Planet Interactive Fiction

February 08, 2016

Renga in Blue

imaginary games from imaginary universes: the preview

by Jason Dyer at February 08, 2016 05:00 PM

So based on my traffic I know people are very interested in the imaginary games-jam entries (original link here), but unless you’re an author you’ll just have to wait!

Just as a quick reminder, first authors wrote a set of reviews for “five games that do not (and possibly, cannot) exist in our universe.”

They then received randomly chosen reviews from others, and produced “a sequel, a prequel, a fan fiction, a critical response game, a sidequel, a remake, a demake, a parody, or an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans.”

We are now on Phase 3, in which authors write reviews (or some other manner of response) to each other’s games. There are 16 in total, and while they include some “traditional” parser and choice type works, there’s also:

* A 3D game in Unity
* A procedural text generator
* A card game that is also optionally a story game
* A “four ­player collaborative/competitive writing event”
* A “hybrid between a roleplaying game and a piece of interactive theatre” with included soundscape
* A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
* One game so weird and defiant of genre I don’t think I can adequately describe it in a sentence

The games will be made public on February 24th. Get hyped!

Wade's Important Astrolab

I7 CYOA Framework update and overview

by Wade ( at February 08, 2016 05:43 AM

I've started writing the documentation for my CYOA extension for Inform 7. Two secret testers enjoyed the first example game and their excitement is getting me more excited.

The extension itself needs more examples and more testing, but having written the intro and overview, I want to share them now so that folks get a comprehensive sense of how this thing works and what it can do.

As for a shipping date – when it's ready!


CYOA Framework for Glulx enables authors to create choice-based games or hypertexts using Inform 7. A world model switch allows projects to be integrated with Inform's world model features (rooms, objects, people, etc.) or to explicitly ignore those features if they're not needed. You can use this extension to do any of the following:

  • Create a project consisting entirely of prose, choices and links (no parser) with or without a world model underneath
  • Create choice-based interludes of any kind (conversations and puzzles are typical candidates) to include in a parser-driven game
  • Create hybrid projects in which the player can switch between the parser and CYOA mode at will (tricky, but doable!)

The extension handles the drudge work of automatically attaching keypresses and/or hyperlinks to choices depending on the player's interface preferences. The resulting CYOA projects are user-friendly and portable across a wide range of devices and input methods (keyboard, virtual keyboard, mouseclick, finger tap). Users can toggle a screen reader mode to further customise the interface.

The 'CYOA' of the extension's title stands for 'Choose Your Own Adventure', referring to the popular series of late twentieth century books and their mechanic of narrative progression via discrete choices. I named the extension 'CYOA Framework...' rather than 'Choice-Based Framework...' for two reasons:

1. The extension code is already crammed with incidences of the word 'choice'. Naming its choice-based mode 'CYOA mode' and being able to use the prefix 'cyoa' made everything easier.

2. It's a more spirited name.

Throughout this documentation, 'CYOA Framework for Glulx' will be referred to as CF, and the terms 'user' and 'player' are interchangeable, as are the terms 'game' and 'project'.


A master switch (cyoa-active) determines whether a project is running in CYOA mode or parser mode at any given time. An entirely choice-based game will never leave CYOA mode. As an author, you can toggle the game mode as required and direct where the player goes during transitions. You can also give the player the power to toggle modes at will.

The base unit of the CF project is the node.

A node generally consists of some prose describing the current situation or location, followed by a list of choices. Choices can also appear in the prose section of the node. (Graphics can be used as choices, too.)

In Inform terms, each node takes the form of a single node rule (e.g. 'This is the bedroom rule'). A node has four optional stages which run in a set order - setup, prose, choices, react. Having all the material for a particular node in one rule makes it easy to read and maintain.

CF offers four modes for automatically labelling choices with keypresses: numerals (1-9), letters (A-Z), particular (arbitrary key sequence defined by you) and smart (CF will use the first letter of the choice text, or a letter within each text flagged by you). You can change modes throughout your project as required.

When hyperlinks are on, all choices are automatically presented as clickable/tappable hyperlinks as well. Only the hyperlinks in the active node will function. Old hyperlinks are rendered inoperable every turn (with one exception discussed in the Advanced Concepts section further down.)

Having read the node prose, a user picks a choice by pressing the listed key or clicking on the hyperlinked choice. If the choice links to another node, the user will activate, or 'move to', the new node. An author can also link individual choices to Inform actions (e.g. 'opening the window'), to special 'continue' prompts, to custom programming, or to any combination of the above.

The extension supplies a world support switch (cyoa-support world) which lets you specify whether or not you want your project to be integrated with Inform's world model concepts: locations arranged in a map, manipulable objects in those locations, other characters who may or may not move around every turn, and the like.

If you set world support OFF, your CF project will behave a lot like a Twine project. There will be no rooms, objects or people to program or worry about. You will just be writing nodes of text connected to each other by choices. You can still avail yourself of any programming you need, but world model entities are rendered invisible in terms of the game's text output.

If you set world support ON, you need to assign every room in your game a base node. When the player moves to a new room in CYOA mode, that room's base node is activated, and while a player is 'in' a base node, they will perceive all relevant output from the world model. That's to say that objects and people in the room will be listed as usual.

If the player activates a non-base node (a node not specifically attached to a room) they are considered to be going 'off-node', during which time they will not see the world model-generated descriptions of objects and people in the current room. If they did, the intermingled texts could read confusingly.

Separate from the choices attached to particular nodes, CF includes a dedicated system of hotkey actions and a complementary options menu.

Hotkey actions are actions the player can invoke during any turn in CYOA mode by pressing the key(s) permanently dedicated to them (or clicking on their links if the player turns key input off). CF comes with a base set of 10 actions you can include:

  1. undoing
  2. mode-switching
  3. menu-visiting
  4. game-saving
  5. game-loading
  6. credits-reading
  7. interface-changing
  8. transcript-toggling
  9. game-restarting
  10. game-quitting

Hotkey actions are highly customisable. You can decide which ones are active, when they're active, what keys call them and which ones appear in the options menu. You can also create new ones.

The options menu (openable by a hotkey) makes hotkey actions selectable via CF's regular choice-listing format. Placing hotkey actions in the menu only can help free up more keys for use during regular play, declutter your status bar and move commands you believe users will need less frequently one step out of the way.

If the player can reach some kind of ending in your game, you can activate the CYOA menu equivalent of Inform's traditional 'final question' section. You can also customise the options that appear in the menu.


1. General actions

A general action calls its own node-independant block of code whenever a choice links to it, therefore it can be considered to be free of the context of any particular node. An obviously good, simple candidate to be a general action in a world model game is the inventory command, since the player's location and the state of the game have no bearing on it.

Choices that link to general actions are also the only choices in the game allowed to be made 'eternal', a concept mostly relevant if you force your players to use hyperlinks. If you switch cyoa-eternal general actions ON, all general action hyperlinks in the scrollback will continue to be useable until the screen is cleared. To make a project in which no hyperlink ever ceases to work, it must be built entirely out of general actions.

2. Dynamic/automatic choice generation

Making the appearance of a choice in a particular node conditional on the state of variables or the game is easy, but CF also allows you to generate choices – or kinds of choices – dynamically across a project. Here are a couple of basic examples: You could write a 'create gets' routine that scans rooms for objects and automatically creates 'Get (object)' choices for them. You could place an 'inventory' choice at the bottom of the choice list presented every turn.

For such purposes, CF includes four new rulebooks which run at specific moments as the extension processes and prints out the contents of a node -

  1. before preparing
  2. after preparing
  3. before choices
  4. after choices

By placing dynamic choice generation rules into the appropriate rulebooks, you can control when in the process any automatically created options will appear.

3. Limitations

The main thing CF can't do that some authors are likely to want to do is print choices or hyperlinks outside the main window, or in the status bar. Unified Glulx Input, the foundation of CF, doesn't support such things yet, so CF doesn't support them.

Graphics support in CF is of the most basic kind. If you use a graphic as a link, the graphic appears in the game window at its original size and flush against the left edge of the window. Nor can successive graphics be placed beside each other. But on the plus side, CF offers better support for graphics alt-text than ships with Inform.

what will you do now?

Starry Seeksorrow

by verityvirtue at February 08, 2016 12:01 AM

By Caleb Wilson (as Ayla Rose) (Parser; IFDB)


(Cover art: pale green, cabbage-like representation of the damage caused by a weevil)

Klara has fallen asleep in her parents’ charmed garden – no, not asleep – but catatonic. This is surely the work of an enemy sorcerer! As one of the dolls enchanted to guard and protect Klara, it is your duty to find you what’s wrong and reverse it.

Starry Seeksorrow is delightfully charming in its writing – the flora featured are given descriptive, sometimes whimsical names linked to their function (reminding me of Caelyn Sandel’s Seeds and Solutions). Yet, there’s a sinister overtone: a good number of the plants you encounter are harmful. I would have loved to explore the flowers’ abilities further, and explored the different ways they could be used, but that is likely beyond the remit of this game.

The puzzles in Starry Seeksorrow are well-hinted, with the systems behind the puzzles behaving consistently. But the memories that the PC carries add a much greater emotional depth to the story, fleshing the story out to something that could be placed in a wider fictional world, as well as shaping the setting as a result of its creators’ personalities and pasts, instead of being merely ‘magical cute garden’.

Starry Seeksorrow doesn’t play with the parser as much as in Wilson’s other works (I’m thinking of The Northnorth Passage (IFDB) and Lime Ergot (IFDB), specifically), but it’s nonetheless a great piece of writing.

February 07, 2016

Renga in Blue

imaginary games due tonight at midnight

by Jason Dyer at February 07, 2016 10:00 PM

The Phase 2 entires are due midnight tonight, EST.

