Play-testing: Iced Oolong


I’m excited to announce that the opening section of ICED OOLONG (project name) is open to play-testing.

It’s isn’t very long and it doesn’t branch much – yet – but my team and I think this is the start of something good.

Please feel free to leave feedback on any part of it. Prose, mechanics, whatever – it’s all fair game, and we’re very grateful for your time.

edited by levineg85 on 8/6/2012
edited by levineg85 on 8/6/2012
edited by levineg85 on 8/6/2012

I started with two cards pinned. I picked one of them, the other vanished after. Is that intentional? It feels a little weird to have options vanish like that this early in the game.

That’s a curious fluke of timing. There should only be one pinned card to start. The other was accidentally viewable; I phased it out just as you were playing, I expect. :)

Really strong start. Some additional thoughts.

First Taking Inventory - Repeats a lot of text between the two options. That feels like an edge that could be smoothed.

Going Home: Missing a word, I think “Smart money says you don’t anywhere to go. I’m headed home. You’re welcome if you like.”

Burrow and Briar: I took the option to look at the Rabbit. Then the content seems to repeat?

Overall I’d say that there being so much linear content this early on, you’re creating an expectation for me as a player/reader, that this is how the game will be. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s the expectation I’m getting.

I’m loving this story. My favorite genre is western. Particularly the Dark Tower series. I actually named my character Roland Deschain. Um I think I found a spelling error? At one point up north was spelt, up norte didn’t know if you were doing a slip of mexican or what just thought I’d point that one out.

Okay, so here’s a list of what I’m noticing as I play through.

  1. There’s a lot of text. I don’t mind, but I can see it being a little heavy for some. And I’m not getting the references, so they’re doing nothing for me.
  2. The story definitely catches your attention. There’s a black and white picture charm to it.
  3. Purposefully or not, the story feels a little masculine inclined to me. Could just be the time period that’s making me think that way though.
  4. I disliked how your character goes up to some man in the crowd they don’t know after refusing Warren’s offer. I wouldn’t do that, so I don’t want my character doing that unless they choose to do it. And besides, that paragraph of text is more than enough.
  5. Speaking of which, I’m kinda upset you can’t choose not to go with Warren. I get it from a ‘writing more things’ perceptive, but I’d rather it was just an open option when you got into town or something. I mean, you’d have a day to explore and I’d use that before going to vaguely worrying stranger’s house.
  6. I love, love, love how you wrote about the people in their silk shirts who laugh and flirt and have eyes ‘like German steel’. The description German adds more depth to it and I like how you put in after describing how carefree and happy those people seemed. And the exact words you put it in. I’d Echo that, if I could.
  7. Okay, like the nickname Jackrabbits.
  8. So I am a guy. Huh. Well, that explains the masculine thing I mentioned before. I kinda don’t want to be a guy though. I’d advise giving the option to be a woman too.
  9. Yeah again my charrie’s doing something I wouldn’t have them do; I’m not drinking bad alcohol. Why would I?
  10. Afraid of Heights, that’s nice. Also, White Noise is quite clever.
  11. The Rules of the Game aren’t really necessary, I don’t think, as anyone reading through all the text could probably figure the game out on their own. But I can see why you put them in and it isn’t a bad idea.
  12. The Date and Time of Day sound neat and pretty new. I’m interested in figuring out how that works.

So, overall, very well done on mood and setting. The character choices are pretty good too, but you sometimes have the character do things without giving the player a choice, which isn’t good. I like the description of the people and things like how the smile doesn’t reach Warren’s eyes. I highly dislike that your character is automatically male. Actually, I’d probably stop playing about right there if this wasn’t a beta test. The hint at supernatural things is interesting and I’d love to see more choices like the one about the bread thief boy.

Yay! Excited to be playing. :-)

  • I have two cards pinned right away. A Savage Land and Angel and Devil. Angel and Devil disappeared after I played Savage Land, which I assumed was the starting card. Second screen gets me From a Certain Perspective.

  • Someone else mentioned Taking Inventory has the same starter text all the way through, but I noticed it too. If it’s intentional, ok, but it’s a little strange in one of the first storylines.

  • Typo in Going Home - “Smart money says you don’t anywhere to go” needs a Have in there

  • I like that you learn more when you fail, but I wonder how it’ll work at higher levels of the game.

