Planet Interactive Fiction

September 19, 2014

Lab of Jizaboz

Moving On

by Jizaboz (noreply@blogger.com) at September 19, 2014 11:21 PM

Yesterday, I came home to a surprise. I went to update something related to my Ultima Online shard, and realized that my site now resolves to a Roadrunner.com help page. The site has resided there for about ten years now, as I never really needed a lot of space to host it. In about 3 hours I had uploaded all my data from a backup and redone all the URLS to the site, but you may still find a quirk here or there before I catch it. The old address was home.roadrunner.com/~fragmeister and the new address is retrolab.servebeer.com.

The new site is hosted by Amazon.com and so long as I keep refreshing the free domain name (or finally pay for it), it should stay there for some time to come. Also, all games and source code in my "Files" section should be working correctly now, because they are also hosted on the new server. The old site had a lot of files that were linked to Fileplanet, which is "no longer being updated and is in the process of being archived". Always a good idea to make frequent backups.

With that out of the way, I have a couple of game-related things to mention. The DPRK demo (Interactive fiction written in Hugo) is just around the corner. I just need a couple more hours to tie up some loose ends. The demo will feature the first PC's section of the game as well as an introduction to the second PC. I'm mainly looking for feedback on 2 things from the testers of the demo; how interested you are in certain aspects of the story (what should be focused on more) and what do you like or not like about the interface (The text parser commands, the layout of the windows, etc). It should only take a few minutes to play, but there are reasons for replay here and there due to story forks dependent on things like held objects and NPC interactions.

IFComp is also starting soon! I'm currently beta testing one game for it and hope to play a lot of the entries, and will try to review one or two once the time comes. I didn't really have anything near enough to completion to feel comfortable entering myself this year.

Retro Shard is back in order again lately new interest from a couple of people. My girlfriend has been doing a lot of play-testing on it, and I've gotten around to creating a new dungeon and finally creating a desert area. Next up will be creating a region within the desert area to allow for people to collect sand for glass-blowing. The new dungeon still needs some more spawners (monsters and treasure) to be fully complete, but that shouldn't take too long. Check out the Retro Shard section if you are interested in playing 2D Ultima Online on my server. It's free and fairly straightforward to set up.

There's been a new version and a few revisions of Inform7 released since I last worked with it. I'm interested in the OSX version, but figure the best thing to do is continue on DPRK until all of the extensions my last unfinished Inform project was dependent on are working in this new version. That last unfinished project was the "Interactive Dreaming" game. I recently took some pictures that I think will fit into the game nicely, and still have the beginnings of a cool sound track a friend of created a track for. The game itself was progressing okay as far as content, but the conversation system (the one I used in Lunar Base 1) was mothballed. If anyone has any recommendations for clean yet dynamic conversation systems that I may have missed in the past two years, I'd like to hear them.

Emily Short

Next Oxford/London Meetup: Oct 20, London

by Emily Short at September 19, 2014 04:00 PM

This time we’re experimenting with an unconferencey sort of setup where we break into interest discussion groups. The IF Comp games will be out by then, so that’s one thing we might talk about, but there’s room for lots of others. Join us!

More details here: http://www.meetup.com/Oxford-and-London-Interactive-Fiction-Group/


Post Position

ELO 2015 in Bergen: Call for Participation

by Nick Montfort at September 19, 2014 04:37 AM

Call for Participation

THE END(S) OF ELECTRONIC LITERATURE

The 2015 Electronic Literature Organization conference and festival will take place August 5-7th 2015. The conference will be hosted by the Bergen Electronic Literature research group at the University of Bergen, Norway with sessions at venues including the University of Bergen, Det Akademiske Kvarteret, the Bergen Public Library, the University of Bergen Arts library, and local arts venues. Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city, known as the gateway to the fjords, a festival city and cultural center with a lively and innovative arts scene.

DEADLINES

The deadline for submissions of research, workshop, and arts proposals is December 15, 2014.

CONFERENCE THEME

The theme of the 2015 Electronic Literature Organization conference and festival is “The End(s) of Electronic Literature.” This theme plays on several different meanings of “ends.” Topics the conference papers and works will explore include:

Is “electronic literature” a transitional term that will become obsolete as literary uses of computational media and devices become ubiquitous? If so, what comes after electronic literature?

We can also question in what sense electronic literature and digital writing practices are a means to an end. If so, what are the ends of electronic literature? What political, ideological, aesthetic, and commercial ends or purposes do works of electronic literature serve?

In recent years, projects such as the ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base have sought to highlight the work of scholars and artists who have worked outside of the mainstream of electronic literature as it has developed as a field, for instance developing research collections based on Russian and Brazilian electronic literature. This conference will seek to shed further light on international communities and practices in electronic literature that have not been widely addressed in the critical literature of the field, those that are located at the “ends” or margins of critical discourse in the field.

Electronic literature is situated as an intermedial field of practice, between literature, computation, visual and performance art. The conference will seek to develop a better understanding of electronic literature’s boundaries and relations with other academic disciplines and artistic practices.

As a laboratory for future literary forms, the field of electronic literature must count the youngest readers among its most significant group of end-users. One strand of this conference will focus specifically on digital reading experiences made for children.

RESEARCH PROGRAM

For the conference research program we welcome contributions that address the conference themes. Most proposals will likely describe a scholarly presentation suitable for delivery in about 20 minutes, with time for questions. However we also welcome propsals for other forms of talks. At the time of proposal submission, authors will asked identify one of following presentation formats:

Paper (20 minute presentation): a presentation of a single by one or more paper by one or more authors (500 word abstract)

Panel (75 minutes): a proposal for a complete panel including separate papers on the same general topic (250 word overview plus 3-4 500 word abstracts).

Roundtable (1 hour): a group presentation of a particular topic emphasizing free-flowing discussion and audience interaction (500 word abstract).

Lightning talk (5 minutes): a short paper for a session focused on the question “What comes after electronic literature?” (250 word abstract).

Proposers must attend the conference. Speakers may not present in more than two sessions.

Presentations may include elements of demonstration or performance, as part of a discussion that goes beyond the work itself. With this stipulation, proposers are welcome to address their own work.

Submissions for the research program will be accepted from September 15th-December 15th, 2014 on Easychair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=elo2015

Proposals will be peer-reviewed by the Research Program Committee. Papers will be accepted on the basis of abstracts. Although we will not require, we will encourage authors of papers accepted for the conference to make full-text versions of their papers available on the conference site prior to the conference. Authors of selected full paper submissions may be invited to contribute to a book or special issue of a journal to be published shortly after the conference. This publication opportunity will not be available to authors who do not upload their full-text papers.

WORKSHOP PROGRAM

We welcome proposals for pre-conference workshops to take place on Tuesday, August 4th at the University of Bergen.

Workshop sessions are focused on hands-on group work on a given project. For instance, working with a particular platform to learn how to use it to create works of e-lit, documenting work in a given database, sharing pedagogical models, curating electronic literature, etc. Workshops sessions are generally half-day (3 hour) or full-day (6 hour) sessions. Proposals will be reviewed by the Workshop Program Committee and selected on the basis of their value to the e-lit community and available facilities to accommodate them.

Submissions for the workshop program will be accepted from September 15th-December 15th, 2014 on Easychair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=elo2015

ARTS PROGRAM

The Arts Program provides an occasion for juried review, and extended display, performance, and presentation, of original works.

The Committee especially welcomes submissions from artists who are new to electronic literature or who are in the beginning stages of their e-literary artistic production.

The Arts program will feature several exhibitions and a performance program that coheres with the conference themes. Submissions are being accepted for the following parts of the exhibition and performance program:

Hybridity and Synesthesia: Beyond Peripheries of Form and Consciousness This aspect of the program will emphasize works, particularly installations, that push at the edges of literature and other forms, and that appeal to other aspects of the sensorium than those we typically associate with reading. Works for example that involve haptic sensation, touch-based interactivity, innovative audio elements, interactive images, or locative technologies.

Interventions: Engaging the Body Politic This exhibition will feature works that engage with contemporary cultural discourse and political reality, challenging audiences to consider digital artifacts and practices that reflect and intervene in matters of the environment, social justice, and our relation to the habitus.

Decentering: Global Electronic Literature While there are strong centers of activity in electronic literature in North America and Western Europe, innovations in digital textuality are also taking place in Eastern Europe and in the Southern hemisphere. This exhibition will focus on these lesser-known phenomena.

Kid-E-Lit: Digital Narratives for the Young The first generation of digital natives is finding a plethora of apps and interactive digital narratives made for their iPads and computers, perhaps learning how to think in a new digital vernacular. This exhibition will focus on innovations in digital reading experiences for children.

Screening Room: E-Lit Film Festival The first ELO film festival will feature films that have been produced recently about electronic literature and related practices, and will also include screenings of types of digital literature that benefit from sustained watching, such as poetry generators and kinetic poetry.

End(s) of Electronic Literature Performances and Readings This aspect of the program will feature live readings and performances of works of electronic literature. Authors are encouraged to think broadly about modes of performance, ranging from traditional readings to more theatrical styles of presentation, and to consider opportunities for site-specific interventions in public space.

Submissions for above parts of the Arts program will be accepted from September 15th-December 15th on Easychair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=elo2015

ELC3 Preview Exhibition

Volume 1 (2006) and Volume 2 (2011) of the Electronic Literature Collection have been influential anthologies that helped shape the field. Volume 3 (2016) is now open for submissions. This exhibition will feature selected works from the latest instantiation of this important publication. The editors of ELC3 will curate this selection. To submit work for the ELC3, see: http://eliterature.org/2014/08/announcing-the-elc3 (ELC3 submission deadline Nov. 5, 2014)

Selections will be made via a two-step jury review process. Members of the arts program committee will first review submissions, and then curators for each track of the program will select works from among those ranked most positively by the committee. Final selections will depend on available resources and constraints of individual venues.

See Submission Guidelines for further details.

ORGANIZATION

Conference Chair: Scott Rettberg Research Program Chair: Jill Walker Rettberg Arts Program Chair: Roderick Coover Research Program Committee: Espen Aarseth, Daniel Apollon, Sandy Baldwin, Laura Borras Castanyer, Yra van Dijk, Maria Engberg, Nina Goga, Dene Grigar, Davin Heckman, Raine Koskimaa, Nick Montfort, Søren Pold, Øyvind Prytz, Hans Kristian Rustad, Jessica Pressman, Eric Dean Rasmussen, Scott Rettberg, Alexandra Saemmer, and Joseph Tabbi. Workshop Program Committee: Deena Larsen, Marjorie C. Luesebrink, and Patricia Tomaszek. Arts Program Committee: Simon Biggs, Philippe Bootz, Serge Bouchardon, Kathi Inman Berens, JR Carpenter, Mark Daniels, Anne Marthe Dyvi, Natalia Fedorova, Leonardo Flores, Chris Funkhouser, Dene Grigar, Claudia Kozak, Talan Memmott, Maria Mencia, Judd Morrissey, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland, Rui Torres, Michelle Teran, and Jeremy Welsh.

