Having been introduced to Tunnels & Trolls in its classic pencil-and-paper format during my first day at Gen Con 2016, I visited the Flying Buffalo booth with James Floyd Kelly on day two to check out an upcoming digital version of the game, developed by the team at MetaArcade.
MetaArcade is a system in development for creating and self-publishing digital games. Its first release, the MetaArcade Adventures Platform, will focus on the interactive fiction adventure genre, and the team’s first project was a digital remastering of the 1977 Tunnels & Trolls solo adventure “Naked Doom,” unveiled at Gen Con.
Founder David Reid said MetaArcade’s goal is to make the process of creating a digital RPG-style adventure easy for writers, artists and game developers alike. “I may not be an artist, I may not be a coder,” he said, “so it has to be simple enough for anyone who can type a Word document to use.”
The game-building platform will provide the tools to make that possible, he explained, along with access to a library of audio files, images, and resources such as guides to monsters and treasures. MetaArcade plans to release creation and gameplay software compatible with Android, iOS, PC and Mac systems.
“Ultimately, you can create your own adventure and then publish it, making it available through someplace like an app store or Steam,” Reid said. “The platform will be free to play on, and adventures will be purchased individually.”
With several dozen solo Tunnels & Trolls adventures published over the years, MetaArcade has a nice pile of source material with which to build its initial round of games. Additionally, the company has also licensed artwork of Josh Kirby – original artist for Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – to include in its library.
So, what’s it like to play? It was very similar to a Tunnels & Trolls pencil-and-paper solo, without the bookkeeping things like manually calculating combat rolls and damage. There was a Choose Your Own Adventure feel to it, with an element of die-rolling randomness – including actual on-screen dice tumbling, which I didn’t mind, but I know bothered some folks because it slowed the gameplay. Wearing headphones provided an excellent feel for the role audio plays in the game, too: Walk into a damp cave, and you hear water dropping and echoing around you; voices echo from beyond a distant corner; take on a looming beast, and hear a suitably heart-pounding musical score accompanying the action. (Check out a few other screenshots at MetaArcade’s Gen Con recap.)
The Flying Buffalo / MetaArcade booth was full of demo players just about every time I passed during the course of the weekend. The team says about 500 people gave “Naked Doom” a shot, and of those, only a dozen successfully navigated their character through the dungeon – one of whom was GeekDad’s own James Floyd Kelly. (Many Tunnels & Trolls solo adventures, it should be noted, are famously difficult to survive.)
Plans also include making it possible for creators to submit works to add to the audio and video ilbraries, receiving payment whenever someone uses their material in a game. Creators will retain all rights to their works, Reid said, whether they’re completed games or audio/visual components.
MetaArcade’s goal is to have the first solo adventures published by the end of the year, and to have the content creation tools online in the first quarter of 2017.