  • Broken image on Burrow and Briar.

  • Are Cityslicker and Doc meant to be qualities viewable on the side?

  • Typo? Burrow and Briar card “The door has a rabbit into it at eye level.” Needs a carved?

  • Burrow and Briar card repeated, after I looked at the rabbit. The second time it didn’t give me the rabbit option, and I had to go through the first one I had skipped before. A bit awkward. Might be easier with a “look at the rabbit” and a “don’t look at the rabbit” option on the first card and then the text about getting through the door.

  • A male/female option would be nice, but I appreciate the extra programming that will take right now.

  • White Noise image is broken.

  • That Good Night has a repeating phrase - both branches describe what happens when you sleep.

  • The Morning of May 21st has a typo on branch 2 - “Some some enthusiasm!” should be Show

Very nice start, can’t wait to see more. :-)
edited by Caitydid on 8/6/2012

This looks incredible! The writing is fantastic and though I don’t like westerns that much, the supernatural elements look promising. I really like how user-friendly you’re being with the tutorials and everything – it really helped me understand what’s going on and ease me into the adventure. Looks very professional. However, I’m a bit annoyed by how there are so many stat challenges in the tutorial – you can’t raise your stats beforehand, and whether you succeed or fail is purely random. This irks the completionist in me – I can’t stand to think that I’ll miss content based on random chance.

And I see you also have a karma meter. Hrm. I don’t actually like karma meters – I feel they’re restrictive, separate morality into black and white, and can arbitrarily moralize actions, especially since it seems like there’s only one axis here – but I’ll see how it plays out.

I noticed a few typos at some points, but other than that, looks good. I will keep an eye on this.

I also saw two cards, in the beginning; I started playing just fifteen minutes ago. The “I’m a guy” thing was a bit of a… nothing quite so abrupt as a startle, but definitely not what I was expecting. (And now I feel all weird having named a character “Hibiscus”. ;) )

Madly curious to play more; I just got inside the Jackrabbit house and fell asleep. (The grey stains on his fingers; why does that upset me? :D ) It does feel quite linear, and I’m hoping I get to explore the rest of the world soon.


Thanks everyone for your insightful feedback (and for giving Iced Oolong a shot!) I’m glad so many of you seem to have enjoyed it. I’d like to post a few general responses and then get back to each of you specifically.


[ul][li]“Angel and Devil” was indeed mistakenly viewable at the very beginning of the game. The Quality used to control the Opening was “Far, Far From Home,” which disappears after the Opening and is replaced by a controller Quality called “Location.” Originally, “Angel and Devil” was visible as a universal card any time your Paladin and Man in Black Qualities were both 0. That made it visible during the first part of the Opening, which obviously didn’t work. Yesterday I added a third criteria: “Far, Far From Home” must be 0, which my weekend-fuzzed brain intended to mean ‘you must be done with the opening.’ Long story short, it now requires “Location” to be >=1 and <=100, restricting it to all normal Locations but excluding the Opening and special Locations I can’t talk about yet.

[/li][li]I was interested by the feedback about how linear/mechanics-heavy the Opening is. The Opening is intended to do several things: establish the setting, a general picture of the protagonist (more on that in the response to @crownoflaurel at the bottom), and the basic mechanics of the game (your Styles, your Orientation, how the game will progress.) From your feedback, it seems like we did a great job with the setting, a good job with the protagonist (again, see @crownoflaurel), and an iffy job on the mechanics. I expect we’ll reduce the number of Quality-based rolls. We’ll also likely spin out a couple of the odd one-shot branches – specifically the one which leads to the “Seer of Rabbits” Quality – onto their own Opportunity cards, and use that as a chance to introduce the Opportunity deck.