PLEASE CIRCULATE

If you know of friends, colleagues, or organizations not aware of ELO or this conference, please feel free to circulate this Call. A PDF version is available.

September 18, 2014

Post Position

10 PRINT in Paperback

by Nick Montfort at September 18, 2014 04:33 AM

Hey, lookit here. Not only is 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 (by Nick Montfort, Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost, Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, Mark Sample, and Noah Vawter, MIT Press, 2013) available for free online as a Creative Commons PDF, and available in the original harback edition that MIT Press published, it’s also now in paperback.

10 PRINT paperback

The paperback looks beautiful, by the way, thanks to the design work and attention of our co-author Casey Reas.

Here’s the MIT Press page with both the hardcover and the paperback.

September 17, 2014

Post Position

A Platform Studies Book: Flash

by Nick Montfort at September 17, 2014 02:03 AM

I’m delighted that Flash: Building the Interactive Web by Anastasia Salter and John Murray has just been published by the MIT Press.

Flash: Building the Interactive Web

This is an excellent study of an influential software platform – our first such study in the Platform Studies series – and it both traces the history of the platform, its development and the contexts in which it arose, as it also covers many famous and representative Flash productions.

Mark Sample writes of it, “Combining historical research, software studies, and a deep appreciate for digital creativity, Salter and Murray dramatically explore Flash—whose very ubiquity has heretofore made it transparent to media scholars—as the defining technology for a generation of artists, storytellers, game designers, and Web 2.0 companies.”

Dene Grigar calls it “a must-read for all scholars and artists of digital media,” while Aaron Delwiche names it “the best and most provocative work I’ve encountered about emerging technologies since the publication of The Cyborg Handbook.

Flash is still with us, but Salter and Murray nevertheless take up the difficult task of providing the historical context for this platform’s creation, from the days before it supported general-purpose programming through its dominance on the Web. The relevance of this book is not limited to a particular product (now, but not always, an Adobe product). It extends to the Web to interactive computing overall.

September 16, 2014

Post Position

This Thursday! In Stereo!

by Nick Montfort at September 16, 2014 03:52 AM

I will be reading from and discussing three recent books this Thursday at 7pm the Harvard Book Store here in sunny Cambridge, Massachusetts. These are:

#!
Counterpath Press, Denver
a book of programs & poems (pronounced “shebang”)

World Clock
Bad Quarto, Cambridge
a computer-generated novel

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
MIT Press, Cambridge
a collaboration with nine others that I organized, now out in paperback

These all express how programming can be used for poetic purposes, and how new aesthetic possibilities can arise with the help of computing. Also, some portions of these (which I’ll read from) are quite pleasing to read aloud and to hear.

I would love it if you are able to join me on Thursday.

Patently Absurd

by Nick Montfort at September 16, 2014 03:50 AM

Sam Lavigne has an excellent text-generating, or at least -transforming, system that produces patent applications based on source texts. See, for instance, the one generated using Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist.” A full explanation of the code is provided on the page.

September 15, 2014

These Heterogenous Tasks

Choose Your Frame

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at September 15, 2014 05:01 PM

CYOA has historically been presented in various frames. This has been a matter of marketing, identity and politics.

The kids playing paper gamebooks like Lone Wolf or Fighting Fantasy were convinced that what they were playing was a sub-category of role-playing game, and I’ve seen multiple-choice sequences within videogames referred to as role-playing. Contemporary Twine authors, having been catalysed by a book with the word right in the title, are adamant that what they are doing is videogames; at least one SilkWords author, on the other hand, explicitly contrasts her medium against videogames – to her interactive fiction is closer kin to books, to romance novels consumed on an e-reader. Visual novels are not made for remotely the same expectations as hypertext novels.

Asking, or asserting, which category CYOA really belongs to is unhelpful and uninteresting. What’s worth investigating is how the frame sets expectations, and why a particular identity is being asserted.

This ties in to why I find the ‘story vs. game’ dichotomy limiting. I have stories on my bookshelf that are written from a set of narrative expectations so remote from mine that I can hardly interpret their proper meaning at all. There are game subgenres which I will never be able to enjoy because they are so tightly focused on a set of desiderata that, to me, are marginal or downright undesirable. Both categories have notoriously fuzzy edges. These are not two unified points between which we can draw a simple spectrum on which to locate players or games.

This isn’t to say that ‘game’ and ‘story’ aren’t real and important categories that can sometimes be useful. But they are very cloudy lenses through which to view any given issue within the overlapping territory. So what’s a better approach? …yeah, more on that later.

(Spurred, in large part, by a conversation with Emily Boegheim on Twitter.)


September 14, 2014

Emily Short

Transcript Posted (Game Audience discussion)

by Emily Short at September 14, 2014 04:00 PM

The transcript for the (admittedly brief) theoryclub meetup on game audience is here. Due to travel I was only able to be online for a bit in the middle, so thanks to Zach for logging the session.

What shall we take on next? The next meeting is Oct 11; proposed topics include

Puzzles and story: what puzzles are most satisfying, and most useful, from a storytelling perspective? Are there types of narrative experience that can be generated only through puzzles?

Replayable IF: what makes a game satisfying to replay, especially in an often narrative and puzzle-based genre?

Preferences and alternative suggestions welcome over the next week or so; then I’ll pick something.


September 12, 2014

>TILT AT WINDMILLS

"Ice-Bound" is a 2014 IndieCade nominee!

by Aaron A. Reed (noreply@blogger.com) at September 12, 2014 10:50 PM

I'm happy to report some good news on my latest ambitiously experimental interactive narrative (co-created with Jacob Garbe): Ice-Bound is an official selection for the 2014 IndieCade festival! You can watch our trailer here:



Ice-Bound combines a novel system for interactive storytelling with a nested, recursive story inspired by writers like Borges and books like Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. The game begins with an iPad app, but can only be completed with the help of a printed book, the Ice-Bound Compendium. The player uses this 80-page art book (filled with story fragments, haunting images, and strange distorted transmissions) to communicate with a digital simulation of a long-dead author by choosing what pages to show him, and when.

Showing the iPad interacting with the printed book, Ice-Bound Compenidum, in the IndieCade finalist Ice-Bound


We're immensely proud of this project. One of my biggest challenges and motivations as a PhD student has been continuing to produce work that validates as literature and as game (or at least as "playable media"). So many cool academic projects exploring new models for interactive story don't get the exposure they deserve because of the difficulty finding the resources to finish, polish, and publicize within the university system. And on the other hand, there are incredible things happening in the world of indie storytelling games that are largely unknown and undiscussed among academics. We're glad, in our own small way, to help keep these two worlds talking to each other.

A screenshot of the interactive story in the IndieCade finalist iPad game Ice-Bound.


The project has also been a labor of love, born from a pitch to invent "the future of the book" that spun into an ambitious attempt to tell a story that required a physical book and a digital game working together: where neither was just a gimmick supported by the other. We think we've made an interesting stab at this goal. Ice-Bound is about the future of books, but also stories, sentience, and human rights. It marries hard sci-fi with historical fiction, tinged with fantasy and adventure. I'm really proud of it and can't wait to get it out into the world.

An image from the Ice-Bound Compendium, the printed book portion of the IndieCade finalist Ice-Bound.


Ice-Bound will be released early next year, but we'll have more big news before then, so stay tuned. You can keep tabs on the project by checking out the official Ice-Bound website, following us on Twitter or Facebook, subscribing to our RSS feed, or joining our mailing list (for major Ice-Bound announcements only).

The People's Republic of IF

October meetup

by zarf at September 12, 2014 05:00 PM

The Boston IF meetup for October will be Tuesday, October 21, 6:30 pm, MIT room 14N-233.

The Digital Antiquarian

The Magnificient Penguin Hangs Up His Tuxedo

by Jimmy Maher at September 12, 2014 10:00 AM

In April of 1984, Mark Pelczarski took a flight from Penguin Software’s home base of Chicago to San Francisco for the “Apple II Forever” event. Traveling with him were Steve Meuse, who had just written new extensions for Penguin’s graphics utilities to take advantage of the Apple IIe and IIc’s double-hi-res graphics mode, and Steve’s wife Marsha. Over the course of the flight, the three sketched out an idea for a series of computer games for “subversively” teaching geography, as had the old board game Game of the States and the perennial favorite Risk. By the time they made it to the Moscone Center to join the other Apple faithful, they had plans for no less than six games, one each for Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Each would have you traveling through its region of the world on the trail of a villain. Figuring out where your quarry was would require piecing together clues relating to the geography, culture, and history of the region. The Spy’s Adventures Around the World soon became one-third of Penguin’s grand strategic plan for the next few years, to stand alongside the graphics software and the new Comprehend series of adventure games.

Through that summer, at the same time that he was designing and implementing the Comprehend system with Jeffrey Jay, Mark worked with Marsha to put together a prototype. In the fall they refined it with the aid of some educational researchers, tested it out with actual classes of schoolchildren to see how well it held their interest, and hired artists to begin filling it with Penguin’s trademark colorful graphics. Meanwhile Mark developed a cross-platform database-driven engine to replace his original BASIC implementation.

As the work went on, and as has been documented in painful detail elsewhere in this blog, the software industry was becoming a more and more uncertain and dangerous place for a small company like Penguin. Mark therefore broached an idea to Doug Carlston of the larger and more diversified Brøderbund: would he be interested in acquiring Penguin, as he had recently acquired Synapse Software? It’s certainly not the sort of idea that any entrepreneur takes lightly, but Mark felt he had good reasons for approaching Doug — and only Doug: “Doug was by far the person in software publishing whom I most respected.”

The two went about as far back as colleagues possibly could in an industry as young as this one. Mark had first crossed paths with Doug before Penguin or Brøderbund existed, when he was working for SoftSide magazine and Doug was selling his first game through the magazine’s TRS-80 Software Exchange. Later, whilst they were visiting him at his home in San Rafael, California, Doug had introduced Mark and David Lubar to a hotshot programmer named Chris Jochumson who added animation to the Penguin graphical suite. Mark returned the favor at the West Coast Computer Faire of 1983 when an artist named Gini Shimabukuro approached him with a big collection of clip-art images. Not himself having any programs in the offing that could make use of them, he thought of Doug, who had just demonstrated for him an idea that would soon became famous under the name The Print Shop. Mark sent Gina over to the Brøderbund booth, and her art eventually became a big part of The Print Shop’s finished look. Working together, both men also played important behind-the-scenes roles in the founding of the Software Publishers Association to promote the industry, advocate for the rights of smaller players like Penguin, and rail against piracy.