At that point only the authors are going to have access while we write reviews / dance / party. Final releases to the public will be Feb. 24th.

Please disregard the “protected” post. Move along. It doesn’t exist. Perhaps you remembered something from a past reality.

Protected: imaginary games entries

by Jason Dyer at February 07, 2016 06:00 PM

This post is password protected. You must visit the website and enter the password to continue reading.

February 06, 2016

what will you do now?

When acting as a particle/when acting as a wave

by verityvirtue at February 06, 2016 11:01 PM

By David T. Marchand (Twine; IFDB; play here)

I can’t give much context on this piece, because every word in this Twine is a link. Without scenery text – text to set the scene – you see the game world solely through the decisions available to you. It’s like peeking through a pinhole. Even then, the author suggests a dream sequences and segments of real life, with eerie parallels. The same actions repeat themselves, but take on deeper meanings in different contexts.

The format really works for the story. Reading only the links keeps the rhythm of the writing going. Circuitous conversations are shown through cycling links; social interactions crescendo in a series of seemingly trivial choices.

When acting as a particle was created for the Fear of Twine exhibition, organised by Richard Goodness, a collation of Twine games featuring a broad variety of styles and ways of using words. It’s fairly short – reminiscent of the party game where you have to guess the story by asking the storyteller only yes/no questions – and well worth a look to consider how Twine can be used differently.

Renga in Blue

Philosopher’s Quest: Three openings

by Jason Dyer at February 06, 2016 05:00 AM

I’m going to make a clarification that might be a little too much inside baseball, but Jimmy Maher brought something up I felt deserved a more detailed response. I’ll get back to the main gameplay (and what might the cruelest maze ever) next time.

There are three versions of this game.

A mainframe version from 1979, titled Brand X.
A commercial version for BBC Micro computer published by Acornsoft in 1982, titled Philosopher’s Quest.
A commercial version for various computers published by Topologika in 1987, also titled Philosopher’s Quest.

I’m playing the mainframe version, ported to be playable on modern computers by Graham Nelson, Adam Atkinson, and David Kinder.

The 1982 version was shortened from the mainframe version. If that was the only version titled Philosopher’s Quest, I probably would consider the title assigned to a different game and say I was playing Brand X.

Via BeebMaster.

Via BeebMaster. No doubt tape capacity played some role in truncating the original game.

However, the 1987 version restored the original material (with some tweaks). I hence consider the title Philsopher’s Quest to be the “author’s choice” for the game and am calling it that, although I confess I had some angst over the decision (which indicates, possibly, I’m getting into this a little too much) but I have the side justification that most people searching for this game would know it by the latter title.

Here’s the 1979 version, reproduced from my last post:

You are standing in a small shop which normally has various goods displayed for sale. There are areas of the shop obviously intended for the display of treasure. There is an exit south, above which hangs a large sign, which reads:


There is an aqualung with a full tank of oxygen here. It
turns on automatically upon contact with water.
There is a fluffy lace-edged cushion here.
There is a bunch of keys here.
A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is a small teabag on the floor here.

Here’s how the 1982 version starts:

You are standing in a small shop which normally has goods for sale. There are areas of the shop intended for the display of treasure. There is an exit south, above which hangs a sign, reading: “Leave treasure here. Please note that only two objects may be removed from this shop. So choose carefully!”
There is an aqualung here
There is a bunch of keys here
There is a cup of tea here
There is a steel rod here

Finally, the 1987 version:

You are standing in a small shop which normally has various goods displayed for sale. Areas of the shop are obviously intended for the display of treasure. Above an exit south hangs a large sign, which reads:

Adventurers please note only two implements may be removed from this shop under penalty of death.
So choose carefully!

A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is a fluffy lace-edged cushion here.
A small teabag is lying close at hand.
There is a aqualung with a full tank of oxygen here. It turns on automatically upon contact with water.
There is a bunch of keys here.

Note that the references to Zork and Adventure are stripped away from the sign in both the commercial versions (kind of like how early Zork made a Wumpus reference but dropped it later, likely due to obscure injokiness).

Also not only does the 1982 version have some item differences, it mentions explicitly to drop treasures in the shop while the other two versions don’t. This makes me suspect treasures go somewhere else in those versions.

The difference in objects might be a sufficient hint to figure out which three are needed (remember, you can “cheat” and get one extra past the sign’s rule). Since the aqualung, keys, and tea are the only shared objects, I suspect those are the right ones (and indeed I think I know where all three are used).

Choice of Games

February 05, 2016

The Digital Antiquarian

The Road to V

by Jimmy Maher at February 05, 2016 04:00 PM

Ultima V

It’s not easy having a software superstar for a little brother. That’s something that Robert Garriott, president of Origin Systems, had more and more cause to realize as the 1980s wore on. Whilst Richard Garriott quite literally lived out his fantasies, it was Robert who was left to deal with all the mundanities of running a small game developer in an industry that was ever becoming a more precarious place. Whilst Richard wrote the games and gave all the interviews and reveled in his Lord British persona, it was Robert who dealt with the sort of people who might not be terribly impressed by a wispy 25-year-old that liked to affect the personality and the dress code of a Medieval monarch. It was Robert who negotiated the business deals, Robert who represented Origin’s interests with the Software Publishers Association, Robert who put a sober, businesslike face on a company that to a lot of outsiders looked like little more than a bunch of nerds with too much time on their hands. And sometimes it was Robert who found himself trapped between the practicalities of running a business and the desires of a famous younger brother who was just slightly full of himself — what young man wouldn’t be slightly full of himself in his situation? — and was used to having things his own way.

Honestly, now... would you feel comfortable investing in a company run by this guy?

Honestly, now… would you feel comfortable investing in a company run by this guy?

The most dangerous of these conflicts was the great sibling squabble over just where Origin Systems should be located. Back at the end of 1983, you may remember, Robert had been able to convince Richard to move the company from their parents’ garage in Houston, Texas, up to New Hampshire, where his wife Marcy had found a fine position of her own working for Bell Labs. The deal was that they would remain there for at least three years. Robert, who had spent the months before the move commuting cross-country in his private plane, hoped that during the three years something might change: Marcy might get a transfer, or Richard might decide he actually liked New England and wanted to stay there. Well, at the end of 1986 the three years were up, and neither of those things had happened. Richard, who persists to this day in describing his exile in the “frozen wasteland” of New Hampshire in terms lifted straight out of Ethan Frome, figured he had fulfilled his side of the deal, had done his three years as he’d said he would. Now he wanted to move. And he knew exactly where he wanted to move to: back to warm, sunny Austin, the city that had felt like the only place he wanted to make his home almost from the day he arrived to attend university there back in 1979.

A deal being a deal notwithstanding, Robert tried to nix the move, at least for the time being. In addition to his own marriage — he and Marcy certainly didn’t relish going back to commuting cross-country — there were the other Origin employees to think about. Sure, most of the technical staff remained the same group of youngsters that had trooped up north with the Garriotts three years before; they were almost one and all in agreement with Richard that it was time to be southbound again. But there were also the support personnel to think of, New Englanders hired in New England who had been doing good work for the company for quite some time. Robert proposed that they put Origin’s future location to a simple company-wide vote.

That proposal really pissed Richard off. New Englanders now well outnumbered Texas transplants, meaning the outcome of any vote must be a foreordained conclusion — which was, Richard believed, exactly why Robert was asking for one. The two had screaming rows that spilled out of their offices into the hallways of a suddenly very tense suite of offices, while the occupants of those offices, northerners and southerners crammed together under one roof for years, now felt free to let loose on each other with all of the frustrations they’d been keeping under wraps for so long. It was civil war — the staid New Englanders who were loyal to Robert against Lord British’s merry band of anarchists. In a fit of pique and homesickness, Richard’s right-hand man Chuck Bueche, music composer and programmer for the Ultima games, porting expert, and designer of games in his own right, announced he’d had enough and headed for Texas on his own. Richard and Robert each threatened to break with the other, to do his own thing with his own splinter of the company.

Such threats were ridiculous. Richard and his crew were no more capable of taking full responsibility for a company than Robert and his were of writing the next Ultima. These two needed each other for more reasons than just the ties of blood. It was finally left to older and cooler heads, in the form of the brothers’ parents, to broker a compromise. Richard would move back to Austin with most of the technical team, to set up a small studio there that would make the games; Robert would remain in New Hampshire with Marcy, a couple of programmers working on ports and ancillary projects, and the larger support staff that was responsible for packaging and marketing the games and running the business as a whole.

Thus Richard and company, reunited again with Bueche, found themselves a minimalist office in Austin in early 1987, fifteen desks ranged along a single long hallway. And Richard himself, now becoming a very wealthy young man indeed thanks to the huge success of Ultima III and IV, started work on Britannia Manor, a custom-built house-cum-castle worthy of Lord British; it came complete with secret passageways, a cave, a wine cellar, and a stellar observatory. It was pretty clear he wasn’t planning to go anywhere else anytime soon.

Carried out though it was for very personal reasons, Richard’s return to Austin would prove the single best business move Origin ever made. Eastern Texas may not have had as sexy a reputation as Silicon Valley, but there was plenty of high technology in the environs of Dallas, Houston, and Austin, along with a booming economy and low taxes to boot. Austin itself, in addition to being home to a prestigious university boasting almost 50,000 students of diverse talents, was something of the cultural as well as government capital of the state. Along with a lively music scene and tattoo parlors and all the other attributes of a thriving college town, Weird Austin boasted a diverse tapestry of nerdier culture, including Richard’s beloved SCA chapter and the hugely influential tabletop-game publisher Steve Jackson Games. What Austin, and Texas in general for that matter, rather oddly lacked was any notable presence in the computer-games industry. Richard himself was shocked at the hungry talent that washed up unbidden at Origin’s doorstep almost as soon as they hung their shingle, all eager to work for the house that Ultima had built. “Austin as a location was fundamental to the success of Origin,” remembers Richard, “because there was so much talent here in this town.” The atmosphere inside Origin’s new Austin office was soon so exciting, so positively bursting with possibility, that Robert had to admit defeat. More and more of Origin’s operations steadily moved south. Within a couple of years, Robert would convince Marcy to make the move with him, and Origin’s operations in New Hampshire would come to an end.

