We’re knee deep in our second game and I realized that I never came through with my promised recap of our last minute technical decisions on the Garbage Game. For one thing, as I mentioned, we jumped ship from OpenLaszlo in the interest of expedience.

As I’ve noted here before, the game design field isn’t exactly awash in programmers eager to work in anything but Flash. We found a local programming shop that was game for the challenge, though, and sat down with them to iron out our technical specifications. They’d never worked in OpenLaszlo before, but it looked like they could do what we needed and output DHTML.

We set a few deadlines and began planning our schedule around an early November launch, but as our deadline approached, our developer made an interesting discovery: the version of OpenLaszlo that he was working with balked at lining objects up in a horizontal row. Or at least it was balking at the way we were going about lining the objects up. I don’t remember the precise finer points, and it seemed clear to both of us that this was not an insurmountable obstacle, but he’d already spent a day on it and we’d already pushed a few deadlines back in our effort to capture the full breadth of complexity underlying waste management in New York City, and we realized that while we were confident that he could push through and get our buttons to line up properly, we weren’t confident that there wouldn’t be an equally time consuming glitch around the next corner. We had to make a decision: figure out a way to produce the game that we could count on or risk pushing the game launch into the holiday void, that long crisp stretch between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King day when everyone is paying attention to other things or trying to regroup from the holidays.

So we scrapped OpenLaszlo. Not because it doesn’t work (I think it does, actually) but because we realized that we all knew better than to try to learn new software on a deadline.

What did we do instead? We wrote the game in PHP and used sessions to track players scores. There aren’t a lot of moving parts, and we lost some flexibility, more as a result of scrapping our early work late in the game than anything else, but the game works pretty well.

Well enough, according to a note I got last week, that a group of Girl Scouts in Long Island City has been using the game in their work towards an Eco-Action Interest Project:

We’re using the Garbage Game to teach them about consumption, trash, their options (like pre-cycling, I wouldn’t have thought to explain that!), and changes they can make to their lifestyles, of course. We’re also asking them to think about the game in terms of fusing technology and environmental action, though, which is a big aspect of the Interest Project curriculum.

I think that is more important than moving parts, but we’re working on incorporating some moving parts into our next game.