When Doug expressed tentative interest in the acquisition, Mark flew out to California once again in January of 1985 with a briefcase full of financial reports and details of Comprehend and the Spy’s Adventures series. He shared all of that and then some with Brøderbund, including Penguin’s three-pronged strategy for the future. Doug and Gary Carlston and Gene Portwood listened with apparent interest. While they didn’t share the status of their business to anywhere near the degree that Mark did, they did show a few demos of ideas in development whilst also, Mark claims, expressing a certain level of concern about a lack of really compelling products in their pipeline. A few days later Doug called Mark to say they had decided “not to go forward with” the acquisition, and that was that. Mark, for whom the burden of complete responsibility for Penguin and everyone who worked there was becoming heavy indeed, remembers feeling “disappointed.”

But there was nothing to be done about it and no one else to whom he was inclined to entrust Penguin, so he went back to tweaking and refining the Spy’s Adventures series that was increasingly starting to look like the best thing Penguin had going as the air rushed out of the bookware bubble and the Apple II, The Graphics Magician’s bread-and-butter platform, got older in the tooth. Mark and his colleagues made it possible to play the Spy’s Adventures single- or multi-player, the latter in either a competitive or a unique cooperative mode. They produced guides and supplemental software for teachers looking to integrate the games into a curriculum. And they tested, tested, tested. They took their time, wanting to make sure the series was perfect. If they could get the first three games out by the end of the year, it should be more than early enough, given that schools traditionally budgeted and purchased for the next school year in the spring.

Then came the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in June. “Have you seen the Brøderbund booth?” a colleague asked Mark. No. “Well, you need to.”

Brøderbund was showing a demo of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, a game you probably already thought of some time ago, when I first described Penguin’s take on the educational geographical adventure game. Livid, Mark tracked Doug down and confronted him right there on the show floor. The latter refused to engage in any discussion, other than to say that he “knew nothing” about Carmen Sandiego at the time of the January meeting and that he always did his best to exchange information with others to to avoid this sort of thing. Their friendship effectively ended right there. Mark:

My contacts with Doug after that were short. He either did not reply, or replied tersely. He was a lawyer. I don’t know if he felt he had to watch his words, thus the fewer the better?

At this point we want to be just a little bit careful. There was a period of time when Mark believed the most sensationalistic and dastardly interpretation of these events to likely be true: that Brøderbund blatantly stole his idea for a geographical educational adventure and rushed it out as Carmen Sandiego before Penguin could get the Spy’s Adventures out. Today he no longer believes that interpretation to be terribly likely. Nor do I. To believe it requires one to believe in a thirty-year conspiracy of silence amongst the considerable number of people who were involved in the creation of Carmen Sandiego, not all of whom proved to be all that committed to the Carlstons or Brøderbund in even the short term; Dane Bigham, for instance, architect and programmer of Carmen Sandiego‘s cross-platform game engine, left the company as something less than a happy camper just months after the game’s release when he was informed that he would have to start taking a fixed salary rather than royalties. It’s also difficult to believe that Brøderbund could have come up with the character of Carmen herself and the idea of the included almanac, neither of which were in Penguin’s version, and managed to design and program a demo featuring it all in the bare handful of months between January and June. Nor does it seem at all in keeping with Doug Carlston’s apparently well-earned reputation as one of the nicest, fairest people in software.

The real significance of this incident for Mark and for Penguin is more subtle, but perhaps all the more poignant for it. When he told the story to me in detail for the first time, I replied with a ham-handed array of practical questions. Did you not have Brøderbund sign some sort of NDA or other agreement before you told them pretty much everything there was to know about the state of your business? Once you gifted him with the information that you had such a similar project, what was Doug to do, potentially torpedo his own project by telling you? When you approached him with aggressive questions implying he had stolen your idea, can you really blame him so much for doing the lawyerly thing, limiting his liability by saying as little as possible and keeping away from you as much as possible from then on? Wasn’t Doug, in addition to being a nice guy, also a businessman with the livelihood of many others (including most of his own family) depending on the continued existence of his company, and doesn’t that sometimes have to trump friendship?

Mark replied that I “don’t really understand how magical those early years were, and how this was such a dramatic departure.” Doug should have told him that Brøderbund had something so similar in development, and they would somehow have worked something out. Even the mild bit of dishonesty that it’s quite hard to absolve Doug of — that he somehow hadn’t known that Carmen Sandiego was in development at the time of the January 1985 meeting, a claim he himself has refuted in many interviews since — seemed totally out of character for the straight shooter Mark thought he knew. Clearly Doug found himself on the horns of a difficult and ethically ambiguous dilemma. You can judge his behavior for yourself. For Mark, though, these events served as a canary in a coalmine telling him that the days of the software brotherhood were gone and the industry that had replaced it may not be someplace he wanted to be. If this tormented business could bring a nice guy like Doug to behave this way, what might it force Mark himself into doing? If Doug’s behavior represented simply “good business,” did he really want to be in business?

Penguin did publish the first three Spy’s Adventures games as planned, but by then Carmen Sandiego had already been out for a couple of months. Mark continues to believe that the Penguin games are better than their Brøderbund counterparts, noting that they contain all of the information the player needs to play them in-game rather than relying on an outside resource. The multiplayer possibilities, he notes correctly, also give them a whole additional dimension. Personally, I acknowledge the latter point in particular as well taken, but remember that big old almanac as a huge part of Carmen Sandiego‘s appeal, most definitely a feature rather than a bug. Whatever, there just wasn’t room for two lines of educational geographic adventure games, and Brøderbund cornered the space for themselves by releasing first and doing a masterful job of promotion; as Mark himself wryly acknowledges, just the names Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and The Spy’s Adventures in North America tell you everything you need to know about the relative promotional flairs of the two companies. The Spy made it to North America, South America, and Europe, but no further, while Carmen eventually conquered time and space and even the PBS airwaves.

Whilst Mark was still reeling from seeing Carmen Sandiego at that CES show, there came another disillusioning moment: he was forced to change the ground of Penguin’s very identity, its name. A couple of years before, when the world of book publishing was beginning to eye that of software publishing with greedy eyes, the Penguin Group had legally objected to the Penguin Software trademark. His lawyers informed Mark that he had a reasonable chance of winning on the merits of the case — his company had been in software first, after all — but the other Penguin had the money and legal resources to make any victory so expensive and time-consuming that it couldn’t help but bury his little company — which was, one suspects, exactly what the Penguin Group, hundreds of times bigger than Penguin Software, was relying on. Mark played for time by dragging out the discovery process and subsequent negotiations as long as he possibly could. But at last as 1985 drew to a close Penguin Software began the difficult process of educating the public about their new identity as “Polarware,” a name that never quite fit and always rankled. A final agreement severing Polarware from the old Penguin name forever was signed in 1986. The bullying tactics of the Penguin Group are doubly dispiriting in light of the imprint’s noble history as the first to bring affordable paperback editions of great literature to the masses. (And, astonishingly, the tactics were still continuing a decade after Polarware closed up shop; see the threatening letter Mark has published on his own site, which leaves one thinking that surely their lawyers must have something better to be doing than policing collections of long-obsolete software for long-obsolete computers.)

With the Spy’s Adventures a bust, the newly minted Polarware must rely entirely upon the other two legs of that strategic triangle, the graphics software and the Comprehend line of adventure games. They released two more Comprehend games in 1986 to join Antonio Antiochia’s Comprehend-revamped Transylvania and its sequel of the previous year. Both 1986 games were also remakes, signs of a maturing industry now able to mine the “classics” of its own past.

Oo-Topos

One of them we’ve met before on this blog: Oo-Topos, one of the two science-fiction adventures Mike Berlyn had written during his early days with Sentient Software. Mark had known Mike for some years already by 1986, having first met him when Mike was working on an arcade game that Sentient would eventually release as Congo and called Penguin with some questions about how to use The Graphics Magician. As the Comprehend line was getting underway, Mark proposed to Mike, who was still at Infocom at the time, that Penguin/Polarware be allowed to remake Oo-Topos using the Comprehend engine. It sounded fine to Mike, but for two problems: his position at Infocom made it difficult for him to directly involve himself with the remake; and the actual rights to the game resided not with Mike but with his erstwhile partner at Sentient, Alan Garber, from whom he had split on less than amicable terms. Mark was able to work out a deal with Garber instead. Mike received no royalties, but gave his blessing to a remake which smoothed away most of the rough edges of the original and of course added graphics. The result was a very enjoyable adventure game.

The Coveted Mirror

The other game, a charming little fantasy called The Coveted Mirror, was of more recent vintage. The erstwhile Penguin Software had published the original, written and illustrated by freelance illustrator Holly Thomason and programmed by a Stanford systems programmer named Eagle Berns, in 1983. (Berns would go on to quite a career inside Silicon Valley, working most notably for Apple and Oracle.) The new version removed the several surprisingly good arcade-action sequences from the original, but added some additional locations and puzzles in compensation.

The Comprehend adventures are not innovative in the least, and indeed were already feeling like throwbacks in their own time, the last holdouts from the old Hi-Res Adventure approach to adventuring that Sierra had birthed with Mystery House and The Wizard and the Princess and long since abandoned along with most of the rest of the industry. For all that, though, I have a huge soft spot for the line. They are, mark you, full of the sort of old-school attributes that will drive most of you crazy: mazes, inventory limits, limited light sources and other sorts of timers, vital information hidden in the graphics, parsers that don’t understand simple constructions like “DROP ALL.” Yet there’s a certain sense of design craft to them that’s lacking in so many of their competitors, and most of all a welcome sense that their authors want you to solve them, want you to have fun with them. Excluding only a few misbegotten riddles in The Crimson Crown, there are no stupid guess-the-word parser puzzles, no cheap tricks meant to send you scurrying with cash-in-hand for the hint book. If you can accept the different standards of a different era, they’re just about the most consistently playable line of parser-driven adventures of the 1980s, excepting only Infocom. Others may have reached further and occasionally soared higher, but their literary aspirations much more frequently only led them to create games that didn’t really work that well as, well, games. Despite their branding as “Interactive Novels,” a mode of phraseology very much in vogue at the time of their conception, the Comprehend titles are content to just be fun text adventures, an impressively nonlinear web of locations and puzzles to explore and solve in the service of just enough plot to get you started and provide an ending.

In addition to five released Comprehend games, Polarware signed contracts for and storyboarded two licensed games that would never get made, one to be based on the Frank and Ernest newspaper comic strip, the other on Jimmy Buffett’s anthem “Margaritaville.” The latter makes a particularly interesting story, one that once again begins with Mike Berlyn.