But hardly was the great Texas/New Hampshire crisis resolved than another raised its head. This time the dispute wasn’t intra-family or even intra-company. It rather involved Electronic Arts, a much bigger publisher with which little Origin would have quite the love-hate relationship over the years.

The origin of Origin’s EA problem dated back to August of 1985, about a month before the release of Ultima IV. By this point distribution was starting to become a real issue for a little publisher like Origin, as the few really big publishers, small enough in number to count on one hand, were taking advantage of their size and clout to squeeze the little guys off of store shelves. Knowing he had a hugely anticipated game on his hands with Ultima IV, one that with the proper care and handling should easily exceed the considerable-in-its-own-right success of Ultima III, Robert also knew he needed excellent distribution to realize its potential. He therefore turned to EA, one of the biggest of the big boys of the industry.

The agreement that resulted was quite the coup for EA as well as Origin. Thanks to it, they would enjoy a big share of the profits not just from The Bard’s Tale, the hit CRPG they had just released under their own imprint, but also from Origin’s Ultima IV. Together these two games came to dominate the CRPG field of the mid-1980s, each selling well over 200,000 copies. For a company that had never had much of anything to do with this genre of games before, it made for one hell of a double whammy to start things off.

While it’s been vaguely understood for years that the Origin and EA had a mid-1980s distribution agreement that broke down in discord, the details have never been aired. I’m happy to say that I can shed a lot more light on just what happened thanks to documents housed in the Strong Museum of Play‘s collection of Brøderbund papers. (The reason I was able to find them in a Brøderbund archive will become clear shortly.) I unfortunately can’t make these documents publicly available, but I can summarize and quote extracts from them. I do want to look at the contract that EA and Origin signed and the dispute that would eventually result from it in some detail, both because it’s so very illustrative of how the industry was changing as it entered the second half of the 1980s and because it provides a great example of one of the most dangerous of the potential traps that awaited the small fry who still tried to survive as independents. Origin would escape the trap, but many another small publisher/developer would not.

At first glance the distribution contract might seem more generous to Origin than to EA. Origin is obligated to remain the distributee only as long as EA has bought product from them totaling a stipulated amount over the course of a rolling calendar. By the end of the contract’s first year, which comes on September 1, 1986, EA must have bought $3.3 million worth of Origin games. The goal for the second year of the contract doubles; EA must have bought games worth $9.3 million in total from Origin by September 1, 1987, in order for the latter company to be obligated to honor the third and final year of their distribution contract. That’s a very ambitious sales goal for a little company like Origin whose entire reason for existence was a single series of games with a sporadic release schedule. (Origin had already released some non-Ultima titles and would continue to do so, but it would be years yet before any of them would make an impact on their bottom line to even begin to rival that of Ultima.)

All went well between Origin and EA for the first eighteen months. The trouble started shortly after Richard’s move back to Austin, when he got word of EA’s plans to release a rather undistinguished CRPG called Deathlord that was even more derivative of Ultima than was the norm. As Strategic Simulations, Incorporated, had learned to their chagrin a few years earlier in the case of their own Ultima clone Questron, Richard didn’t take kindly to games that copied his own work too blatantly. When EA refused to nix their game, and also proved uninterested in negotiating to license the “game structure and style” as SSI had done, Richard was incensed enough to blow up the whole distribution deal.

Richard and Robert believed that Origin would be on firm legal ground in withdrawing from the distribution agreement at the onset of the third year because EA was projected to have purchased just $6.6 million worth of product from Origin by September 1, 1987, way short of the goal of $9.3 million. Origin informed EA of their intentions and commenced negotiating a new distribution agreement with another of the big boys, Brøderbund, currently riding even higher than EA on the strength of The Print Shop and Carmen Sandiego.

The notice was greeted with shock and outrage by EA, who felt, and by no means entirely without reason, that it was hardly their fault that they were so far from the goal. That goal had been predicated on not just one but two or three or possibly even four new Ultima games being released during those first two years. Foreshadowing the way that Origin would handle Ultima VII years later, Richard’s plan at the time the contract was signed had been to release an Ultima IV Part 2 that would reuse the same engine in relatively short order, and only then to turn to Ultima V. But those plans had fallen by the wayside, undone by Richard’s idealistic need to make each Ultima clearly, comprehensively better than its predecessor. And now Ultima V was taking even longer than had Ultima IV. Having long since missed the original target of Christmas 1986, it now looked almost certain to miss Christmas 1987 as well; it still looked to be a good six months away from release as of mid-1987.

Yet it was the Ultima I situation that most ruffled EA’s feathers. When the rights to the first game of the series, having passed through the hands of the long-defunct California Pacific and then Sierra, reverted back to Richard in 1986, Origin assigned several programmers to rewrite it from scratch in assembly language rather than BASIC, adding graphical upgrades and interface enhancements along the way to bring it at least nominally up to date. Already a semi-legendary game, long out of print on the Apple II and never before available at all on the Commodore 64 or MS-DOS, the new and improved Ultima I carried with it reasonably high commercial hopes. While not the new Ultima, it was a new Ultima for the vast majority of Lord British fans, and should ease some of the disappointment of not being able to get Ultima V out that year. But in the wake of the Deathlord dust-up it became clear to EA that Origin was deliberately holding Ultima I back, wanting to tempt their prospective next distributor with it rather than give EA their fair share of its earnings. This… well, this pissed EA right the hell off. And, then as now, pissing off EA wasn’t usually a very good idea.

EA’s lawyers went through the contract carefully, looking for anywhere where they might knock a few dollars off the requirement of $9.3 million in orders inside two years.

The original goal for 9/1/87 was stated in Exhibit A as $9,300,000. This amount “is reduced by $40,000 for every month in which any of the software products listed in Exhibit B are not available according to the schedules set forth in Exhibit B.” Moebius/Apple was listed as being available in September 1985, and was not available until November 1985, a slip of two months. Ogre/Apple was listed as being available in November 1985 and was not available until June 1986, a slip of seven months. Moebius/C64 was listed as being available in November 1985 and was not available until October 1986, a slip of eleven months. Taking into account only those titles listed in Exhibit B, a total of 22 months are applicable to the $40,000 provision, equaling a deduction of $880,000 from the $9,300,000 goal mentioned earlier, leaving a net goal of $8,420,000 for 9/1/87.

The adjusted goal of $8.4 million still left EA $1.8 million short. No problem. They attached to the same letter a purchase order for a random hodgepodge of Origin products totaling the full $1.8 million. EA didn’t really care what Origin shipped them, as long as they billed them $1.8 million for it: “If Origin is unable to ship any of the products in the quantities stated on the purchase orders, please consider this an order for a similar dollar volume of any of your products that can be shipped in sufficient quantities to meet our 9/1/87 objectives.”

You’re probably wondering what on earth EA is thinking in throwing away almost $2 million on any old anything at all just to retain Origin as a distributee. Far from cutting off their nose to spite their face, they’re playing hardball here; what they’ve just done is far more dangerous for Origin than it is for them. To understand why requires an understanding of “overstock adjustments,” better known as returns. It’s right there in the original contract: “Vendor [Origin] agrees to issue credit to EA based on the original purchase price for the return of resalable overstock made any time beyond 90 days of original receipt.” This provision gives EA the ability to crush Origin, accidentally or on purpose, by over-ordering. Origin can honor the order, only to have it all come back to them along with a bill big enough to bury them when EA doesn’t sell it on. Or Origin can refuse to honor the order and get buried under a nasty breach-of-contract lawsuit. Or they can come back to EA hat in hand and ask nicely if both parties can just forget the whole thing ever happened and continue that third year of their agreement as was once planned.

Many small publishers like Origin were becoming more and more angry and/or terrified by the logistics of distribution by the latter half of the 1980s. This is why. Nevertheless, with the big publishers squeezing out any other means of getting their games onto store shelves, most of the small companies were forced to get in bed with one of the big boys against their better judgment. Although several other big publishers had affiliate distribution programs, Activision and EA became the most aggressive of the bunch, both in recruiting and, if things didn’t work out, destroying affiliated labels by returning hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of product along with a bill for same. The battlefield of the industry’s history is fairly littered with the corpses of companies who signed distribution deals much like Origin’s with EA.

Origin, however, was lucky. In rushing to become a distributee of Brøderbund, they’d found shelter with a company with the resources to go toe-to-toe with EA; Doug Carlston, founder and president of Brøderbund, was himself a lawyer. Brøderbund took Origin’s cause as their own, and a settlement agreement presumably entailing the payment of some sort of penalty from Origin and/or Brøderbund to EA was reached in fairly short order. (The actual settlement agreement is unfortunately not included in the Strong’s collection.) Origin signed a two-year distribution contract with Brøderbund, and all of EA’s worst suspicions were confirmed when the revamped Ultima I shipped on the very first day of the new agreement. And that wasn’t even Origin’s last laugh: Deathlord, the match that had lit the whole powder keg, got mediocre reviews and flopped. True to his tradition of adding references to his contemporary personal life into each Ultima, Richard added the words “Electronic Arts” to the in-progress Ultima V’s list of forbidden swear words (“With language like that, how didst thou become an Avatar?”). Just for good measure, he also built a mausoleum for “Pirt Snikwah” on the grounds of Britannia Manor. Like most monarchs, Lord British apparently didn’t forget a slight quickly.