[/li][li]Thanks for catching the typos. It’s a lot of text to keep track of, and there’s no built-in spell- or grammar-check![/li][/ul]

@Erik Harrison

  • What do you mean by "First Taking Inventory - Repeats a lot of text between the two options. That feels like an edge that could be smoothed"? Do you mean that you would prefer three separate Storylets instead of one Storylet with hidden branches that emerge (and submerge) as you move forward?[/li][li]“Burrow and Briar: I took the option to look at the Rabbit. Then the content seems to repeat?” The content doesn’t repeat; the option to look at the rabbit is a one-off and becomes unavailable after you’ve tried it. We’ll likely spin this onto its own Opportunity card as per above.[/li][li]"Overall I’d say that there being so much linear content this early on, you’re creating an expectation for me as a player/reader, that this is how the game will be." This is a really interesting comment. It tells me that we might be succeeding too well at one of our design choices – namely, to create a more linear and less “sandboxy” game. I think your feedback comes down to genre expectations. Echo Bazaar does a great job of letting players be anyone and do everything. That’s part of its charm: you get to inhale the full awful vaporous smell of Fallen London. Iced Oolong, on the other hand, is a game about choice. And fundamentally, choices need to have consequences – at the most basic level, doing X means not doing Y. Iced Oolong is much less of a sandbox than Fallen London. It will definitely feel more linear than Fallen London. It will also be much less linear than the Opening, which needs to accomplish a bunch of things in 20 Actions or less. I think your concerns about linearity might be a function of how short the Opening is. If our first content drop were implemented, I think you’d find the game much roomier. But we’ll see! I look forward to hearing back from you once our first content is implemented and you have a chance to play it.


  • I’m so glad you enjoyed our game! My father was a big fan of Westerns, so I think I’ve been on a collision course with this story for a long time. I read the Dark Tower series when I was much younger and enjoyed it a lot. It’s certainly one of my inspirations (and, I think, one of my teams’ in general.) You may notice that all of the Styles and Orientations are homages to different Western classics. “Gunslinger” is ubiquitous, of course, but I was thinking of the first Dark Tower book when I named it. Same with one of the Orientations. Stephen King was probably drawing on the same inspirations that we are, though. The Dark Tower is a great send-up of the whole genre, and we’re trying to accomplish a similar thing here (although with different goals and a very different end).[/li][li]Norte isn’t a misspelling. NorteAmerica is the contemporary buzzword for everything up north where the monsters aren’t. Up norte is code for “where those sissy northerners are hiding behind their Wall and not worrying about their kids and livestock getting et.”


  • Good catches all! Thanks for the close attention!

@Little The

  • “The writing is fantastic.” Thanks. ;)[/li][li]“I don’t like westerns that much, [but] the supernatural elements look promising.” One of the great things about playing with genres is that you can mix and match. On the one hand, Iced Oolong has clear bona fides as a Western. On the other hand, we’re aiming to do something a little more inventive than a straight send-up of Louis L’Amour. Westerns are a great genre if you’re interested in examining what it means – and what it costs – to make a choice. Or to make lots and lots of choices. Especially without perfect information, or without even good information. [/li][li]"However, I’m a bit annoyed by how there are so many stat challenges in the tutorial…" I may change all of the Challenges in the Opening to be 100% to succeed. I want people to have the chance to play with their Qualities, but I think you’re right that it forces players into unrewarding roll-of-the-dice situations.[/li][li]“I don’t actually like karma meters – I feel they’re restrictive, separate morality into black and white, and can arbitrarily moralize actions.” I’m with you. Completely, 100% with you. Morality gauges suck because the world isn’t black and white. That’s a big part of why we included the Orientation scale. Paladin isn’t good and Man in Black isn’t evil. They’re not even nice and mean. Originally, the two sides of the scale were called Rights and Results. We ditched those names because they’re as flavorful as day-old gum, but we kept the ideas. Paladin measures how interested you are in peoples’ rights – put it another way, Paladin measures the degree to which you care about the means to your goal. Man in Black measures how much you’re interested in outcomes at the expense of peoples’ rights – put another way, Man in Black measures how much you don’t care about the means and do care about the ends. I hope that helps clarify things.


  • Thanks so much for your feedback! Really helpful, in-depth reactions. A few specific replies:[/li][li]“There’s a lot of text. I don’t mind, but I can see it being a little heavy for some. And I’m not getting the references, so they’re doing nothing for me.” Were there specific references that threw you? As for the amount of text: it will decline a bit as you get out of the Opening. That said, anyone for whom text is not their cup of tea should likely look elsewhere. Not that we aren’t happy to have them! I’m just not sure how much they’ll like Iced Oolong. (We’re hoping lots, but who can say?)[/li][li]I think you’re right that the choice not to follow Warren initially leads to some weaker situations. I hope to expand those a little as we go along.[/li][li]I think you’re also right about “The Rules of the Game” being unnecessary for most gamers. That said, I think that while players like you are our core audience, they (hopefully!) aren’t the whole audience. I think this is one of those situations where a little stumbling-block for advanced players is worth it to encourage the more casual crowd.[/li][li]"Yeah again my charrie’s doing something I wouldn’t have them do; I’m not drinking bad alcohol. Why would I?" I’m not sure what to make of this. It might be bad design work on our end. On the other hand, I think most players will eventually bump up against “I wouldn’t do that!” in StoryNexus games. Did you have this experience in Fallen London, too