One year Mark and Mike had found themselves on the same flight from Chicago to Las Vegas for the Winter CES, and arranged to sit together. The conversation came around to music, whereupon Mark mentioned his love for Jimmy Buffett. Long before the Parrothead circus began, Mark had seen him as a struggling singer/songwriter who passed through the University of Illinois student union to sing his poignant early songs of alcohol-addled losers and dreamers adrift on the Florida Keys. Mike mentioned that he had actually lived quite close to Buffett during his tenure in Aspen, Colorado, with Sentient, and that he believed Buffett still had a house there. Knowing only that Buffett lived (according to Mike) in the “Red Mountain subdivision” of Aspen, on a lark Mark sent a letter off to just that: “Jimmy Buffett, Red Mountain subdivision, Aspen, Colorado.” Four months later one of his employees came to him to to tell him that “there’s this guy who says he’s Jimmy Buffett on the phone for you.” There were plans in the works to make a movie out of “Margaritaville,” and it seems Buffett and his associates thought a computer game might make a nice companion (even given that it was somewhat, um, debatable how much of a cross-section there really was between computer gamers and Jimmy Buffett fans). But the movie plans fell through in the end, and neither movie nor game got made.

Penguin/Polarware had managed to stay afloat and even modestly profitable through 1985, but as the mass-market distributors gained more and more power they were increasingly able to impose their will on a small publisher, stretching the time between the shipment of an order and receipt of payment to thirty, sixty, ninety days or longer. Distributors came to dictate terms to such an extent that Polarware might ship them a $30,000 order only to have the distributor announce a few months later that they’d only sold $12,000 of it and thus would only pay for that, while, what with sales having been so slow, they wouldn’t even bother trying to move the rest — but no, they wouldn’t be paying for or returning the leftovers either. Bigger players might impose their own will on the distributors or set up their own distribution systems (as Electronic Arts did from the beginning), but there was very little that Polarware could do. While they did try forming a distributor, which they called SoftRack, to handle their own wares and those of a few other small publishers, it never penetrated much beyond some small independent retailers in the Midwest. For the rest, they must rely upon the established big boys, many of whom lived fast and close to the edge. At the beginning of 1986 what Mark had been dreading finally happened: a few distributors went bankrupt while owing Polarware a lot of money. With accounts suddenly deeply in the red, he was forced to embark on the heartbreaking process of laying off lots of employees he had long since come to regard as friends.

The frantic down-sizing and cost-cutting was enough to let Polarware weather this crisis, but Mark had decided by the end of the year that he’d had enough. The future looked decidedly uncertain. The Spy’s Adventures were a bust, while the Comprehend games had proved only modestly successful. And now the graphics utilities, always the company’s financial bedrock, also faced a doubtful (at best) future. The 8-bit platforms they ran on were now aged, with the press beginning to speculate on how much longer they could possibly remain viable, and Polarware had nothing in the works for and no real expertise with the next generation of 16-bit graphical powerhouses. The Comprehend line also desperately needed a facelift for the new machines, one that the down-sized Polarware wasn’t really in a position to provide. Meanwhile the stress of running Polarware was keeping Mark up at night and starting to affect his health. It was time to quit. Mark walked away, selling Polarware to a group of employees who still thought they could make a go of it. They would manage to release one more Comprehend game, an original with the awkward title of Talisman: Challenging the Sands of Time, in 1987 before accepting the inevitable and selling out to Merit Software.

Barack Obama shakes hands with Mark Pelczarski, November 7, 2012

Barack Obama shakes hands with Mark Pelczarski, November 7, 2012

For his part, Mark pursued a growing fascination with the then-new computerized music-making technology of MIDI. That led to an early MIDI software package, MIDI OnStage, and combined with the Jimmy Buffett connection he’d established at Polarware took him to Key West to help set up Buffett’s Shrimpboat Sound recording studio; his worked rated a mention in the liner notes of the first album Buffett recorded there, Hot Water. Since then Mark has filled his time with quite a variety of activities: setting up another studio for Dan Fogelberg; playing steel drums in a band; developing the mapping technology for early travel-planning CD-ROMs; teaching one of the first online courses ever offered and developing much of the technology that allowed him to do so; developing early web-forum software; teaching programming for twenty years at Elgin Community College. He’s now retired from that last gig, but remains busy and industrious as ever; when I first contacted him to ask him to help me tell the Penguin/Polarware story, I was surprised to find him volunteering as a technology architect for Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Mark escaped the chaos with little apparent psychic damage, something not necessarily true of all of his contemporaries.

When I put Penguin behind me, I felt like I’d already had a lifetime of experiences, much more than most people could hope for, imagine, or dream. And I kind of treated what came after as another lifetime. I joke, but only half so, about how “in a past life…’ I did this and that, when talking about things like Penguin Software. But it really does kind of feel like that, and that probably helped keep me sane in living another, more normal life.

(You can download the Comprehend versions of Oo-Topos and The Coveted Mirror for the Apple II, including manuals and all the other goodies, from here if you like.

For another and presumably final time, my thanks to Mark Pelczarski. His memories, which he shared with me in careful detail even though this period of Penguin/Polarware’s history is not his favorite to remember, were just about all I needed to write this article.)


Comments

September 11, 2014

Classic Adventure Solution Archive

CASA Update - 103 new game entries, 17 new solutions, 8 new maps, 1 new hints, 3 new fixed games

by Alastair at September 11, 2014 10:23 PM

Goodness! That was quick! Just eleven days have passed since the last update and now the number of games in the database exceeds 6,100. Many thanks to the Industrious Half-Dozen.

Contributors: Alex, dave, iamaran, Richard Bos, Justananomaly, boldir

IFComp News

Alert for Mac users of Inform 7's latest version

September 11, 2014 08:01 PM

For competition authors building their entries on the Mac version of Inform 7:

The latest version (6L38), while intended as a bugfix release, contains some fairly serious user-interface issues, as detailed in this thread on the intfiction.org forums. Problems include an inability to create new projects from the opening screen, install extensions from within the IDE, or use the cross-reference arrows from its error-report screen.

If you’ve upgraded to this version of Inform and are experiencing the problems described there, you may wish to try this unofficial modified version of the application, built by Andrew Plotkin. More about that in this thread; as he notes, it re-introduces known UI problems from the previous release, but on balance they’re rather less severe than the current ones. It’s intended as a stopgap until Inform’s core maintainer prepares an official release that fixes these new issues.

Storycade

Twine: Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames!

by Kate Reynolds at September 11, 2014 07:01 PM

Quing's Quest

Amidst all the sexist hubbub of the past month, many game developers have taken to…well, making games to address the situation. Go figure. Deirdre “Squinky” Kiai (the developer responsible for Dominique Pamplemousse) is among these devs, and released Quing’s Quest for Ruin Jam 2014. Ruin Jam sprung up in response to #GamerGate (among other things) and has this to say about itself on its front page:

Ruin Jam is a game jam celebrating the nonexistent demise of video games, inspired by a lot of current events and  a certain blog post. It’s open to anyone and everyone who has been, is being, or plans to be accused of ruining the games industry. All Ruiners are welcome to contribute to the death of video games, provided that they adhere to the spirit of the jam.

In case you weren’t aware of the things that are ruining games, the site even provides a handy list of examples from things like “Forced Diversity” (having minority characters with agency) to everyday criticism and/or satire of existing game franchises. With a genderfluid protagonist, quirky music, and poignant social commentary, Quing’s Quest (get it?is quite positively a game ruiner, and one that makes me wish Kiai would ruin the entire industry for me.

The game was built in Twine, because according to Kiai “…nothing says “hey, that’s not really a game!” like Twine,” and you find yourself aboard a spaceship in the Captain’s Quarters. Before the “main action” of the game really begins, you can visit your wardrobe and bathroom to change your attire and make up. No matter oddball combination of colors and garments you choose, you will look FABULOUS….which is perhaps the most subtle piece of social commentary in the game. No matter how you wear your hair (green pompadour my first play through) or what color you paint your nails (rainbow, duh) the player character looks fabulous, and by extension, you the player feel rewarded for your decisions, and perhaps feel a little more fabulous about yourself.

Of course, then the “real” adventure begins.

QuingsQuest2

There’s no rhyme or reason to the disk numbers. Linear counting is for squares!

You are aboard this ship, with your fellow genderfluid pirate Nero, because you both escaped the planet Videogames which was recently taken over by the misogynerds. Honestly, I would probably rate this game highly just for Kiai’s invention of the word misogynerd. It’s just so…apropos. I digress. Though you and Nero have escaped the misogynerds, there’s nowhere else to run (Academia, WeirdInternet, New Mediaart, and Hypertext won’t take you) and they’re hot on your tail.

What follows is a poignant depiction of what it feels like to make unique games and/or criticism in the game industry. The misogynerds are always after you because you won’t follow their rules, and even your friends have defected to the misogynerd siren call, simply because they won’t want to make waves and risk the wrath of the hoard. This narrative is all too familiar to many people in the game industry, yet seeing it played out as a game made the message resonate in a way it hadn’t previously done before.

The message took on a different cadence when I realized that in the game, you can actually try to change the narrative. It’s just you, Nero, and your ship the Social Justice Warrior, but as a team you three can make a difference against the misogynerds. This is in line with Kiai’s describes of the game as “…a silly, over-the-top power fantasy.” Yet even though it is over-the-top (you can attempt to “Escape to Narnia” when the misogynerds find you), Quing’s Quest offered me a fantasy I wasn’t aware I was wishing for: agency.

QuingsQuest3

In a game where your choices don’t matter at all, it was strange to find myself feeling empowered at the completion. Yet in the game, I had impacted the world of video games in a way that I never have before in the non-game world. I was left wanting to fist-pump and dance, full of renewed energy to fight the misogynerds I encounter everyday in my web space. Power fantasies may be outlandish and silly, but as Kiai demonstrates in Quing’s Quest they’re also refreshing and needed.

So, should you play this game? As long as you don’t identify as a misogynerd the answer is….duh. Play this game, make your friends play this games, and make their friends play this game. Then, we can all go out and ruin games together.

The post Twine: Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames! appeared first on StoryCade.

September 10, 2014

Storycade

News: Humble Bundle 12 Offers Gone Home

by Amanda Wallace at September 10, 2014 05:01 PM

Humble Bundle

The Humble Bundle has long defined itself as a great way to pick up independent games at a low price. The Bundle works by pairing lots of smaller, independent games (or bundling larger games for charity) and allowing you to pay what you want for them. The proceeds will go to a combination of worthy causes, from the developers themselves, to charities like Child’s Play or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

This time around, the Humble Bundle is pairing $127 worth of notable games, with two tiers. The first is “pay what you want,” which allows you to pay as little or as much as you want for the available games. These games include Gunpoint, Hammerwatch, and Steamworld Dig. If you pay over $10, you get Alpha access to Prison Architect. For IF fans, probably the most interesting deal is if you pay over the average (as of writing this, it’s about $7) you can get a couple great games including Gone Home, but also Luftrausers, and Papers, Please.

This Humble Bundle is also home to a strange element known as the Humble Bundle 12 Entertainment System. For $65, you can get a shareware floppy, LP, T-Shirt and HIB Informer Magazine (with tips and tricks for the games featured in the Bundle). It’s an interesting package, and one that’s sure to excite indie games fan.

This whole deal is available on the Humble Bundle Website, and is a promotion that will run for only the next two weeks.