The Garriotts were still living charmed lives. Much as so many love to romanticize Trip Hawkins’s “electronic artists” of the 1980s, complete with crying computers and all the rest, EA has always been a rough customer when it gets down to the brass tacks (knuckles?) of doing business. Few others have tangled with them like Origin did and lived to tell the tale.

Behind all this drama there lurked always the real point of the whole endeavor that was Origin Systems: Ultima, specifically Ultima V. Just like all the other games in the series, it was well on the way to dwarfing its predecessor in terms of scale and technical ambition, with all the birthing pains that must imply.

Beginnings and endings can be tricky things for an historian to come to grips with. Certainly the middle period of the eventual nine-game Ultima series is full of them. There’s the beginning marked by the great conceptual leap that is Ultima IV, when the series became about more than killing monsters, collecting loot, and leveling up — a leap that changed the series’s character to such an extent that plenty of fans will tell you that you needn’t even bother with anything that came before, that the real Ultima starts right here. And there’s the ending that is Ultima VI, the first Ultima not built on the code base of its predecessor, the first not developed and released first and foremost for the Apple II, the first for which Richard did none of the programming.

In between the two lies Ultima V, a crossroads game if ever there was one. It marks the end of the line for the 8-bit Ultimas, the basic structure that began with Akalabeth pushed to a complex extreme that would have been unthinkable back in 1980. How extraordinary to think that this game runs on essentially the same computer as Akalabeth, plus only 16 K of memory here or an extra disk drive there. The series’s glorious last hurrah on the Apple II, it also marks the beginning of a radically different development methodology that would carry forward into the era of the MS-DOS-developed Ultimas. Starting with Ultima V, new Ultimas would no longer be the end result of Richard Garriott toiling alone in front of a single Apple II for months or years until he emerged with bleary eyes and disk in hand. From now on, Richard would direct, design, and supervise, while other people did most of the grunt work.

It was an obviously necessary step from the perspective of even the most minimally informed outsider. Ultima IV had taken him two years, twice as long as originally planned, and had nearly killed him in the process. If the series was to continue to grow in scale and ambition, as he himself always demanded it should, something had to give. Yet Richard resisted the obvious for quite some time. He struggled alone, first with the abortive Ultima IV Part 2 and then with Ultima V, for almost a year while while everyone fretted at the lack of progress. He genuinely loved programming, took pride in knowing each new Ultima was truly his personal expression, top to bottom. But at last he accepted that he needed help — an acceptance that would change everything about the way that Ultimas got made forevermore.

The process started with two new programmers, Steve Meuse and John Miles. The former started writing tools to make it easier to create the world, to put a friendly interface on all of the tasks that Richard normally managed by hand using nothing more than a hex editor. Meuse’s “Ultima Creation Package” would grow into something that, according to Richard, “almost anyone could use.” Meanwhile Miles took over most of the actual game-programming tasks from Richard; more than half of the code that shipped in the finished game would be his. “The transition of doing it all yourself to doing it as a team was very painful,” Richard says of this landmark change of late 1986 that marked the abrupt end of his days as a working programmer. “However, once you had a team in place, and especially once you were no longer sharing the duties of both doing it and managing it, the pain went away.”

Richard’s team only continued to expand after the move to Austin, as all of that pent-up Texas talent began arriving on Origin’s doorstep. The finished game credits no fewer than six programmers in addition to Richard himself. With so many more people involved, this Ultima needed a project manager — the role also commonly referred to as “producer” — for the first time as well. That role went to Dallas Snell, late of Penguin Software, who, nobody being too specialized yet at this stage, did some of the programming as well. Snell lobbied for months for the hiring of a full-time artist, but Richard remained skeptical of the need for one until quite some time after the move to Austin. But at last Denis Loubet, an Austin artist who had been doing cover art for Richard’s games since the days of Akalabeth, joined the Origin staff to do all of the art for Ultima V, whether the media be paper or cardboard or pixels. Loubet’s work, blessedly free of the chainmail bikinis and other cheesecake tendencies that make most vintage CRPG art so cringe-worthy, would now become even more integral to the series, helping to maintain its aura of having just a little more class than the standard CRPG fare. Finally, and also largely thanks to Snell’s determination to professionalize the process of making Ultimas, there are fourteen people — fourteen! — credited solely for play-testing Ultima V, more than enough to ensure that there wouldn’t be any more blatant screw-ups like the vital clue that was left out of Ultima IV.

Denis Loubet on the job at Origin.

Denis Loubet on the job at Origin.

Freed from the pressure of programming, Richard could make Ultima V a much more consciously designed game than its predecessors. From an interview conducted almost a year before the game was published:

In previous Ultimas the combat systems were not designed out on paper ahead of time. I kind of ranked weapons in order of strength… the higher up the list of weapons you got, the better the weapon. Now I’ve actually designed an entire gaming system, including magic and combat, that is just as good to play on paper as on the computer. It’s extremely well-balanced, both [sic.] the weapons, armor, and magic, and we’ve been balancing the costs and uses of those things for six months — essentially by playing Ultima on paper.

Origin was so proud of this system of rules that they planned for some time to make an Ultima tabletop RPG out of them. That project fell by the wayside, but just the fact that Richard was thinking this way represented a huge step forward for a series whose mechanics had always felt ad hoc in comparison to those of its original rival, Wizardry. “I can tell you in numbers the probabilities of your being able to do something,” said Richard, “whereas in previous Ultimas I probably wouldn’t be able to do so. I just kind of did it until it looked right.”

While all of the extra care and thought that was going into this Ultima was welcome, it was also time-consuming. A series of release dates spouted by an overoptimistic Richard in interview after interview fell by the wayside, as subscribers to adventurer-catering magazines like Questbusters read for a year and a half of a game that was perpetually just a few months away. Still, the game they kept reading about sounded better with every mention: it would fill no less than eight Apple II disk sides; it would offer twice as much territory as Ultima IV to explore; each non-player character would have three times as much to say; non-player characters would have realistic day-and-night schedules that they followed; just about every single thing in the world, from table and chairs to torches and even a harpsichord, would be a discrete, manipulable object.

An early public preview of Ultima V at Dragon Con, October 1987.

An early public preview of Ultima V at Dragon Con, October 1987.

More philosophically-minded fans wondered about a subject on which there was less concrete information available: what would the new Ultima be about? After the great conceptual leap that had been Ultima IV, would Lord British be content to return to monster-killing and evil-wizard-bashing, or would there be another — or perhaps the same? — message on offer this time out?

All of their questions were answered on March 18, 1988, when Origin released Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny for the Apple II; versions for MS-DOS and the Commodore 64 followed in July and October respectively, with ports to a handful of other platforms trickling out over the following year or so. We’ll dive into the virtual world that awaited Ultima V‘s army of 200,000-plus eager buyers next time.

(Sources for this article and the next: Questbusters of June 1987, July 1987, August 1987, March 1988, July 1988; Game Developer of September 1994; Computer Gaming World of March 1986, December 1987, July 1988, January 1989, November 1991, November 1992. The books The Official Book of Ultima by Shay Addams; Dungeons and Dreamers by Brad King and John Borland; Ultima: The Avatar Adventures by Rusel DeMaria and Caroline Spector. See also Richard Garriott’s extended interview with Warren Spector. And of course the Strong’s collection; my thanks to Jon-Paul Dyson and his colleagues for hosting me there for a very productive week!

Ultima V is available from in a collection with its prequel and sequel.)


Sibyl Moon Games

Cover Songs and IF

by Carolyn VanEseltine at February 05, 2016 01:01 AM

I want to show you a song. Three times over, actually. The song is “Hurt”, by Trent Reznor, off the album The Downward Spiral.

Here’s Reznor’s version, aka the Nine Inch Nails version (Trent Reznor being the only member of Nine Inch Nails). “Hurt” belongs to Reznor. He wrote it; those are his words and his melody, straight from his depression, social anxiety, and substance abuse.

Here’s the same song performed as a duet with David Bowie. It has more grandeur, more mystery, and more electronics, as befits Bowie. But there’s more to it than that.

One of the greatest moments of my life was standing onstage next to David Bowie while he sang “Hurt” with me. I was outside of myself, thinking, “I’m standing onstage next to the most important influence I’ve ever had, and he’s singing a song I wrote in my bedroom.” It was just an awesome moment.
– Trent Reznor, Rolling Stone, January 26, 2016

Reznor saw Bowie as a mentor and father figure, someone who’d been to the same “unsustainable, reckless, self-destructive” places as Reznor and yet came back alive. hat relationship is audible in their duet. They shift back and forth between which voice has prominence – but listen to the times Reznor is prominent, versus the times Bowie has the floor. Reznor has this deliberate strain in his voice – the pain and the desire to hurt – while Bowie’s voice is more restrained, with grace, maturity, and deliberate beauty. And when they’re equally balanced, it’s a marvel.

Here’s the same song performed by Johnny Cash. He changes exactly one word: “crown of shit” becomes “crown of thorns”.

Combined with his delivery, it’s an entirely different song. There’s no splash or polish here: it’s the raw, simple honesty of an old man looking back on the regrets of his life. (And if it makes you cry – well, you’re not alone.)

It’s the same song each time, and yet it’s not. Each of these artists brings something different to the music – the influence of their history, their skill, their personal artistic choices.

