Fenlander - A Parser RPG

Started by Jubal, January 09, 2022, 11:38:12 AM

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Fenlander is a small RPG/Adventure game, built with a text parser engine. It was made for the Historically Accurate Game Jame 5. I've been wanting to make a game for a jam for a long while and thought this was the time to get round to it.

In Fenlander, you play as an ordinary resident of the fenlands of East Anglia in the medieval period, trying to smoke enough eels to pay your rent. Life seems simple: there's reeds to be cut, peat to be dug and eels to be fished for. But getting the right balance between those activities can be a matter of life and death, as can learning from and interacting with your fellow villages and the beautiful, dangerous, ever-shifting landscape around you. The fens are ancient, with reeds that seem to whisper of things we have long forgotten - but for all that, they never stop changing.

The aim of the game is to store enough smoked eels to pay your rent (which, yes, is literally paid in eels). You have three main tools - your glaive, spade, and scythe - to gather materials from the fen that you can use for producing food and for selling to other villagers. There are four fellow villagers - Lennerie, Moll, Hob, and Dickon - who you will probably need to interact with to win: they can buy and sell important items and give you key bits of information. You also have four whimsically named skills: Harnsering for hunting/meat and eel cooking, Hickathrifting for strength and resilience challenges, Surefooting for careful, balanced challenges, and Skeining for social challenges. These can be improved by keeping an eye on the landscape around you or by getting help from friends in the village.

The game is text-based, with an original soundtrack and location art. Please do play it and let me know what you think!

The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...



That is a quality that could be attributed to wetland environments, it's true.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I do have some more plans for Fenlander in the coming months, and I've done some recent bits of side-work:

  • I worked with a friend of a friend who wanted to play, to get Fenlander working on her Mac computer. It was a bit janky, I had to rip out the whole sound engine to get it to work so there's an unsolved problem there still about what was going wrong with the audio, BUT everything else basically worked fine so given I've never tried to get my games running cross-platform I'm actually reasonably happy with that.
  • I've submitted a conference proposal to talk a bit about Fenlander at the Middle Ages in Modern Games twitter conference. It's only a tiny game but I think that opens up some interesting space to talk about medievalisms expressed through design constraints etc which people might find interesting, and it'll be a much more breathable thing to put together than trying for a heavier paper especially this year with my thesis writeup still going on.
  • I'm thinking about packaging up a version of the engine that I used for Fenlander and LIFE in case anyone else wants to use it in future. No idea if there'd be interest, but it's not a project that should take much work.

Fenlander does definitely want more content too, but I'm less sure when I'm going to carve out the time for that.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I presented some info about Fenlander as a paper at the Middle Ages in Modern Games twitter-conference (link: https://twitter.com/JubalBarca/status/1534883360408993792)

I think it went down well and I got some good engagement/interactions, so we'll see if anything comes of any of them. :)

I also did a small bit of dev work recently in the form of adding the church location and its day/night pics. I'm wondering if actually hammering in Sunday as a rest day might work for the game's cycles and give a bit of variance into the weeks: so on Sunday you could go to church, possibly a place to socialise and to obtain certain bonuses, but you'd be barred from or frowned upon if working on that day?

The text of the paper, for those who don't have Twitter:
QuoteToday for #MAMG2022 I'm talking about Fenlander, a text-parser adventure game I made in three days this January, and how it presents medieval peasant life. The game takes you to a medieval village in the East Anglian fens, as an ordinary peasant trying to make their eel-rent.

Your goal is to use your tools, items, and four skill attributes – harnsering (skill & fishing), surefooting (travel & balance), hickathrifting (brawn & strength) and skeining (social skills) to make your way through the game and build up a smoked eel surplus. In Fenlander, days and nights roll by: the player has a choice of three main tools - eel glaive, peat spade, and reed scythe - that they can take to the fen to gather resources. They must also eat, sleep, and can watch the landscape & talk to NPCs to learn and trade.

At its heart, Fenlander is a game about survival: going hungry and tired exhausts the player character which can lead to health problems building up and, eventually, death. The landscape of the fens, both as risk factor, provider, and biome, is core to its challenges. Unlike many survival games, though, in Fenlander survival is necessarily social. Successful players engage with NPCs who move around in daily patterns & offer knowledge or items players can't produce. This breaks down the isolationist "frontier" survival model. But there are game limits on how social: the player's household economy is simplified to give them a one-person household. This gives the player more freedom & avoids them being expected to know NPCs at the game start, but simplifies their household economy.

This "economic solo" model prioritises food and resource gathering that pushes players to explore: conversely, family care, spinning, and other 'feminine' house-centred work may be deprioritised – something worth considering when writing peasant economies in games. Simplifiying economies also means simplifying time: in RPGs, full-year time cycles are difficult to implement in sensible playthrough time. Medieval societies where certain feast days, festivals, and agricultural cycles were central to life lose those social elements.

Progression is another issue: in Fenlander improving & learning skills and recipes provides evolving gameplay. In the game that's provided socially or from the landscape, outside family units and to the implicitly adult player, but implying big starting knowledge gaps.

The game economy is thus at heart a problem-space of how you manage your time: you can only take one main tool out at once so balancing what you gather, and time working vs resting vs progressing the game gives the main difficulty.

There are more possibilities future versions may explore: year-cycles may be too big, but the church, planned but incomplete in version 1, may help structure weeks & add focus for the social game. More NPCs & interactions might create explorations more aspects of life.

Games naturally focus on exceptions and elites in history: but it's worth thinking about how they encode social and structural norms too. Fenlander's mix of time-management and engagement with landscape & community are one approach to examining those areas in a game. Thanks for reading! You can get the first/demo version of Fenlander at jubalbarca.itch.io/fenlander, all questions, thoughts, and feedback very much welcome :)
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...