The post News: Humble Bundle 12 Offers Gone Home appeared first on StoryCade.

September 09, 2014

Storycade

Visual Novel: Hatoful Boyfriend

by Amanda Wallace at September 09, 2014 09:01 PM

Hatoful Boyfriend

This guest post is brought to you by Emilie Reed. You can find more from them on Twitter and their website.

It’s the spring of 2012, and I’m having my first real grapple with the fact that something might be wrong with me. No, I’m not obsessed with dating pigeons, not yet anyways, but I’m starting to suspect that my chronic anxiety and depression may be something serious, rather than me just falling short, being irrational, or childish. Everything I have to do during the day seems like an intense, high-pressure performance I can’t keep up with, but to get my mind off it all in the evenings I used a coping mechanism I retain to this day, even though I’m in a much better place mentally: I play weird games I found on the internet. That was the context for the Hatoful Boyfriend demo coming into my life.  I forget where exactly I first heard of it, but it was presented as an oddball novelty (“dating birds!? Typical weird Japanese games…”) which is how many people are still introduced to it and after playing all of the routes in the original, as well as the Christmas-themed sequel and preordering the deluxe 1080p rerelease on Steam (now with added Java Sparrow route) I think it ultimately sells the game short. Saying Hatoful Boyfriend saved my life is obvious hyperbole, but it did improve it, and it is a very good visual novel even when the novelty of talking birds and a boarding school for intelligent pigeons wears off.

Hatoful Boyfriend

It’s hard to really mention anything about the overarching plot of Hatoful Boyfriend, beyond the budding friendships and eventual romantic confession scenes you can experience with eight different birds without going into major spoilers, so I won’t.  What I think is more important about the game is experiencing it. Even if you’re reading this, I imagine it’ll be hard for you to go into the game without initially scoffing at the ridiculous setup, that you’re the first human girl to attend a school previously only for birds. It’s a take on a common  premise for many girls’ dating sim games, that you’re the first girl attending a historically male boarding school, which gives you little competition and the most time and attention from the boys you can interact with. But then, Hatoful Boyfriend’s main character also attracts some unwanted attention… oh ok, I’ll stop there.

Hatoful Boyfriend

Hatoful Boyfriend is way more than just a send up of dating sim tropes using the absurdity of a human dating a pigeon to emphasize the ridiculousness of the genre. While there are, of course, some self-aware jokes and humour resulting from human-avian interaction, Hato Moa, the pseudonymous creator, plays it remarkably straight. While the dateable birdies may seem like two dimensional dating sim ‘types,’ at first, almost everyone, at some point in the game, begins to question why they’re having such intense or complex feelings about a character represented only by text and a stock photo of a bird. And then you just accept it. And then you’re one of us.

The community surrounding the Hatoful Boyfriend games includes long-time bird fanciers, and people who only began to fancy birds after playing the game. Me, I found a new source of happiness, appreciating the cooing, strutting co-inhabitants of the city around me in a new way, after I’d befriended them ingame. I made friends who had been through the same experience, of picking up the game on a whim because it was ‘weird’ and becoming enthralled. I’ve chatted with zookeepers, neurosurgeons, mothers, even people who offered me advice from their own experiences with GAD who all love the game. Its wide appeal and friendly fan community are certainly notable, but at the core is simply a well written, intriguing game. Take my word for it, after playing Hatoful Boyfriend it’s unlikely you’ll feel the same about birds. Or dating sims.

The post Visual Novel: Hatoful Boyfriend appeared first on StoryCade.

September 08, 2014

Storycade

Twine: Depression Quest

by Amanda Wallace at September 08, 2014 11:02 PM

Depression Quest

This guest post is brought to you by Jonathan Kaharl. You can more from him on Twitter and at his blog. 

Depression Quest was something I played out of vague interest one day, and it really surprised me. As a game, it’s fascinatingly simple; the barest of choices made as the sole main mechanic, but making a lack of choice part of the mechanic and turning the game into a learning tool. I played it twice to date and got the best ending each time, but “winning” in this game obviously wasn’t the point to it.
Depression Quest
Depression Quest is important to me because it helped me understand something I never understood before. It successfully put me into the head space of someone suffering from depression, something I barely had any understanding of before, and through the simplicity of its designed game, I felt like I grew as a person. This is a game that taught me something, and I can only say that about very few games in my collection. TWEWY introduced me to sociology theory early, for example, but few other games come to my mind that really got me to realize something new like Depression Quest managed to do in just two hours. The pressure of the condition, the desire for an easy decision that just makes things worse, how few people truly understand the condition; the game really opened my eyes. How the mom interacts with you if you’re honest to her, or how trying to relax only puts you in a worse head space brought up things I never realized. The pain of your own self loathing and the difficulty of dealing with it, along with the well meaning yet ignorant words of your support net cutting into your trust with that person …it’s powerful stuff. It’s also very well written; the generic perspective is kept at a constant, and there’s some good bits of humanity mixed in (as a pet owner, how it feels to just spend a lazy day with your pet was a feeling I knew all too well). There was a lot of life experience poured into this, and it’s helping people learn more about a subject few people even bother to try and understand.
Depression Quest
Depression Quest is brilliant for such a small work, and it’s something everyone should play in the right head space. By that, I mean accepting of whatever it has to tell or teach you.

The post Twine: Depression Quest appeared first on StoryCade.

The Gameshelf: IF

Zarfplan: We have beta stage

by Andrew Plotkin at September 08, 2014 08:23 PM

Last night at 8 pm I tagged a branch, compiled a release build, ran the end-to-end test script, and pinged the testers about where to download it. Hadean Lands is now in beta.

(If you chose the "access to the closed beta-testing phase" backer reward, and you haven't gotten email from me, please contact me for testing info. Assuming you still want to test, I mean.)

This momentous day is a good time for some announcements!

Hadean Lands will be available both as an iOS app and as a portable (Glulx) game file. The Glulx version will be playable on Mac, Windows, Linux, and anything else that the (open-source) interpreter can be ported to. I expect to sell the Glulx version through the Humble Widget and through the Itch.IO game download service. The sticker price will be $5 no matter where you buy it from.

All backers will get the Glulx version as a free download. Yes, every person who backed me. Even if you contributed just a dollar; even if you asked for your money back; everybody. This wasn't part of the original Kickstarter plan, but you deserve something extra for waiting this long.

I am going to ship the game first, and physical rewards later. People signed up for postcards and posters and CDs and calligraphy and all that good stuff. It will all happen! But I am not going to worry about any of it until you have playable copies of the game.

(Footnote to the above: I do not plan to be on the Humble Store or in any bundle. I'm just going to use the Humble tool for selling downloadable content. I might wind up on the Humble Store at some point in the future.)

What's the timeline? Later this week I will send out the dreaded Kickstarter backer questionnaires -- one for everybody, one for people who get physical rewards. These will cover shipping addresses, App Store account names, whether you want your Glulx download from Humble or Itch.IO, and so on.

Beyond that, I have several tasks still in front of me, including cover art, a map, a web site, and integrating the game into my iOS framework. Plus the time it will take Apple to approve the app. I'm allocating a month. That's not a hard deadline, but as a rough target, think "early October" as our ship date.

This means that HL is likely to ship in the middle of IFComp voting. This is a right nuisance but we'll have to manage. I can't promise to get HL out before IFComp starts, and it would be stupid to delay it until after IFComp is over.

One of the tasks of my list is "the expectations-setting blog post". I was half-joking when I wrote it, but I think this is a good time to talk about how Hadean Lands has come out.

  • Hadean Lands is a hard game. Eight people have been working on the first (July) test release, and none of them have made it even halfway through (which is how much was implemented in July). Obviously nobody has been playing full-time for two months (or even for two weeks), and testers have not yet started to cooperate on puzzle-solving. But it is safe to say that this game will be a challenge for a solo solver.

  • HL does not come with hints. In an ideal world, every puzzle game would ship with hints, but this is not that world. Adding a comprehensive hint system would add months to the development cycle, and I'm not going to do that. Instead, I will point everybody to a forum thread and say "Exchange hints here!" (This approach worked fine for Counterfeit Monkey.)

  • HL is more about puzzles than story. As with The Dreamhold, I put in some background information which implies a story. I hope that is interesting. But your play experience will be about the puzzles.

  • HL involves a lot of typing. (My end-to-end test run is 1280 player commands. That's not absolutely minimal, but it gives you the order of magnitude of the thing.) You might say, what, I'm going to play a thousand-command text adventure on my iPhone? Well, that's one reason you get a desktop version for free. (I hope to have a way to exchange save files between iOS and Dropbox.)

Despite everything I've said... this is the game that I intended to make. It does what I wanted it to do. Oh, there's always a long list of failed dreams trailing behind any game -- everything you hoped it might do, which didn't work out because no game can do everything. But I stand behind this thing.

Storycade

Twine: Capsule

by Amanda Wallace at September 08, 2014 06:01 PM

It feels surprisingly invigorating to actually have something to do.
Even if it might result in your imminent death.
You are fully aware that millions of lives depend on your survival but as the years pass by (just like other Sandmans), that truth gets diluted and you start to focus on yourself instead.

Capsule is, at it’s core, a solidly built science fiction story about isolation. This isn’t PaperBlurt’s first foray into science fiction. A previous Ludum Dare entry of his, Alone/Awake, is also about the loneliness of space. But this tale, longer and more fleshed out, shows a more mature Twine author than past endeavors.

As always, one of the strengths of PaperBlurt’s work is in his technical skills in Twine. He creates animations and sets the scene. Color and style are all ready weapons in his arsenal. It’s with a unnaturally talented hand that he manipulates Twine so that it conforms to his will, and it makes every experience unique and crafted. When you interact with the ships system, it is with a strange amalgamation of 80′s surf speak and a Matrix green UI.

capsule

 

Capsule is the tale of a character who volunteered to be a Sandman — to watch a generation ship as it piloted its way across the galaxy. For the most part, the game is punctuated by this loneliness and sense of isolation. He has watched every movie, done everything that can be done. His sole purpose is as an observer,

The game loses some of its steam near the end. The strengths, such as the way Capsule encapsulates loneliness and isolation are lost. Despite some of the humor, as seen above in the surf speak, the game is kind of serious. The finale is the weakest portion of the game, and not just because you are given the option to replay that final moment. There is an awkward “hilarious” section near the end which feels so tonally different from my own personal experience that it threw me for a loop. 

This is a jam game that does not need the qualifier “keep in mind this was made in 48 hours.” Solidly built, it is a technically sound Twine game with all the talent and skill that PaperBlurt has shown repeatedly throughout the years.

 

The post Twine: Capsule appeared first on StoryCade.

September 03, 2014

Emily Short

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower (Ryan Veeder)

by Emily Short at September 03, 2014 02:00 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 12.49.04 PM

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is a brief but evocative parser-based story by Ryan Veeder, originally released as part of Storybundle but now available to play for free.