The “cover songs” of fiction

The reboots of modern media – films, TV shows, comic books, and video games – are comparable to cover songs. Consider the  elements of the Batman story:

  • billionaire Bruce Wayne
  • the death of his parents
  • his faithful butler Alfred
  • his sidekick Robin
  • his arch-nemesis the Joker
  • and, of course, the Batmobile

These elements have been remixed countless times, but the effect varies significantly from version to version. Is Batman a comic figure? A paternal authority figure? A hunted vigilante in a dystopia? He’s been all of these and more, depending on the era, the artists, the writers, and the guiding vision.

Retold fairy tales are another kind of “cover song” within fiction. For example, “Beauty and the Beast” has been adapted by creators ranging from Tanith Lee to Ursula Vernon (as T. Kingfisher) to Robin McKinley (twice) to Disney (again twice – once in the animated film, and once in the TV series Once Upon A Time).  Fairy tales are likely more prevalent than reboots, both because of their strong roots in culture and history (Batman didn’t show up until 1939, after all) and because they’re reliably in the public domain. Batman will remain with DC Comics until at least 2019, but there’s nothing to stop the next inspired author from adapting Beauty and the Beast again.

beauty and the beast

Of course, Wikipedia and TVTropes have hundreds of additional examples in both columns.

What about interactive fiction?

We have seen retold fairy tales in IF, particularly Emily Short’s retellings of Beauty and the Beast (Bronze), Cinderella (“Glass”), and Snow White (“Alabaster”, with coauthors Cater, Dubbin, Eve, Heller, Jayzee, Mishima, Morayati, Musante, Thornton, and Wities). But it isn’t a widespread trend.

Before the release (and overwhelming dominance) of Inform 7, it was often bewildering for new IF authors to figure out which system to use. Roger Firth wrote the brief demo game “Cloak of Darkness”, which has been ported onto a variety of IF systems so that people can compare the necessary source code. This is something of a reverse cover song: it changes behind the scenes every time, but the actual play experience is supposed to remain the same. It doesn’t equate.

SpeedIF and related events have much more of a personal stamp. These events invite IF authors, rather like chefs on Chopped, to take a number of disparate elements and combine them into one. But the results are often so diverse that it’s impossible to tell the connection between two games. It’s impossible to avoid seeing the similarity between two cover songs, or two retellings of the Batman mythos. This isn’t a reasonable equivalent.

But I would like to see an equivalent in IF. I’d like to see something like a story we all know, or a song we can all hum along to, that can showcase the personal style and unique interpretation of a given author.

In the 80s and early 90s, a wide variety of authors developed different versions of Colossal Cave Adventure. They were generally adding onto and expanding the original game, rather than recreating it with their personal stamp, so it’s not exactly the same. And Adventure is treated today as a historical document and handy fodder for examples rather than a currently evolving game.

But since it’s a pioneer in the medium, one of the most famous text adventures, and not currently being protected by litigation, Adventure seems like an unusually good candidate for IF “cover songs”.

And I wonder what Jacqueline Lott’s Adventure would be like, or Porpentine’s, or Chandler Groover’s. Or even mine.


(Thanks to Jason Hoggatt for inspiring this post!)

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I’ve been soliciting article ideas from Patreon supporters. Have you considered becoming a patron? It would cost as little as $1/month, and I’d really appreciate the support!

February 04, 2016

Renga in Blue

Philosopher’s Quest (1979)

by Jason Dyer at February 04, 2016 08:00 PM

Last we saw of the folks at Cambridge was Acheton, an extremely long and somewhat unfair attempt to one-up Adventure.

Philosopher’s Quest (originally Brand X) was written as if the authors (Peter Killworth and Jonathan Mestel) had played Adventure, Zork, and Acheton, and felt like what the world needed was a “master quest” version.

This is yet another “grab the treasures” type plot, although I am unclear at the moment where the treasures go. There’s a “purple star” which was last seen in Acheton. In that game it teleported treasures to the vault. I’m not sure if it’s the same effect here because I haven’t found a treasure yet.

You are at the south end of the long passage. There is a tunnel to the south through which light is faintly visible. Someone has scratched the word ‘BLACH’ on the wall!
> s
You are on a sandy beach to the east of an enormous cliff which bars the way to the north everywhere except a small cave entrance at its base. Rocks to the south and east block these routes effectively. There is a ledge vertically above you on the cliff, but far too high to reach. A track exits west, parallel to the cliff. There is a purple star drawn on the face of the cliff.
> say blach
A wizened old dwarf appears in a flash of light. Before you can react, he disappears as rapidly as he came.
> say blach
There is a vast explosion! On picking yourself up, however, you find that nothing seems to have happened to you.
> say blach
There is a loud < < S N A P ! ! > >
> w

I actually played this game about 7 years ago, but I hit difficulty so quickly I relied almost entirely on a walkthrough. The upshot of that is the only puzzle I remember the solution to is chronicled below as Unfair Twist #1. Of the rest I only remember that a.) the game is relatively small but b.) also ridiculously hard.

Unfair Twist #1:

Welcome to Brand X (Version 0.00)!
You don’t need instructions, so you won’t get any.
Problems, comments and suggestions to PDK1 or AJM8.
You are standing in a small shop which normally has various goods
displayed for sale. There are areas of the shop
obviously intended for the display of treasure.
There is an exit south, above which hangs
a large sign, which reads:


There is an aqualung with a full tank of oxygen here. It
turns on automatically upon contact with water.
There is a fluffy lace-edged cushion here.
There is a bunch of keys here.
A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is a small teabag on the floor here.

The conceit of being allowed only a set number of items from a pile is sort of interesting, since you don’t actually need to grab the objects right away but can return for them as needed. There’s a locked door that needs keys I found early but I worry the keys are a red herring there’s some alternate way through the locked door.

In any case, here’s the unfair twist:

> get keys
> throw keys
You throw the keys neatly through the exit.
A thunderous voice from nowhere intones:


Yes, you can take three items out. This would be clever if it represented an actual loophole in the sign above, but the specific phrasing is “only two implements may be removed” which seems to disallow the trick above. If the phrasing had been “you can only carry out two items” or “you can only walk out with two of the items” or something of that sort I can see this being a genuine loophole puzzle, but as given it strikes me as reading the author’s mind.

Unfair Twist #2:

From the very first room (which you might notice has no light source item):

> s
It is pitch dark.

At first I assumed you were supposed to wander in the dark a bit until finding a light source. If you go straight south you do get outside (although there is a chance of falling down a pit and dying), but still: no light source. I did solve this on my own, but it was through such a meta method the puzzle easily still falls in the unfair category.

You are standing in the kitchen of the bungalow, which is usually lit by some rather dubious-looking electric wiring high up. The windows are all boarded up. There is a door to the larder to the east, and another room to the north. The house entrance is to the south.
There is a dubious-looking power source here.
There is an empty cup here.
The door is closed.
There is an empty electric kettle here.
> turn on power
You’re not holding the lamp!

I’m pretty sure the parser took only the first two words, so I was just misunderstood. (I still have no idea how to interact with the power source.) This led me to realize there was a lamp somewhere. I took a wild guess and went back to the very first dark room.

It is pitch dark.
> get lamp

I remember now why I hit the walkthrough so early. I’ll try to give this game more of a chance this time.

February 03, 2016

what will you do now?


by verityvirtue at February 03, 2016 06:01 PM

by pageboy. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 1.49.52 PM.jpg

Screenshot of gameplay: grid map made of ASCII symbols

You are the last living inhabitant of your Habitat, your only companions the robots that maintain your living spaces. But there is hope… if you can collect enough data to feed the central computer in your Habitat, maybe you can avert catastrophe.

First, the interesting stuff. Icepunk features a procedurally generated landscape, represented on an ASCII map. Likewise, each setting is illustrated with ASCII art. I’m sure this took effort.

Data, in Icepunk’s setting, takes myriad forms. Some comes from the lingering traces of mechanical life – ice golems, families and so forth – but in building your future, you must destroy them. Data also comes in the form of excerpts from (public domain) books and, in one memorable instance, tweets (which nets you ‘5 TB of Frivolous data’…).

However, where Icepunk is weaker is its reliance on lawn-mowering. You have to make repeated trips out into the wastes and return to your home base to deposit the data in the central computer – this is not in itself anything bad, but there seems to be little enough variation in the landscape that regions start feeling homogenous. Also, you can only travel by clicking on a map symbol adjacent to where you are – making travel back to your home base at best, mundane; at worst, frustrating. The delay that I encountered in loading the page only added to the frustration. I imagine this would deter people from playing it through to completion.

Nonetheless, Icepunk is an interesting experiment in exploration in IF, one which gives a different meaning to ‘datamining’, even if it was let down by tedium.

February 02, 2016


Inklecast Celebrates Sorcery!

February 02, 2016 10:00 PM

Today, Sorcery! hits Steam with a combined release of Part 1 and Part 2, bundled together into a single volume, with a new theme tune courtesy of Laurence Chapman.


To celebrate, we've recorded a special episode of the inklecast talking about how the game. We cover how the game came to be, how we developed it and how it changed along the way.

Never miss an episode - subscribe on iTunes or use the RSS feed!

Post Position

Christian Bök’s The Xenotext Book I at MIT

by Nick Montfort at February 02, 2016 05:43 PM

Christian read late last semester in the Purple Blurb series, a Trope Tank and CMS/W production. Here’s a video record of this appearance of his at MIT:

February 01, 2016

Sibyl Moon Games

Mosaic (GGJ 16)

by Carolyn VanEseltine at February 01, 2016 06:01 PM

The theme of Global Game Jam 2016 was “ritual”. I wanted to create a game where playing the game had the feeling of ritual in and of itself – something beautiful for its own sake.

Mosaic is a small, meditative, text-free game created for the 2016 Global Game Jam. It will run in a web browser if you have the Unity plugin (requirements: modern Windows or OSX with a not-Chrome browser.)