I’d also like to take @crownoflaurel’s feedback as a chance to address our protagonist. Specifically, @crownoflaurel wrote: "I’d advise giving the option to be a woman too."

The short answer is no – an understanding, I-see-where-you’re-coming-from no.

The long answer has to do with genre expectations and what Iced Oolong is doing.

Fallen London created a genre or a sub-genre all by itself. One of its best features is your ability to play anything – a man, a woman, a something, a golem – and to do anything. In Fallen London, you can do everything! You can be a master thief and a renowned scholar and a scrappy brawler and a Pawn in a Certain Game and probably a beekeeper and… and… the list goes on seemingly forever. With few exceptions, characters in Fallen London can have it all. Fallen London is a sandbox, and the fun of sandboxes is that you can build anything your heart desires.

Iced Oolong is a different kind of game. You can’t play anyone. Your character is the Protagonist. He comes complete with a past (which he can’t remember) and a name (ditto) and a sex and a gender and a strange intense interest in gunpowder-stained fingertips. You can’t play a woman in Iced Oolong for the same reason you can’t play a Martian astronaut in Fallen London: even sandboxes have rules. Those rules enable the game. In a real sandbox, the rule is that you get a box and a lot of sand and some water and maybe a pail and scoop and have at. You probably don’t get architectural drawings and you certainly don’t get self-replicating self-building super-sand. In Fallen London, the rule is that you can be anyone you want – as long as that person exists in the Fallen London universe and not a Heinlein novel. In Iced Oolong, the rule is that you get to play the Protagonist from the moment the game starts until it ends, and nobody else*.

That’s what I mean about genre expectations: you probably came into Iced Oolong expecting a sandbox, because that’s the genre so far – but what you got was closer to a traditional RPG or a novel.

Iced Oolong is all about choices. And choices need to have structure and consequences. We think the best way to make consequences have meaning is to clearly define their scope. One way we’re defining the scope is by limiting the player to the Protagonist. Think about it like this: is the decision to buy a $1000 cheeseburger more meaningful to you or to Mitt Romney? The odds are really, really good that it’s more meaningful to you, because Mitt Romney can afford a $1000 cheeseburger and you probably can’t. Or shouldn’t. (Although if you can, good on you!)

I hope that helps answer your question. We aren’t restricting your character options because we don’t want to write extra material or because we don’t want to write about women. We’re doing it because we think it will make a much better, more meaningful game.

  • Exception: we have a number of side-stories planned that you can unlock with Nex. All of these stories are nonessential; hopefully they’ll also be fun to play and stimulating to read. Many of these side-stories will allow you to play as other characters and experience the events of the main story from other perspectives. Some of those other characters will be women. (If they weren’t, I’m positive the female contingent of our writing staff would thump me, and thump me, and never stop thumping.)

I have just the “A Savage Land” card (no decks and no hand), and it says that it’s locked because my Location is somehow less than 0.

Caught me futzing again, I’m afraid. Try again – it should work this time. If not, please write back!

Well, that clears things up.

References - Well, I think there was a reference to ‘Little Home on the Prairie’ or something like that. Really, I don’t remember them. I just remember thinking, ‘Don’t get that, don’t get that…’ and being a little annoyed that I wasn’t understanding them. It isn’t really a problem; I simply found them unnecessary. The writing is more than good enough to stand on its own.

Anyway, about my character doing things I wouldn’t in Fallen London - no, that’s never happened. Same for Heroic, actually. I’m not really as concerned with this any longer though, because you clearly have a specific idea of this man and who he may become. It’s far more constrained than I was expecting, you’re right (and honestly, it must be easier to write; my own is worrying me) and so I don’t have as many exceptions of freedom for my character.