It describes an exploration: the protagonist is trying to get into the titular Gothic tower, a difficult-to-reach space on campus. That impulse to enter and explore the forbidden spaces enclosed in public areas (especially college campuses) is one of the primordial urges behind the text adventure genre. Certainly at my college campus, there was quite a bit of hobby overlap: the same sorts of people who played and discussed text adventures were the ones who had accounts on the Unix system; organized small illicit tours of the college’s steam tunnels, attics, and basements; and who practiced recreational lock-picking.

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower concerns the longing to understand infrastructure and (most of all) to reach locations that are inherently interesting but perhaps off limits. It reflects on the transgressive behavior required to map out secret spaces, behavior (like taking objects and trespassing just because a door has been left unlocked) that classic text adventures usually reward unproblematically. Gothic Tower depicts a mentality that is isolated and even actively antisocial, furtive, made uncomfortable by ordinary human comings and goings. From the very first room of the game, the narrator indicates this distance and alienation:

A couple of kids are sitting on a blanket nearby, pawing at each other like there’s nobody else around—and wouldn’t that be nice?

>x kids
They stare into each other’s eyes; they whisper; at intervals they kiss.

By “wouldn’t that be nice,” you didn’t mean that it would be nice to be necking outdoors in front of everyone. The thing that would be nice is the hypothetical situation in which there’s nobody else around.

>talk to kids
You mutter a hello, and the two kids look up to you with apprehensive smiles.

These themes resonate with some of Veeder’s earlier work, but are more darkly presented here. The childlike, exuberant exploration of church spaces in Robin & Orchid gives way to paranoia and anxiety; the protagonist flinches from the presence of other people, and frets anxiously about each trespassing step taken on the path to the tower. The protagonist is also, incidentally, carrying a photocopied image of a monster that might be a cockatrice or might be a basilisk, and which can destroy with a glance — a strong figure for how much the protagonist does not want either to see or to be seen by other people.

Meanwhile there’s relatively little of the humor of Veeder’s lighter work. His characteristic narrative asides remain (“By ‘wouldn’t that be nice,’ you didn’t mean…”), but they’re somewhat more caustic than in many another context.

The result is curiously melancholy. There are any number of games that offer some metacommentary on the conventions of their own genres, and within these a smaller set of IF games that explicitly call out the antisocial behavior and implicit loneliness of the traditional IF protagonist. Most of the latter are meant to be funny (Zero Sum Game requires a misbehaving protagonist to put back an inventory of stolen treasures, for instance), though Endless, Nameless arguably reflects more seriously on the kind of people who are required to make and play classic text adventures. The Ascent of the Gothic Tower takes this a step further, however. Rather than focusing on the peculiarities of the genre convention, it depicts seriously a protagonist who truly feels like a Nameless Adventurer, a person for whom the abandoned building full of locked doors and mysterious signs is not only natural but almost the only kind of setting in which they can be at rest.


September 02, 2014

IFComp News

Authors: preview how your entries look

September 02, 2014 06:01 PM

I’m pleased to roll out a new feature for IFComp authors, available now on the ifcomp.org website.

From your entry-management page, click the Preview these entries hyperlink under the Your current entries header (if you’ve already declared your intent to enter at least one game). This will take you to a new screen where you can see your entries just as IFComp judges would see them, were the competition to start at that moment.

Each entry’s preview includes Download and Walkthrough buttons, whose appearance depends on whether you’ve added game and walkthrough files to your entry, respectively.

An additional Play Online button will appear if your entry game file is browser-playable. This includes web-native games, such as those made with Twine and Undum. Thanks to the magic of Parchment, this also includes parser IF created with Inform. A more complete description of the logic the system uses to determine online-playability appears on the bottom of the preview page.

I would very much appreciate any bug reports or other feedback about this new feature. I hope you find it useful!

The Monk's Brew

Changelog 2014-09-01

by Rubes at September 02, 2014 02:00 AM

Summary

Well, yet another month is in the books. Weird August fact that only I find interesting: I know I don’t post a great deal on this blog compared with other blogs, but looking back over the years it seems that August is the month I have posted the least overall. In fact, until this year, I hadn’t posted a single blog entry in August since the first year of the blog, in 2008. I have no idea what this means.

This week was relatively quiet, but still important tasks were accomplished or started. As I mentioned last week, I installed Parallels on my Mac dev machine so I could do my modeling/animation/exporting work side-by-side with my programming and testing work without having to reboot [More...] Read the rest

September 01, 2014

These Heterogenous Tasks

80 Days: Protagonism and Problematics

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at September 01, 2014 01:01 AM

80 Days is a game about being on the outside of things. Fogg and Passepartout are tourists; their contact with any given culture is perforce brief, and they’re not heroes who ride through town, fix all its problems and ride on. They are both representatives of major colonial powers, in a piece that’s more concerned with the people who got colonised. At one level, all the effort you spend on getting from one place to another is just a highly involved way of traveling through other people’s stories that you only briefly touch.

Passepartout’s line “We are going around the world!” is a running gag – it paints him as naively enthusiastic, their voyage’s entire premise as a quixotic game of the idle rich. The responses it receives from NPCs generally confirm it: nice life if you can get it. Fogg is able to carry out the journey not only because of his personal wealth; that, alone, will almost never get you around the world. (It might be possible with some severe optimisation.) Rather, his status as an upper-class Brit gives him effectively unlimited credit at banks; even the money you make yourself, through the trading of luxury goods to specific destinations, is often only possible because of this unlimited credit. (This privilege gets highlighted by reversal in Panama, where the bank is only open to citizens of the local imperial power – Haiti.) Even if you lose the wager, Fogg is not actually ruined; he just declares that you’ll try again. The affordances offered to the player by games always place them in an effective position of spectacular privilege relative to NPCs; 80 Days actively engages with that.

Aouda / Aodha

Meg Jayanth:

So, when Jon and Joe from inkle studios asked me to adapt Around the World in 80 Days as interactive fiction… my first thought was “what am I going to do about Aouda?”

When I first heard about 80 Days and that Meg Jayanth was doing it, that was pretty much my first thought too, combined with ‘dang, I’m glad they gave this to someone qualified to deal with it.’ Jayanth is a British Indian woman whose previous work has addressed colonialism in the subcontinent; Aouda is an idealised Indian woman as defined by a white colonialist Victorian man.

80 Days revisits a number of sequences from the original Verne, and there was one particular element that I was curious about. In the original story, Fogg rescues Aouda, an Indian widow, from involuntary sati. Aouda gratefully follows him around the world and, as an element of the climactic reveal, marries him. It’s a twofer story, both a damsel-rescue and a White Man’s Burden story in which the superstition of the natives is cunningly turned against them. (Yeah, sati was a real thing and thoroughly awful, and the British did ban it – as had various Hindu states; but European accounts uniformly exaggerated the practice – its prevalence, the level of coercion typically involved, the breadth of its support among Hindus generally – in order to stress the barbarity of non-whites and non-Christians and the necessity of empire as moral education. Verne, to his credit, mentions some of this – he has a rather encyclopedia-flavoured style, having traveled very little – but then goes for the Maximum Barbarity version anyway.)

Verne has nothing but praise for Aouda, and is evidently cool with mixed-race marriage, but there’s a lot more going on here. Aouda isn’t a Hindu, but a monotheist Parsi, what Verne calls “the most thrifty, civilised, intelligent, and austere of the East Indians”; she’s at once an exotic beauty and thoroughly Westernised (not to mention pale). Here’s the section in which she’s first described, quoted at length because jeez:

When the poet-king, Ucaf Uddaul, celebrates the charms of the queen of Ahmehnagara, he speaks thus:

“Her shining tresses, divided in two parts, encircle the harmonious contour of her white and delicate cheeks, brilliant in their glow and freshness. Her ebony brows have the form and charm of the bow of Kama, the god of love, and beneath her long silken lashes the purest reflections and a celestial light swim, as in the sacred lakes of Himalaya, in the black pupils of her great clear eyes. Her teeth, fine, equal, and white, glitter between her smiling lips like dewdrops in a passion-flower’s half-enveloped breast. Her delicately formed ears, her vermilion hands, her little feet, curved and tender as the lotus-bud, glitter with the brilliancy of the loveliest pearls of Ceylon, the most dazzling diamonds of Golconda. Her narrow and supple waist, which a hand may clasp around, sets forth the outline of her rounded figure and the beauty of her bosom, where youth in its flower displays the wealth of its treasures; and beneath the silken folds of her tunic she seems to have been modelled in pure silver by the godlike hand of Vicvarcarma, the immortal sculptor.”

It is enough to say, without applying this poetical rhapsody to Aouda, that she was a charming woman, in all the European acceptation of the phrase. She spoke English with great purity, and the guide had not exaggerated in saying that the young Parsee had been transformed by her bringing up.

(At times I love Victorian writers for the same reason I sometimes love crappy writers: they do things so transparently. If a more modern and subtle writer had written this description with the same intent, quibbling might be possible; here, you can see exactly what the aim is.)

So what we have here is a common trope: alluringly exotic but not uncomfortably exotic. (Aouda switches into European dress as soon as circumstances permit, and can probably pass as white.) It shows up in both male and female love-interests, but you particularly want to watch out for it in situations where passive and exotic women are enthusiastic rewards for white manly virtue – creepy enough in its own right, and a narrative which serves as a mask for a considerably more complicated and exploitative reality.

The feminine ideal Aouda conforms to is largely passive: she is grateful, gracious, tender-hearted, devotedly loyal, kind to servants, endures hardship bravely and without complaint, and follows Fogg’s instructions. The one moment of active heroism she does get is itself a great big problem (she wields a revolver against Sioux ‘savages’ attacking a train). She’s also the one to propose to Fogg, rather than the other way about, but this feels more an expression of the odd emotional imbalance at work: Aouda shows romantic interest in Fogg almost from the outset, while the perfectly-temperate, emotionally-inaccessible Englishman does not respond until the story’s end.

Quick as a panther, the woman leapt to her feet and pressed the edge of a gleaming curved blade to my neck. Her lips were drawn into a grin more bloodthirsty than ladylike. "Good morning," she said in cultured English tones. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Behind her, fireworks spelled out, in letters fifty feet high, the words NOT A DAMSEL.

There’s not much of the original Aouda to salvage once you take out the shitty parts. She’s assertive enough to fire a gun in self-defence and to take the initiative with a boy she likes, but this is slender material from which to reconstitute a character; it’s entry-level for being considered as a hero. 80 Days features a version of Aouda in a capacity both grown and reduced: to encounter her you have to take a specific (and rather expensive) route, and even when encountered she plays a smaller part. She is an English-educated raja’s widow, but sati is no longer an element; rather than the victim, she is the leader of a group of rebels, who capture the party and help them continue on their way. (I couldn’t figure out whether she was still Parsi; she’s certainly associating herself with Hindu symbolism, but religion and politics are complicated.) Rather than demure reserve, she has a rather pirate-queen attitude, laughing heartily and generally enjoying herself. She remains attracted to Fogg, and makes her move on him with a good deal more alacrity than Verne’s version; she does not, however, join the party, remaining with her rebels to fight the British.