  • Click on the candles to light them.
  • Click on a gong to hear its note.

If you light the candles in the correct order, they will remain lit. If you [spoiler – highlight to read]light a candle that is lower in pitch than an already-lit candle[/spoiler], all the candles will blow out.

Candle positions will change, but the rules never do. Once you know how to light the candles, you will always be able to light the candles.

Play online here: Mosaic

play screenshot

GGJ 16 Post-Jam Report: Mosaic

by Carolyn VanEseltine at February 01, 2016 06:01 PM

This was one of my least exciting Global Game Jams, probably because I talked it up at the top of the week and the RNG disapproves of this kind of behavior.

Cutting to the chase: I wasn’t part of a group this year, but I did make a small, meditative game called Mosaic, which will run in a web browser if you have the Unity plugin (requirements: modern Windows or OSX with a not-Chrome browser.)

Here’s the play-by-play.

Thursday evening

Stupid cold. I do not want a cold, your timing is terrible.

Friday morning

Am I well enough to attend GGJ?

Friday afternoon

Yes. Yes? Yes.

Friday evening

Hi everyone DON’T HUG ME you do not want this cold.

Also, hi site organizer, I don’t wanna join a team because I feel terrible, but I still want to maybe make something, is that okay? Okay, phew, THANK YOU for being so understanding.

Saturday morning

I have an idea for a tiny game where you light candles in order. It would look great in 3D, so I’m gonna learn Blender!

Saturday afternoon, many tutorials later

I have not learned Blender.

I’m gonna make art with Hexel instead!

Saturday evening

Gotta get the code underway. Art can wait.

Saturday night

Sunday morning

Code is done!

I have no energy to make art in Hexel.

I’m gonna use images from Wikipedia instead!

Wow, that really worked. Why didn’t I think of that originally?

Sunday afternoon

“I made this.”

And people clapped. Hooray!


The scope of this game was right. There was never any doubt that I could complete the code, even while ill. I’m pleased about that.

The art slowdown did cost me, though. This game has no instructions, splash screen, or ambient audio, which is directly related to the art slowdown and a code problem detailed later. I regret not prioritizing those higher.

The most effective part of the game is the reward at the end – finally seeing the stained glass image in full brilliance, with nothing obscuring it. The ripple of music that plays is very effective as well, especially because [spoiler]you haven’t gotten to hear the proper scale until that point, even though you’ve been concentrating on it – so there’s a natural “resolution” from hearing it played.[/spoiler].

But from a design perspective, that’s a problem. I wanted this game to be meditative, and it really isn’t – either you’re taking notes to figure out how to light the candles, or you’re clicking rapidly among the gongs to find your next candle.

My initial idea for making the game more meditative: add animations and slow everything down. Lighting a candle should delay while it flickers into life, ringing a gong should force you to hold there for a second or so while it swings and the note plays, candles going out should include a hiss and a wisp of rising smoke. But in execution, this might be frustrating rather than meditative. Would have to test with players.

On a side note, I’m torn on whether the solution should be a spoiler or just part of the normal instructions. I conceived of it as a puzzle game in addition to being a ritual, but is the puzzle aspect actually appropriate?

Apart from the art style swaps, my major slowdown came from a “shortcut” that wasn’t. I had this idea that I wanted to pull in a bunch of different stained-glass backdrops without resizing the graphics, so I generated, scaled and positioned all the sprites with code instead of just editing the graphics to the sizes and positions that I wanted, thereby introducing about a thousand bugs that had to be hammered back out (and didn’t all completely vanish). It would have been vastly more efficient to resize everything by hand.

On the up side, because everything’s scaled and arranged in the code, the existing system can support more than eight tones. Which is kind of neat.

play screenshot

January 31, 2016

what will you do now?


by verityvirtue at January 31, 2016 08:01 PM

By Chandler Groover (Twine; IFDB; play here)

It’s winter, and he’s run out of food. He’s hungry, he’s cold, and if he doesn’t go hunting, he’ll freeze soon. But something wanders into his house. If he doesn’t eat it, he will starve.

[This game contains sound effects.]

Tailypo belongs solidly in the desperation-horror genre: the horror that comes from doing something loathsome, even though it is a choice between that and dying. Groover makes judicious use of timed effects in Twine and repetition, building tension as creak, creak did.

Like Taghairm, Tailypo derives its premise from a creature from Appalachian folklore. While it might be easily repurposed as a story for campfires, or otherwise sanitised, I think Groover’s take on this creature captures some of the desperation and terror – a terror from knowing that you are the only human in a mile’s radius, and that no matter what, you have to do something  – that probably inspired the original folk tale.

A short-ish Twine, published on Sub-Q, well worth playing.

Oreolek's silence

The code of Duel

by Oreolek at January 31, 2016 05:00 PM

A flashy amusement for some, or a serious manner to resolve a dispute for others, an IF duel is a long-standing tradition in a Russian IF community. The code duello is this. A morally acceptable duel starts because of an argument or an insult, to defend

Emily Short

January Link Assortment

by Emily Short at January 31, 2016 02:00 PM

Upcoming events:

Thanks to a burst of focused planning, we have a bunch of forthcoming meetings scheduled for the Oxford/London Meetup. They are

London, February 16. We will be playing a variant of San Tilapian Studies, along with other short card and boardgames focused on storymaking with other people. I’m psyched about this – San Tilapian Studies takes a fair amount of prep to put together and I don’t run it frequently, so if you want to play, this is an unusual chance. We’re using a different setting and sticker set than in the original.

Oxford, April 3. Sunday afternoon pub meet-up; you may bring WIPs or other items to share if you like, though we’re not set up for actual projection or anything like that. Consider this one a really late March meeting, because SXSW/GDC/Easter weekend use up all of my actual March.

London, April 19. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

London, June 14. Exact activity TBD, though I have some interesting prospects I’m looking into.

Thanks to Failbetter Games for their on-going willingness to co-host!


If you are planning to be at GDC, here’s some IF-related content for you:

I will be talking in a short format about visualization and design, with many examples from interactive narrative contexts (as well as some from elsewhere).

inkle studios folks will be talking about their tool ink that is used for 80 Days and the Sorcery! series, and which they will be open-sourcing. (!)

Meg Jayanth is speaking twice, once about writing NPCs with agency and once about diversity.

ETA: Alexis Kennedy on Choice, Consequence, and Complicity.


If you’d rather have something you can listen to right now at home: inkle released a podcast about choices, long-term effects of choice, and the player’s position between protagonist and dungeon-master in their work (among other things).

Meanwhile, there’s loads and loads of new Clash of the Type-ins content, where Jenni Polodna and Ryan Veeder bring on a guest to play interactive fiction aloud together; often they play something by the guest and then something by Ryan as well, which mostly works because Ryan has written so many games. Clash of the Type-ins most recently includes play-throughs of Calliope and Winter Storm Draco. But if (like me) you haven’t checked the site in a few months, there’s even more than that.

And of course, I’ve about Adam Cadre’s recent Radio K podcast.


Javy Gwaltney has shut down the Interactive Fiction Fund; residual funds are going to preserving the IF that was written for the fund, and to supporting Sub-Q Magazine.


If you liked my post about Black Closet, you may be interested to know that there is a Gamasutra interview with the author that fills in a lot about its inspirations. (Also, clarifies that it’s definitely based on an Episcopalian school, which is something we were debating in comments…)


The games of the annual French IF competition are now available, and judging continues through February 15. If, like me, you can read some French but aren’t necessarily fluent enough to come up with the right verbs, this French version of the parser IF card may be helpful (though this year for the first time one of these games is in Twine, so that’s also an option for those not up for parser French).

Also, here are my comments on last year’s collection, if you’re curious about past iterations of the event.


Zarf has released a new Glulx interpreter for Mac, Windows, and Linux. This is a step towards making it easier to release stand-alone parser game apps for various PC platforms, and also specifically towards making Hadean Lands available on Steam.


Meg Jayanth’s 2015 GOTY list recommends assorted IF, and includes a bit on the IF Comp game Summit. Meanwhile, veteran IF Comp reviewer Paul O’Brian has thoughts on the ones he played in 2015.


Rock Paper Shotgun has an interview with the inkle team on open world interactive fiction. Also, a review of Sun Dogs, the moddable transhumanist IF I covered previously.


Of possible interest to people who like narrative and procedural generation, PROSECCO is running a code camp in Antwerp April 6-8, focusing on automated storytelling.


Doing some prep work for a session on geography and storytelling, I came across this particularly excellent Pinterest board of fantasy map inspirations. There are some amazing historical maps and diagrams, maps drawn for recent IP, and a few cartography tools and asset packs.

This project also took me back to Dyson’s Dodecahedron. I must’ve mentioned this at some point before, but Dyson Logos serves up loads and loads of unlabeled maps on an attribution-only license (CC-BY). They’re designed with tabletop game campaigns in mind, which means that there are a lot of underground environments – but there are also fortress and city maps of various kinds. Typically the drawing is crisp enough that it would be possible to use as the basis of a dynamic map in Glulx or Twine, or combined with Zorkmid, if one were so inclined.

For instance, this chateau with a small hedge maze could very easily be an IF setting:



It would be kind of awesome to run an IF jam based around choosing one of the attribution-licensed maps from Dyson’s and building a game around it. Not that we’re currently lacking in IF jams and comps, admittedly.


Apropos also of teaching, I have started a Google group for people who want to talk about teaching interactive narrative. Please join us if you have something to add (or if you think spectating would be useful to you — it’s a public list). Members have already shared syllabus information and compared workshop notes, but there’s plenty more to talk about here.


Sam Ashwell has written a massive and hugely useful discussion of tabletop storygames: what they are, what they do, what some classic examples look like.