I still like the writing, of course. And the names for everything - all very clever and in tune with the game’s feel. Wish I could do that.


Re: Little House, I remember now. Referentialism is the curse of all three genres we’re working in. The way it’s supposed to work, you get the flavor if not the reference itself. Worst case, you’re mystified and move along to the next bit. Thanks for the feedback!

Interesting that you never had problems with what your character did in Fallen London. At this point I’m willing to chalk it up to the degree to which Fallen London characters live in your head (about 100%) versus the degree to which the Protagonist does (less at the beginning, more as you go along). We’ll see, though. Do keep in touch!

Thanks again for the kind words about the writing. We can talk about mechanics til we’re blue in the face, but if the writing isn’t there, the game doesn’t work. :)

I seem to have a bug. I just got to the part where day and night start to change and I have no cards. The opportunity deck is gone and there are no cards to choose from. I feel as if this is not a problem a lot of people are having so I guess I should probably speak up.

Bizarre. Somehow I got logged out mid-post. Regardless, that previous unfounded jeremiad was written by me.

Just sayin’.

You are my current favourite contender for the prize of the season at least for the moment. :D Excellent writing can’t wait to see what you come up with for the rest of it. I’ll be interested to to see how much freedom is given to the character as the game enters full swing. :D

@James Yakura:

Have you got yourself sorted past “A Savage Land”? Or are you still stuck? I think the problem should be resolved, but if you’re still stuck I can Debug you into a better place.


As Terry Pratchett put it: “YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.” I think you’ve bumped up against the end of the Opening content. The transition isn’t clearly marked, which I suppose it really ought to be. We plan to have another content drop ready by mid-September, though… so stay tuned!

(The last card you should’ve seen is “The Rules of the Game.” If it wasn’t, or if your “Far, Far From Home” Quality is less than 20, please let me know. It probably means you haven’t seen the whole Opening because somewhere along the line, I made an oops. I’d like to correct both!)

@Erik Harrison:

Thanks for taking the time to write another long and thoughtful reply. I really appreciate the time you’re taking with your feedback. It’s great to know IO has made such an impact in such a short period!

Both of your Storylet branch-related comments go back to a design choice: to include branches on Storylets that would disappear after you played them, win or lose. I’m not convinced this was a good design choice. In fact I think it was lousy. At some point, we’ll be changing the Opening around structurally. Those branches will become separate Opportunities, which should help ease confusion.

Really good points about linearity. What’s most interesting to me is that you didn’t feel your choices in the Opening were meaningful. Partly that’s because the Opening is trying to do a lot of things at once, and creating meaningful choices for players in the first 20-ish Actions would be tricky and challenging and time-consuming for IO. That doesn’t mean we won’t in the future – but to date, you’re right: the Opening is not full of meaningful choices. Players meet Warren, go back to the Burrow, get on the roof, and so on. All of the choices are matters of degrees. I need to think more about whether we can make those choices more meaningful. I think more options will open up as we flesh the game out. It’s hard to project the setting forward and much easier to project it backward.

I can’t help laugh that you felt like you were reading a story. Part of me wants to say: yes! Exactly! The rest of me is terrified we’re writing a really big wordy pop-up book and not a game. I’ve got both eyes on making this fun, first and foremost. The only way anything succeeds as literature/critique/whatever is when it’s both fun and meaningful, in that order. Nobody would read Ulysses if it weren’t one long dick joke (on top of being literature and social critique and etc.)

I’m hoping that you’ll find the first ‘episode’ of IO to be a lot more meaningful in terms of the choices it presents. If not, please write back. Write often! This is uncharted territory for all of us, and God knows I don’t want to go alone!


I’m excited about the contest, assuming we can enter! (Well: I’m excited either way. But for different reasons.)

@Samuel Goodall:

Thanks for writing! I really appreciate the positive feedback. Our team runs on kudos. I’ll make sure I pass yours along!

As far as freedom for the character goes: as an early Storylet puts it, “we promise [if you keep playing] you’ll find your character looking more and more like your own living, breathing self.” Or whichever living, breathing self you’re playing today. Our Opening is stuck on rails for reasons of time and complexity and how much we need to tell the Audience (you) in a very short space. The game going forward is intended to be much ‘breathier’.

It’s fixed, assuming there’s a content boundary at the beginning of… May 21, 2026? Is this sci-fi?