It’s a fairly standard undamseling treatment; the character is no longer a victim, is granted agency, power, independent concerns and the right to enjoy herself, and rejects the narrative imposed on her by the previous work; rather than rejecting her culture, she fights for it; rather than sitting alone in rooms thinking about how noble Fogg is, she drags him off into the woods. Perhaps because she’s so straightforwardly an undamsel, so entirely an inverse of Verne’s Aouda, she isn’t one of the more interesting NPCs in the story; but she doesn’t need to be.

I can see why the sati was taken out. Taken seriously, rather than as a dragon for a white knight to ritually slay, sati’s such a horrific subject – suicide, violence against women, sexism of the ugliest and deepest kind, racist and sectarian propaganda – that it’d be hard to deal with it within the tone established by 80 Days. Bad stuff is touched on in 80 Days a good deal, but it tends to be abstract rather than graphic, melancholy rather than agonising. Slavery is discussed without needing to focus on whippings, riots without police brutality, displacement of indigenous peoples without massacre, female escape without violence against women; we know what those things mean, so they can be introduced briefly without doing injustice to the subject or getting graphic. In the West we don’t have a widely-known post-colonial account of sati – if you’ve heard of it, the last version you heard was probably a Victorian one – so this would have been much harder.

This is not to say that the game doesn’t contain women who are traveling to escape the sexism of their own cultures. There’s even a damsel-rescue sequence of sorts, in which Passepartout helps rescue a woman from an Ottoman harem – but it’s really a self-rescue, with Passepartout playing the role of comic auxiliary rather than white knight, and Fogg uninvolved. As for following Fogg gratefully around the world, the non-player characters have their own damn lives to lead. Indeed, nobody ever joins Passepartout and Fogg for the entire remainder of their journey – which I suspect is only in part because it’d have presented a great big pile of additional writing in a game that mostly isn’t built for long-arc threads. Aouda’s present in the work mostly as an echo – in the women whose erotic interest in Fogg or Passepartout has nothing to do with gratitude, who are active agents of their own liberation, who have husbands but are not subsumed to their interests, who do cool stuff whether the PCs are allowed to tag along or not.

The Moral Signal Choice

Fogg is the most prominent NPC by a wide margin, but given how much time you spend with him, he doesn’t do much. He maintains an air of near-complete indifference to the cities and cultures he travels through; where in the original his precise, unflappable character is at least somewhat a strength, the ideal of the indomitable English will, here it’s shown as arrogance and weakness. The gregarious, cosmopolitan Passepartout – somewhat less of a capering fool in this version – is his opposite.

boringchoice

“This city’s kind of cool; want to explore it?”

Very often in 80 Days you’ll be given a choice that boils down to: do you want to go and experience the city/talk to some people, or do you want to stay in your hotel room until the train leaves/stay in your cabin until you reach the next city? Most often this is phrased in terms of disapproval of the local culture, or unfavourable comparisons to Passepartout’s native Paris. This approach is generally the kind of thing you’d consider a Bad Choice, for two reasons. One, a game choice between ‘play along with the author, get some content’ or ‘disagree, get nothing’ is prima facie a crappy choice. And two, versions of it with moral overtones are particularly likely to suck.

I’ve talked a good deal before about CYOA with moral signalling. In moral-signal games, the game expresses its moral principles by rewarding virtue (with the ability to continue, success endings and bonus content) and punishing vice (with bad or premature endings, returns to earlier in the story, or missed content). The place I’ve seen it used most extensively is in the rather narrow niche of young adult romance CYOAs for girls, but also crops up in more male-oriented children’s CYOA to some extent, and has long been an element of videogames that incorporate multiple-choice elements. Moral signalling is always a trade-off: it strongly declares the moral perspective of the work, but by effectively compelling the player to enact that moral perspective – and by offering boring choices – it can undermine itself. Things begin to feel all Sunday-school: figure out what set of principles the game wants you to hold as received truths, then follow them as a way of earning reward and avoiding punishment. (And honestly, given that you’re playing 80 Days in the first place, why would you pick the ‘I’m not interested in cities and cultures of the world’ options?)

lascars

A more blatant ‘make friends, or decide that foreigners suck’ choice.

The usual remedy here is to reframe the question in a way that elides the disfavoured (and boring) answers. Indeed, there are a lot of choices about external attitudes in 80 Days concerned with distinctions other than the ‘engage with / reject different culture’ choice; Passepartout can show greater interest in men or women, in technology or politics, or different political concerns; in aesthetics or socialising; or various recombinations of the above. But none of these are anywhere near as consistently delivered as the engage / reject choice. And the difficulty with this remedy is that it always changes the focus, makes the story care about different things. 80 Days is fundamentally about these two attitudes. “You can stay in your hotel room like Fogg, refusing to engage with diversity, but doing so will only make your life more boring” is one of the central things the game has to say. Building choices around that theme is an important way to keep the focus on it, even if it’s not really possible to make that an interesting choice.

I don’t believe that a game designer’s job should always be to make every player choice as interesting as it can possibly be. That’s a design approach that can be fruitful, in some cases; but games are not for one thing. It’s OK – preferable, in many cases – to intersperse truly interesting player decisions with lower-stakes ones, and 80 Days packs a lot of interest into its other domains of choice.

*

Verne’s Aouda does not have an inner life. Great pains are taken in 80 Days to make you aware that its NPCs do have inner lives and independent concerns, and that these – as they often remind you – do not exist for the sake of the PC’s story, and will often make you uncomfortable. Part of the way that this works is the sense of possibility, of missed connections, created by the game’s scale. It’s a game that’s too large, too variable – not to mention lacking in save or undo – to be exhaustively known, which makes it harder to reduce NPCs to their mechanical parts. There’s often the sense that if you had gone another way, said something different, the story of this character might have been further revealed. “I sensed that the dew-drenched garden that surrounded the house was saturated, infinitely, with invisible persons,” writes Borges. The sense of possibility in that particular case is self-centred, a sort of CYOA expression of trait ascription bias that’s often, sadly, reinforced by game design. (The player-character can choose a different race, class and gender on subsequent plays, and rise from hapless novice to legendary hero; Skrug the bartender is always the same.) In 80 Days that sense of infinite saturation is not of versions of oneself in potential worlds, but of other people in the same world.

singulararticlePassepartout (and even Fogg) can, if you look for them, have fleeting moments of connection with the people you meet – rather a lot of fleeting moments, all things considered – but when you learn more about them it is generally as a reminder that while sincere human connection is possible, you cannot truly understand them. Brief moments of regret aside, Passepartout does not seem unhappy about this.

“Mr. Fogg is influenced by no one,” Verne says through Aouda; shortly after, she proves herself wrong. In the original, Fogg’s stoicism and disinterest in other cultures are only slightly played for laughs, and are generally taken as hallmarks of Empire-forging heroism; 80 Days shifts the focus to make Fogg pitiful, his snobbery a mask for social failings. “Mr. Fogg is influenced by no one” does not mean “Mr. Fogg is an indomitable expression of the rational will,” but “Mr. Fogg is very alone.” Beneath the optimistic mood and triumphant ending of 80 Days, its Fogg is ultimately a much more tragic character, precisely because he has gone on a great journey and returned not much changed.

(This started as one essay and turned into two. This part focuses on the game’s major characters; I’ll talk about worldbuilding, tech and fantasy later.)


August 31, 2014

Classic Adventure Solution Archive

CASA Update - 72 new game entries, 50 new solutions, 4 new slag hints, 29 new maps, 1 new hints, 2 new fixed games

by Gunness at August 31, 2014 07:17 PM

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Bring out the champagne!
Another important milestone has been reached:
6,000 games in the database. Wow. Wow!
As always thanks to all you ceaselessly active users out there, but a particularly big thank you to our Dutch buddy Alex for entering the 6,000th game into our database. A number which I though we'd take a lot longer to reach.

Image

If you're curious, the game in question is Digitaya, a French BASIC title which in many ways is representative of our mission here at CASA: to cover every text adventure under the sun - including the obscure, lost and forgotten ones. And in various languages (20+ and counting), too.

I don't think we'll reach 7,000 before the end of the year, but that's certainly an attainable goal in the future. Happy adventuring, everyone, and onwards with the next 1,000 games!

Contributors: Alex, Gunness, Richard Bos, pippa, Alastair, kritikov, iamaran, Barbara Gibb, boldir, Darkiss, Sylvester

August 26, 2014

The Gameshelf: IF

Zarfplan: August: the endgame

by Andrew Plotkin at August 26, 2014 10:47 PM

The month is not over, but I am heading to DragonCon for a week. So you get your report early. Conveniently this allows me to report "not quite done yet" without too much slippage past my mid-August deadline. And without smacking into the more realistic end-of-August deadline.

It's not quite done yet! But at least the update posts are getting closer together, right?

At this point the entire puzzle-line of the game is playable. That is, you can start at the beginning and solve every puzzle. (Without using cheat or debug commands.) This doesn't end the game; it leaves you in a state marked "endgame", although "denoument" would be a better term. It's the wrapping-up sequence which leads to the ending text. There are no puzzles here, but it's an interactive sequence. At least, probably interactive.

I've intentionally left the denoument flexible -- or, if you like, "undesigned" -- because I didn't think I could construct it without the whole of the game in my subconscious. It's the last whiff of my "implement the first scene first, then the next scene, and so on until the end" plan. I stick to that rule for short games. It would have been impossible for HL, but I am writing the last scene last.

So that's the last task, mostly. Plus I have a few bits of background color to fill in, and the extremely annoying travel bug that I mentioned last time. And there are still 59 "TODO" marks in the source code; I should look through them and (mostly) delete them silently.

I will do some of this work at DragonCon. (What? Travel is good thinking time. I can't convent for a week straight. There'll be a lot of time alone in a hotel room, or wandering around a strange city.)

At the farthest limit, I will have it all wrapped up in the first week of September. I will then pass the complete playable draft around to the beta testers, and start looking at the iOS work.

I will also write another update post at that point. So -- you'll hear from me in less than two weeks. At that point I'll be able to talk more about the process of Shipping The Damn Thing. Strange and scary as that prospect may sound.

IFComp News

On translations

August 26, 2014 04:01 PM

We wrote yesterday about author rule #3, which forbids IFComp entries that have already seen public releases. We should note, however, that this year the IFComp is experimenting with a new and significant exception to this rule: The competition welcomes translations of already-released games.

By “translation”, we mean between two written languages used by humans. For example, if a certain work of IF has existed through this year only in Polish, and permission from the game’s rights-holder (if such is necessary) has been obtained, then one could translate the game into English and submit this as an IFComp entry. One could also take an English-language game and submit a new Arabic translation, or submit a translation from Swahili to Icelandic. And so on.