Related: Microscope Explorer, the expansion ruleset book for the tabletop storygame Microscope, is now available for sale. It includes Microscope Union, which I’ve written about previously, as well as several other variants. There’s also a reddit question and answer thread on the game, for anyone who has further questions.


Over at ZEAL, Brian Crimmins has an article on the history of visual novels and dating sims, focusing particularly on their screen layout conventions.


Nicky Case’s work on simulating systems is pretty cool. It uses an adaptive page (a little reminiscent of some of Bret Victor’s work) to allow the user to make predictions and then explore them. Not only can you play with the systems already included in the page, you can also design your own systems using a simple rule kit.

The page comes with a sweet bibliography of related reading. Recommended.


Here is an overview of a number of New York immersive theater productions — the obvious Sleep No More, but also a bunch of other pieces currently or recently running.


Speaking of information, the British Library has lots and lots of data. And metadata. It has images, it has texts, it has classification information. The Library is now (through midnight BST on Monday 11th April 2016) accepting proposals for projects that make “transformative use” of this data, with winners eligible for residencies and prizes in the £1000-3000 range.


Al Rosenberg writes about queerness and also accessibility for the visually impaired in Choice of Robots (though it rather surprisingly refers to Choice of Robots as a visual novel throughout).


Blue Renga has been covering adventures from the late 1970s; this write-up of Warp (1979, ish) particularly intrigued me because of the game’s unusually structured parser commands:

In any case, there’s some interest in Warp past obscurity and massive size; it’s got some monster ambitions for the parser which includes an attempt to make it “smarter than Zork”. It has: backtracking (letting you type BACKTRACK 4 and retrace your last four rooms, for instance), macros (letting you define a set of actions as one command) and conditionals (“IF SEE THE BEAR THAN LOOK AT IT. GO NORTH”).

If that’s not enough older IF for you, check out this New Yorker article on Mindwheel.


Here’s an article on personality as the UX of text-based bots. Some of it is a bit obvious and some is geared towards things that aren’t relevant to game contexts, but it still has some interesting observations about how people interact with natural language interfaces.


Did you know that fan recipes are a thing? Here is a reconstruction of Sunless Sea’s pomegranate-bergamot curd. (I was originally inspired by Feasts of Tre-mang, which also has a recipe for something of this nature.)


Here is a huge collection of game writing links of various kinds, for interactive fiction tools but also links to advice, exercises, etc.

Tagged: adam cadre, al rosenberg, ben robbins, black closet, blue renga, brian crimmins, calliope, choice of robots, clash of the type-ins, failbetter games, feasts of tre-mang, french if, Gamasutra, hanako games, inkle studios, jason mcintosh, jenni polodna, meg jayanth, microscope, nicky case, Paul O'Brian, prosecco, radio k, ryan veeder, sam ashwell, teaching if, warp, winter storm draco, zeal

Motley Crue and Alice Cooper (October 10, 2014 in OKC)

by robohara at January 31, 2016 05:00 AM

The last time I saw Motley Crue perform live was January 3rd, 1990. I was sixteen years old, and the band was touring in support of their fifth album, Dr. Feelgood.

After 33 years together as a band, in 2014 Motley Crue announced their farewell tour and publicly signed a contract stating that they would no longer tour together as a band after 2015. While many bands have announced “farewell tours” only to renege later (KISS’s farewell tour was in 2000; they played Tulsa last month), I’m taking the Crue at their word here and assuming this is the last time I will ever have the opportunity to see Vince and his buddies Sixx, Mick, and Tom perform live.

For their farewell tour Motley Crue brought along “very special guest” Alice Cooper as an opening act. Alice Cooper is 66 years old and I did not expect much from his show. I was wrong. Despite the fact that most members of his touring band weren’t even born when Alice first took the stage, they performed each song as if it were their own. (Lead guitarist Nita Strauss was born in 1986, the same year Alice Cooper released his sixteenth studio album, Constrictor).

It was great to finally see the father of shock rock and the predecessor of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie do his thing on stage. Throughout the show we got to see Alice Cooper strapped into a straightjacket and tortured by a demented nurse, electrocuted, and ultimately, beheaded in a guillotine. After Cooper was “electrocuted,” the band was joined by a ten-foot-tall monster. Check out this “not from our show but it looked just like this” clip. Jump to the 2:15 mark for the good part.


I was disappointed that the band didn’t play anything from Raise Your Fist and Yell (my favorite Alice Cooper album) but they certainly ran through Alice Cooper’s most classic material.

Alice Cooper Setlist

Hello Hooray
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
I’m Eighteen
Billion Dollar Babies
Dirty Diamonds
Welcome to My Nightmare
Feed My Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry
I Love the Dead
School’s Out (with “Another Brick In The Wall”)

After roughly 30 minutes, Motley Crue took the stage, opening the show with the title track from the latest (2008) album, Saints of Los Angeles. People cheered not for the song but for the band. This was our last time to see Motley Crue perform live. People wanted the band to rip through their entire discography, and that’s exactly what they did. The band didn’t waste any time playing less popular songs from “those years,” completely omitting all material from 1994’s Motley Crue (1994), Generation Swine (1997), and New Tattoo (2000). Instead they stuck with their biggest hits, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted.

There were three breaks in the action. The first was Tommy Lee’s drum solo, an event that has been evolving since the early 90s. Back then, Lee’s drum kit would spin 360 degrees as he played to the crowd. For the farewell tour, his entire drum kit is connected to a roller coaster track that carries him out into the audience as it spins him 360 degrees. Gimmicky, decadent, and over the top? You’ve just described Motley Crue.

I wouldn’t watch this entire clip, but you should watch the first minute of it.


The second break in the show came from Nikki Sixx, who asked the entire crowd to sit down and get ready for story time. Sixx spent the next five minutes telling the story of Motley Crue; how the band members met, how they struggled, and what decisions we all made to get us all in that arena at that time. It was pretty deep. Moments later he strapped on a bass guitar with a built-in flamethrower and shot fire over the crowd as 20,000 people pumped their fists in the air and screaming “Shout at the Devil” at the tops of their lungs.

The final break in the show was Mick Mars’ guitar solo. Mick Mars’ health has seriously been on the decline for the past decade, but you wouldn’t have known it from last night. Note for note, Mars ripped through every song and every solo, nailing every note. Unfortunately, and maybe it was where we were sitting, but his solo sounded like a muddled mess to us. The stage amps were in competition with the house speakers, causing enough of a delay to make the whole thing sound like muddy noise. The guy can still shred though.

Vince Neil did what Vince Neil does, running around the stage, hitting most of the words while working the crowd. Perhaps it’s nostalgia that makes him sound better than he really is at this point. If you’re going to see the band perform one last time you need to see it perform with all four original members and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

As the show closed and the band made their way through their biggest single (“Home Sweet Home”), a slideshow of pictures (starting with the guys’ high school yearbook photos) was projected on to a screen and I have to admit I got a little teary eyed. I have followed this band for as long as they’ve been a band and saying goodbye, as silly as it sounds, felt like saying goodbye to an old friend, a real friend.

As the lights came up, Tommy Lee stood at the edge of the stage shouting, “I’m gonna miss you guys.”

We’re gonna miss you too.

And now… on with the show.


Motley Crue Setlist

Saints of Los Angeles
Wild Side
Primal Scream
Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
Looks That Kill
On With the Show
Too Fast for Love
Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room
Without You
Mutherf**ker of the Year
Anarchy in the U.K.
T.N.T. (Terror ‘N Tinseltown)
Dr. Feelgood
In the Beginning
Shout at the Devil
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Live Wire
Too Young to Fall in Love
Girls, Girls, Girls
Kickstart My Heart
Home Sweet Home

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Weird Al – August 6th, 2003

by robohara at January 31, 2016 05:00 AM

On August 6th, 2003, Weird Al played to a sold out crowd in Oklahoma City’s own Bricktown Event Center. The demographcs of that crowd could basically be split down the middle into two even groups. One group consisted of kids, ages ten to thirteen, around the same age that I myself was I was when I first discovered Al’s weirdness. The other half of the crowd was made up of guys like me, people in their late 20’s/early 30’s, who discovered Al early in our adolescent years and never let go.

When Weird Al took the stage, it became clear that we weren’t the only ones who haven’t grown up. With his accordian blazing as loudly as his Hawaiian shirt, Al wasted no time kicking the night off with “Angry White Boy Polka,” a double-time polka happy medly of recent radio hits including songs by Papa Roach, System Of A Down, The Vines, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes, Disturbed, Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, Staind, Kid Rock, P.O.D. and Eminem.

From that moment on, the stage was set for a wild night of music, accompanied by videos which were projected onto a huge screen behind the performers. While occasionally videos ran behind the band while they were performing, more often they were used to give the band members a few moments between songs to change costumes but keep the momentum rolling. Videos shown included clips from several of Weird Al’s “Al TV” MTV specials as well as several clips from Weird Al’s movie “UHF” (which was filmed in Tulsa, OK).

Weird Al’s twenty year catalog of comedy classics were all fair game during the show. Al played at least one song from each of his eleven studio albums, spanning from 1983’s “My Bologna” (a parody of the Knack’s “My Sharona”) to several songs from 2003’s Poodle Hat, including “Party at the Leper Colony”, “Wanna B Yr Lovr”, “Ode To A Superhero” (a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”), “Ebay” (a parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”), “A Complicated Song” (a parody of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”), “Trash Day” (a parody of Nelly’s “Hot in Here”), and “Couch Potato” (a parody of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”).

