Cultist Simulator: recipes and bumping brainsfeatured

This is a post about the Cultist Simulator systems, and also why you shouldn’t stay too deep in a bunker when you’re working enthusiastically on an idea. That’s something I’ve forced myself to learn: open production in a nutshell.

But it can be difficult to remember. My strong inclination is to bunker up. I’m an introvert who ran a company for seven years, and being able to work from home and not have to talk to anybody unless I wanna is intoxicating. You can be feel – and sometimes be – very productive when you’re working on your own thing without having to spend time on communicating with a team or the world. But it’s easy to avoid thinking through things; it’s easy to overlook possible problems; and above all, you miss out on head-slap insights.

That’s why I want to get a (ugly, primitive) prototype of Cultist Simulator in front of other people ASAP. (Probably not tomorrow unless I trim my task list harshly today; more like next week). But it’s also why it’s important to bump brains with other people if you’re working on something alone. And by ‘bump brains’, I mean sit down for a chat with someone you can talk to in detail. I want to give a concrete example.

Here’s the basic UI as it now stands:


What’s going on here? I’m trying to use the Speak action with an Occult Scrap item. Occult Scraps have the Secret Histories aspect. This aspect used with the Speak action will recruit you an Enthusiast. (Enthusiasts are easy – you can recruit them with almost anything).

Here’s a slightly more complex action:


I’m using my Dream action on the Suitable Premises item, which gives me two crafting slots. An Occult Scrap goes in one, a notorious book in the other. This gives us Location, Lantern, Knock and Secret Histories aspects, plus the concrete aspects for the actual items themselves – some recipes require specific items, as well as or instead of generic aspects.

And since you can put some items with slots inside other items with slots, recipes can get pretty complex:


As any fule kno, you can only put followers (like Believers and Enthusiasts) or rituals (like the Rite of Slaking) in the slots of a society (like a Clique), but you can put almost anything in a Location.

So that’s a lot of possible combinations! effectively, simple puzzles, but simple puzzles that depend on lore that I made up. The big risk is that a player won’t be engaged by, or won’t understand, the lore, and will resort to trial and error. Some trial and error is inevitable, but I want people to spend as little time as possible in the state of mind that Chris Gardiner once described as ‘when you get to like USE FLOWER ON FRIDGE’.

I’m looking forward to trying to build engaging lore, but my delivery system for details about it is quite a narrow slot. The obvious place to put it, given that everything you interact with the game is effectively an item (even Health, Sanity and things like An Ordinary Life) is as quick descriptions attached to those items.

I can put info in that log on the right, but it contains a lot of valuable mechanical info and I don’t want to spam it with lore which is part-mechanic, part-flavour, part-hint. I also don’t really want people to feel obligated to examine everything. I really want something more like footnotes, which will seep in over time. Tooltips are a pretty good solution. But I put everything in tooltips in Fallen London, and spend months regretting it when we moved to mobile. There’s a good chance CS will end up as a mobile game, and I don’t want to assume it’s being played with a mouse.

So I took Liam Welton out to lunch and picked his brain about a whole bunch of UI things, including this one. Liam came back with a bunch of useful advice (including some things I wish I’d known about at the start) but his answer to this, in particular, was: CS displays item aspects in the workspace where ingredients are combined. Why not display item descriptions there too, just for the first item we put in there each time? There won’t be room for more than that, it’ll get crowded out. But it’s a really casual way of ensuring the player will sometimes see text for an item; can easily see text for an item if they want to; can interact with other items for a while before digging into the description; in a word, it feels footnotey. And it makes a certain sort of sense in the vague metaphor of a workbench you put things on. You’d put a thing you wanted to examine on the workbench in isolation.

It’s one of those ideas that seems blindingly obvious in retrospect. But as far as I’d been concerned, the workbench was for displaying aspects and recipes. I was considering adding a separate footnotes panel. I’d never have got there on my own.

If you’re working on something, take time to bump brains. You’re locked into your own perspective. The whole thing about other people is that they’re locked into an entirely different one.

EDIT: WUPS forgot the ‘sign up to hear more about Cultist Simulator’ link. Here it is.

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