Translations of this sort were expressly forbidden from entry to the IFComp prior to this year. The competition experiments with lifting the ban in the spirit of the rapid growth the IF community has enjoyed in recent years. Just as the classically parser-focused IF table has lately welcomed innovation with CYOA and hypertext fiction, we’d also like to invite the world outside of the Anglosphere to join us too — both by making its existing games accessible to English-readers, and by exposing the largely Anglophonic IF community to more non-English work.

We would ask that authors who do submit translated work clearly and prominently credit the translator or translators involved, and offer links or other references to the original work. (If the translator and the author are the same person, please do note that.)

The Monk's Brew

Changelog 2014-08-25

by Rubes at August 26, 2014 05:00 AM

Summary

Well, it’s been a little bit since the last update, hasn’t it?

Work has been somewhat slow lately, owing to several things. A week of vacation was followed by a week of work-related travel, so not a lot of progress was made over that time. We did accomplish a few things; NR finished his work on the last two holy water rmodels (“dull” and “boiling”), and passed them on to me for implementation, so at this point all holy water versions are complete and functional. The “dull” version was a bit challenging because I wanted the water to appear cloudy, and that isn’t an easy thing to do in Torque. The solution that worked best was to create underwater smoke emitters, which was effective [More...] Read the rest

August 25, 2014

Stuff About Stuff

Tales of the Soul Thief, by David Whyld

by Andrew (noreply@blogger.com) at August 25, 2014 08:07 PM

So, yeah, this may not be the most momentous thing to post to planet-if (I'll probably lump the other games I didn't test in groups of 2 or 3--or maybe all 5)--but seriously, IntroComp is worth looking into, if you haven't. You have about two more weeks. There are some good games. Even those that aren't, can be good.

I've been busy releasing Threediopolis and getting close to Shuffling Around thanks to some great work by Sean Shore...it's taken a lot out of me, and in fact I even forgot to bump back my post-dated IFComp review index, but I find re-releases worth it, to get rid of obvious bugs and trip-ups.

I hope IntroComp authors find it in them to release something post-introcomp, even if it's not fully complete. It'd be nice to see results, small or bing--I know Akkoteaque had some good bug fixes and believe it will get done, and get done well--and speaking from experience, it's nice to know I've fixed bugs and worked to improve something I wrote, even if the bugs were dumb in the first place.

Like the header says, I'm going to start with David Whyld's Tales of the Soul Thief. It's more serious than most of his efforts. He entered Best Laid Plans last year, and I was hoping he would finish it, because it was amusing and had a lot of things to do, and a lot of places it could go, too.

Spoiler: this is a bit harsh on him as he has the talent and work to improve the game, but as it stands, there was a lot to struggle through. While the game was paced well, and the world was believable, the technical side comes up a bit short. Still, I'd be interested to see how, where and when you can use your skill--for good or evil. Even allowing both, or having a Cliff's Notes at the end for those who don't want to replay, would augment the story greatly.



 In the game you play a soul stealer, someone with an amulet that can take other people's attributes from them. Then you can use them wherever. This starts with alternate solutions for an early puzzle, and it goes on. You can steal others' souls, some of the time. There's a cool instadeath, and there's some soul stealing that doesn't matter.

I got frustrated in several parts here. The implementation is okay, but not great. Zacharias, the old man, can't be referred to as an old man--but you aren't told his name when you go back. He doesn't stand out in the room description, though it is cool to try to steal his soul. The construct guarding the museum, well, I tried everything but walking past it, until I said "Oh, that probably can't work, but why not." It wasn't immediately clear to me if I should keep hanging around in the tavern, and I thought for a bit that I needed to impress the men by stealing the bard's soul, but I hit a dead end stealing it before I talked to them. With 18 rooms, there's a bit of a walk-about, but no real super tricky puzzles. In theory, you should be able to poke around and do what you need (e.g. pray in church.) But some of the deaths--like the final bit where you are nailed by a magic trap--don't give quite enough clues.

Being an experienced ADRIFT programmer, David seems to have made the transition to Inform pretty well, but there are a lot of holes. Some of that is due to inexperience with the power Inform has, but I think he would be up to it if he completes his game. I'll note a few things, just because they're useful in general. I'll also get into Inform coding, hopefully to show that some of my requests aren't *too* hard to integrate.

1. HINTING. Synonyms help=hint are nice, and there is an easy way to test this.

volume basic stuff

debug-state is a truth state that varies.

section xyz - not for release

debug-state is true.

every turn when debug-state is true:
  say "DEBUG HINTS: ";
  try hinting;

You can, of course, have a separate command to flip the debug-state boolean in a NFR section. You can use debug-state elsewhere to print out text.

to d (myt - indexed text):
  if debug-state is true:
    say "[myt][line break]";

Bingo! Debug text you don't have to worry about seeping into the release build. And do you see what the first code does? It lets you pick off your own hints. You can, if you want, use your players' commands to see what their hints would've been. More complex code can print these hints to a file. At any rate, you can just use a TEST command to spin through the game and check hints any move, even without playing through by hand. There is a lot to be found. My games would be even buggier without this.

So obviously I think hinting is very important, not just to make sure players have a way through the game, but because it's a great way to vet yourself. Have I made this puzzle sensible and logical, etc.? Have I covered everything a player can do? You can not only make sure the player is guided through, but you can anticipate mistakes and converse with yourself and even try to sidetrack yourself to get bad hints.

This game had some hints, but too frequently it gave blank text, and while fixable, that's no fun for a frustrated player. For instance, I tried HELP by the construct and got something blank--a simple "say [if player has token and east-room is unvisited]You can walk east[else if east-room is unvisited]You don't have an item that will move the construct[else]You can walk in and out freely[end if]." works. Even "The X is not relevant in the intro." is good. Yes, you're going to change that. No, that doesn't mean it should be blank now--it's a good check to make sure that, if you want to complete the game, you search and get rid of text like "not relevant."

2. FLEXIBILITY

More synonyms are always better than less. New verbs like EQUIP should also be handled a bit better. EQUIP (nothing) would be better giving a list of what to equip. Even the annoying disambiguation would work here, and maybe even being able to use initials (E INTIM for EQUIP INTIMIDATE) would help.

INVENTORY should, ostensibly, list your soul skills. This is tricky, but Sand-Dancer has been go-to source for me and would help with this. (I recommend the Sand-Dancer code in many, many ways.)

3. DEFAULT/ERROR RESPONSES

The RULES command allows you to see what default responses are hit. Inform's error messages are generally vanilla and non-offensive, but they are not one size fits all. For an intro game, it's probably not possible or practical to cover them all, but all the same, you should try to copy the most prominent ones. It is an easy way to give the game character, and you can look it up in the IDE (Index:Actions) or text searching Graham Nelson's Standard Rules. The one I always harp on about to my testees is for the blank line.

Rule for printing a parser error when the latest parser error is the I beg your pardon error: [blank command]
  say "Something other than I beg your pardon."

Not that these should be the first thing to attack--but MAN, when you have a bunch of potential small things to do, and the main ideas are dragging, the polish works here.

On balance, though, I'd like to see more of the game. The descriptions are adequate to good, and I'm left wondering what the other people are for, and how to get beyond them. What's the eye in the alley for? Perhaps there are a few stock characters like the slaver, etc., but the potential for alternate ways through is nice. Will you be able to give people their souls back? Do you lose power after a few hours, as (for instance) the bard gains his? Will you face someone you drained? Will you irreparably harm them? What about the ways you can't quite go yet? The game leaves enough for me to be interested, but more in a hm, if there was a walkthrough I'd definitely read it, though I'm not sure if I'd take the time, way.

However, I'd rather see Best Laid Plans, first. It felt better directed and like something the author was more comfortable with. There were even funny rejects for trying stuff that didn't work. And they weren't flippant, more the sort of "oh, I get it" humor.

I know it's tempting to rush forth with That Next Big Idea, or just to have fun with the next competiton. In fact, I wanted to for this IFComp. (I won't be. Ohai, 2015!) But I'm generally pleased with the ideas I refined in my re-releases of 3DOP (featuring a riff on the original area--now with 80 annoying pieces of scenery, but better organized hints) and (imminently) SA, also featuring better hinting and direction and, oh, bug fixing too. I learn what ideas work, what I can do, and where my weaknesses as a programmer/storyteller are. I can see how to rely on testers to help fill my blind spots, and I can see stuff I'm repeatedly reluctant to try, and instead of saying "Oh, that's how it is," I sit down and tackle it.

And unfortunately, moving from project to project may not help create the sort of detailed world people remember and love and use as inspiration to create their own. It steers the author away from the sort of details he should be noticing in his own world, the one that make readers smile and (if they're the writing type) even be a bit jealous the author found so much good stuff and want to try that themselves. Otherwise, all the writing you can do may get no more than "oh, yeah, good job."

IFComp News

About the no-previous-release rule

August 25, 2014 04:01 PM

One of the most common questions from prospective IFComp entrants we’ve fielded this year concerns author rule #3, which states “All entries must be previously unreleased at the opening of voting.

Authors write to outline the circumstances of how they’ve shared an earlier version of the game they want to enter, and ask if they can still enter a completed version into the competition. We more often than not respond to many of these letters with “sadly, no,” so we felt a clarifying blog post in order.

Here’s what the FAQ says:

It all depends on whether or not the game’s earlier version has been released to the public.

If you know that a few friends, family, colleagues or classmates are the game’s only players, then you’re clear to enter it (or an improved version of it). As far as the IFComp is concerned, these people were early playtesters, and the game remains safely unreleased.

However, if the game was available on the public internet, where anyone could find and play it, then the IFComp considers that a release – even if the game wasn’t finished yet. This would be the case if, for example, you linked to the game from a public forum.

The intent of the rule is that every entry comprises 100% new material. In so doing, it helps improve the chances that someone playing the game during the voting period approaches the game with as few preconceptions as possible about its content or quality.

If a judge remembers playing the game before, or has read other people discuss the game in public months before the competition, this would likely affect the way they rank the game. As much as possible, we want to set up an environment where voters feel comfortable ranking games based on solely on the time they spend playing it during the voting period, and not on any pre-existing reputation the work may have already gained.

(Many of the comp rules all have this same equal-footing goal in mind, as do various unofficial traditions such as well-known authors entering their games under one-time-use pseudonyms.)

This doesn’t apply to playtesters — authors can and absolutely should have a short list of trusted individuals run through the game and provide feedback, helping them refine and improve the work prior to submission. We ask only that authors carefully control who gets to see the game before the competition, rather than simply posting it to the internet and inviting the public to try it. (Note also that, per judge rule #5, people cannot submit IFComp ratings for any games that they’ve play tested.)

We absolutely welcome authors to re-use or remix concepts from released games into new, original works and then submit these into the competition. We also welcome further questions about this rule, or any other.