty lot), but the parts the Hunter (you the player) will need are located somewhere in the 5 worlds that you explore.  You will need to match the part to the correct "ID" portal though. They are all subtly different.


DB - On the website I saw that among our friends we will have some aliens, what is their role?

Their role is part of the back-story as it were.  As the recently (during this interview) updated website says, it is they who explained the centuries of mysterious thefts.  They have set up a local office here on Earth and invited beings from our world to join the elite Scavenger Hunter task force.

Replayability:

FGM - Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, whether they are told aloud, in books, movies, TV or games.  There is by necessity a certain amount of linearity to this - how will you overcome this to the extent that the players will want to replay this game?  Won't the story be the same?

Yes, the story will always be the same.  Property has been stolen and it is your (the player's) role to locate that property and recover it.  Along the way, you can have a go at attempting to destroy the alien worlds as a part of the task force's effort to try and deter the Scavenger's from further pilfering of goods from our world.

Since there are more worlds available in the 'library' than the game selects for each new game, replaying will allow you to explore different worlds, deployed in different arrangements.

Locations for the stolen property change with every new game, as does the list of property you need to locate.

Although the underlying story is the same, the content is always different and there is also no set pattern that needs to be followed while exploring the game worlds.

DB - Since we will be able to play the game more than once, will we be able to solve some new puzzles each time and what kinds of puzzles are we going to have to solve?

Yes, you will be able to solve new puzzles with every new game.

- Coded door locks change from game to game.

- Items that are needed to solve puzzles are not always located in the same places.

- Depending on how the AI sets up the game, some puzzles may be omitted entirely if they are not needed.

- Solutions to puzzles are not fixed that is to say, if for example, in game "A" you needed a key to open a door, in game "B" you might find that the door is unlocked, and in game "C" there could be another scenario again!

Also, don't expect to find the tools you need to solve puzzles in the same place every time, they also get moved around from game to game.  There are different types of puzzles in the game.

- there are inventory puzzles: e.g. use key on lock

- there are a few arithmetic puzzles for determining codes

- there are device puzzles: e.g. operating a control panel to achieve a result elsewhere in the game

- there are puzzles that rely on your observations of the surroundings in order to solve them.


DB - What about the inventory items and/or equipment, will we be using the same ones each time we play the game?

You will always have the same basic set of equipment (your field kit) that you need to pick up in the office when you start a new game (of course your list of stolen property will always be different).  As you progress through the game, the inventory items and tools that you collect will vary depending on the set up done by the AI (puzzles, worlds etc.) for the particular new game that you are playing.

Mechanics:

DB - Seven years to complete a game seems to be a long time, game technology has evolved a lot during this period, will your game be able to compete with other games?

Only time will tell how well we will fair against the other games out there.  Our intent was not necessarily to produce a game with the latest whiz bang technology (real time 3D, 360 degree movement, etc.) but to produce a game that players would be able to replay over and over again.

Seven years is a long time, but most of that was spent trying to create/find a game engine that would make a replayable adventure with the features we wanted.

FGM - Since you were programming certain switches to trip at certain times in order to progress, and tripping those from multiple events, may I assume that: 1, this was both fun and a nightmare to program, and 2, that it was a near impossibility to test all the permutations possible?

Yes, it was fun and challenging to program all the random effects into the game but it is all done logically so it was not much of a nightmare.

Testing all the permutations is next to impossible but careful programming and game construction helps to ensure that no matter what permutation comes up, there will be no problems.


FGM - Every time I hear of multiple endings of a game, (unless there were only one or two choices that enabled that), I wonder about the programming of it. Was there an override of the random generator for creation and testing purposes that enabled one to call up a certain scenario?  Was that truly difficult to achieve?

There was a lot of testing during development with various parameters preset to produce a specific result.  This was done to get the basic functioning of a procedure ironed out, then the game AI was allowed to generate a random game and the procedures (when they arose) were tested in real time.

Testing of the random generator for the game was not that difficult but was certainly more time consuming than what is needed for a non-random game.  One of our beta testers has now played it over 200 times since last February and has yet to report a repeat of a playing field layout.


FGM - Will you tell us how many possibilites there are for different experiences?  Will you silence the naysayers who feel it can't be done?

World arrangements: the game chooses 5 worlds from a library of 9 and tosses them randomly into a preset pattern.  The number of unique combinations is 3024.

Stolen Property:

Any item can exist in any world. The number of items on a particular game's stolen property list can vary from 13 items to 22 items from a library of 26.  If I pick just one world, which can hold a maximum of, let's say 4 items, the number of unique combinations resulting is greater than my calculator can display!


Puzzles:

There are locks requiring codes.  Should such a lock be activated for a new game, it's code is purely random generated and you may never see the same sequence again.  In a few cases, where a code is required to unlock something, there are 3 different codes available for the AI to choose from.  However, distinguishing between those few with just 3 codes and those with endless possibilities is not that easy.

Some of the device puzzles are designed so that they are not identical from game to game, with as little as 4 parameters that vary to as many as 6 parameters that vary.

Portals used for traveling from world to world are randomly set as broken (parts missing) or working according to a set formula.  There are 20 unique layouts of broken portals that can occur in any of the 3024 unique combinations of world arrangement. again, a very large number.

Finally, anyone who says it can't be done needs to check out the game or at the very least the Official Demo which showcases the random capability on a much smaller level, (due for release early November).


DB - How many times are we going to be able to play the game without playing the same thing more than once?

If you were to look solely at how many times you could play before you had seen all the worlds then technically speaking, only twice.  Given that the game AI chooses 5 worlds from a library of 9, the second time you played the game you could conceivably get 4 new worlds with 1 you had already visited.  However, in Beta testing we found it that it can be between 8 to 20 replays before you have seen all 9 worlds.

How long it would take to cover all the different puzzle solution possibilities and stolen property selections and their locations it is hard to say.  I have played the game many, many times during testing and still get surprised when I find something in a location I've never seen it in before.


Miscellaneous:

FGM - What would you like to tell us about that we haven't asked you?

Since the role of the player is that of a stolen property recovery agent, it seemed only fair that they should be rewarded for a job well done.  All the items that are listed in the Stolen Property list have insured values assigned to them (viewable in an info box when examining the Property list).  When the player completes the game and returns to the Insurance office, they will receive a memo from the Scavenger Hunter Dispatcher with the amount of their finder's fee (for all recovered property).  Also, there is a bonus for solving the puzzle involving the crystals and the alien control room equipment.  This is our version of a scoring system!

DB - When and where are will we be able to buy the game?

The game will be available through our web site and from Adventure Game forum sites that agree to carry it for us (none set up at this time).  Release date is planned for late November 2006.

Official Website:

Scavenger Hunter

Anne and Hugh , thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions about The Scavenger Hunter.  We wish you the best of luck with your upcoming game. 

Thanks to DB, for letting me elbow my way into his interview, and to all at Sagewood Software for making this old brain work a bit by coming up with such an intriguing premise. - FGM

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