Many of those songs included costume changes, not only for Al but the entire band as well. At different times throughout the night, Al took the stage as an overweight Michael Jackson (for “Fat”), a regular-sized Michael Jackson (for “Eat It”), Kurt Cobain from Nirvana (for “Smells Like Nirvana”), Eminem (for “Couch Potato”), Nelly (for “Trash Day”), and even as a pizza delivery boy for his Titanic-theme parody “Free Delivery” (a song which has not appeared on any of Al’s albums).

Weird Al was not the only chameleon on stage Wednesday night. Al’s band, consisting of guitarist Jim West, bassist Steve Jay, drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, and Ruben Valtierra on keyboards, showed their versitility by changing musical styles between every song, switching from rock to rap to ballads on a moment’s notice. The band covered songs from the 80’s to today all night long without missing a beat.

After playing 26 songs in over two hours, Weird Al left the stage, only to return for a short encore. The encore consisted of two Star Wars related parodies, “The Saga Begins”, sung to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, and “Yoda”, Al’s 1985 tribute to the little green Jedi master, a parody of “Lola” by the Kinks. As was the case with most of the songs throughout the night, Al and his entire band took the stage in Star Wars-esque robes. During the middle of “Yoda”, Al and the band stopped to perform “The Yoda Chant” (a two minute long silly chant) before swinging back into the grand finale.

In a world of Southpark and Gangsta Rap, it’s nice to see that a silly guy with a few costumes and some funny lyrics can still make kids and adults alike laugh.

Set List:
01. Angry White Boy Polka (polka-medly of current songs, from Poodle Hat)
02. Party at the Leper Colony (original song, from Poodle Hat)
03. Your Horoscope For Today (original song, from Running With Scissors)
04. A Complicated Song (parody of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, from Poodle Hat)
05. Melanie (original song, from Even Worse)
06. One More Minute (original song, from Dare to be Stupid)
07. Dog Eat Dog (original song, from Polka Party)
08. It’s All About The Pentiums (parody of Puff Daddy’s “It’s All About the Benjamins”, from Running with Scissors)
09. Wanna B Ur Lovr (original song, from Poodle Hat)
10. Trash Day (parody of Nelly’s “Hot In Here”, from Poodle Hat)
11. Beverly Hillbillies (parody of Dire Strait’s “Money For Nothing”, from the UHF Soundtrack)
12. Jerry Springer (parody of Barenaked Ladies “One Week”, from Running with Scissors)
13. Jurassic Park (parody of “Macarthur Park”, from Alapalooza)
14. Free Delivery (parody of the Titanic theme, unreleased track)
15. eBay (parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way”, from Poodle Hat)
16. Theme From Rocky XIII (parody of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, from “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D)
17. Ode To A Superhero (parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, from Poodle Hat)
18. Lasagna (parody of Los Lobo’s “La Bamba”, from Even Worse)
19. Pretty Fly For A Rabbi (parody of the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”, from Running with Scissors)
20. My Bologna (parody of the Knack’s “My Sharona”, from “Weird Al” Yankovic)
21. Gump (parody of Presidents of the United States’ “Lump”, from Bad Hair Day)
22. Eat It (parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, from “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D)
23. Smells Like Nirvana (parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, from Off the Deep End)
24. Amish Paradise (parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, from Bad Hair Day)
25. Couch Potato (parody of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, from Poodle Hat)
26. Fat (parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, from Even Worse)
27. The Saga begins (parody of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, from Running with Scissors)
28. Yoda (parody of the Kinks’ “Lola”, from Dare to be Stupid)

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Nine Inch Nails (March 26, 2006)

by robohara at January 31, 2016 05:00 AM

Andy called me yesterday to tell me that he had an extra (and more importantly free) ticket to see Nine Inch Nails last night at the Oklahoma City Ford Center. So after work, the two of us hooked up and headed downtown.

Andys girlfriend Lea (who does part time radio work and is friends with several people who work at the KATT) told Andy that the KATT would be broadcasting before the concert from the Courtyard Marriott across the street from the Ford Center, so after parking underground we headed over to the Courtyard to hang out for a bit before the show. Andy introduced me to a couple of the KATT DJs and we spent about half an hour hanging around and talking to Paisley and Tony Z. Paisley even had someone take a picture of all four of us together for the KATTs website. After that, Tony Z asked Andy and I if we wanted to cut some promos for the KATTs Dirty Thirty birthday party, so we both recorded little sound bites with our names and where we were from, wishing the KATT a happy dirty 30th birthday. So now we are all BEST FRIENDS FOREVER K WRITE BACK HOLLA PLAYA? Just kidding. But it was pretty fun.

Apparently we spent too much time hanging out in the Marriott because by the time we went outside the line to get into the Ford Center wrapped around a couple of times and took up most of the city block. When the doors finally opened the line moved slowly but steadily. Every person entering had to empty their pockets and be patted down from head to toe by security guards. Times have changed.

The Ford Center is notorious for having small seats (think airplane), so we were less than thrilled to see the enormous guy sitting in the seat next to mine. The guy filled his entire seat and half of mine, which was bad news for me since I fill every square inch of the seats there and Andys not exactly tiny himself. Things got better once the concert started and everyone stood up, but until then I was physically wedged up against two peoples shoulders.

The shows opener was Saul Williams. Apparently Saul Williams has two gigs; slam poetry readings, and live concerts in which he performs slam poetry readings over music. Most of Williams lyrics dealt with his urban struggles growing up black. Unfortunately, his audience was 15,000 white kids, all there to see Nine Inch Nails. As a performer, Williams stage show was largely unimpressive. Both Williams and his DJ were animated throughout the performance but there were no set pieces and no light show to speak of (other than blindingly bright strobe lights). Sauls vocal diatribes are probably very powerful in small venues, but lose something in a large arena setting.

After Williams left the stage, thick screens (I dubbed them mosquito nets) dropped down from the ceiling, blocking view of the stage. The cube was pumped full of smoke, the lights were dimmed, and Nine Inch Nails took the stage.

Despite being deeply rooted in electronic and industrial genres, there is no doubt that Nine Inch Nails puts on a hell of a rock and roll show. Trent Reznors touring band (which rotates members every tour) included bassist Jeordie White (A Perfect Circle/Marilyn Manson), drummer Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle/Devo/Studio musician) and guitarist Aaron North, who covered every inch of the stage throughout the show while throwing guitar stands, kicking over amplifiers, and even stage diving (with guitar in hand) during the middle of a song.

Of course, Nine Inch Nails IS Trent Reznor, and he did not disappoint fans. Whether standing in the middle of an intricate light show or standing onstage alone lit by a lone spotlight, Reznor both commanded the crowds attention and spent time hiding from them in the shadows as well.

The only downfall to the show was the mid-concert pacing. Halfway through the night, the mosquito-nets were once again lowered and turned into makeshift movie projection screens. Movie clips of monkeys fighting and George Bush ballroom dancing were projected onto the screens, all but completely blocking any view of the band. It was a neat effect for one song, but by the end of the third song the crowd began growing restless and I saw lots of people sitting down. The lull continued as Trent and company worked their way through some of the bands slower material. Its good to see some traditions never change the stadium was a sea of lit lighters.

Overall, the show was great (especially for the price!). Its been a long time since Ive been to an arena-type concert, so if nothing else it was nice to get in touch with how out of touch I am. ;)

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Life of Agony (February 13, 2002)

by robohara at January 31, 2016 05:00 AM

Life of Agony is a band without a label. They’re funding their current tour out of their own pocket with no label support. Their last studio album was released seven years ago in 1997. There’s no logical reason that kids should be lined up outside the Diamond Ballroom in 20 degree weather an hour before the doors open, but they are. A few of them are patrolling the area between the tour bus and the rear entrance with posters and CDs in hand, hoping for an autograph. This is loyalty. This is what Life of Agony means to its fans. This is the Underground.

In 1998, shortly after lead singer Keith Caputo parted ways with the band, Life of Agony decided to call it quits. In January of 2003, the band performed two reunion shows (which sold out in 20 minutes!). Those shows were recorded and released on both CD and DVD late last year. Response has been overwhelming, and in February of 2004 the band launched their US tour.

Local metalheads Element kicked off Friday night’s show. Despite being broken up for the past two years, Element put together a decent set and began working the crowd early. Next up on the set were Apartment 26, followed by Flaw. Apartment 26’s sound varied between Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction, and didn’t do much for the crowd. Flaw’s nu-metal performance was louder and heavier, but there was no question that night who the crowd was there to see.

My press pass allowed me backstage/sidestage access for the first three songs. Although I was supposed to be taking pictures, when the band came out and kicked off the show with “River Runs Red”, I dropped the journalism act for a few minutes. It’s hard to take pictures while you’re singing at the top of your lungs with both hands in the air. By the beginning of “This Time” I had composed myself, and shot as many pictures as I could during both that song and “Bad Seed.”

Throughout the night, the band sounded tight. TIGHT. All night. This would be the fourth time I’ve seen the band live, and they’ve never sounded better. Every song played sounded as good, if not better, then their album counterparts. Life of Agony is hungry, passionate, and dedicated, and it showed throughout their set. The songs played reflected both the fans’ favorites and the band’s finest moments. “Weeds” was the only song to sneak in from Soul Searching Sun; the rest of the band’s hour+ long set list was composed of material from River Runs Red and Ugly. There were no cover tunes that night, no solos and no bullshit — just straight up metal the length of the show.

Near the end of the set, the band snuck in “Love To Let You Down,” an as-of-yet unrecorded track planned for LOA’s new album. If this song is any sign of what’s to come, Life of Agony is returning to the scene with a bang. The song has a thrashy bridge and verses that show of Caputo’s maturing voice. Can we go ahead and prepay now guys?

On February 13th 2004, Life of Agony was back in full force. This band has suffered, learned, and grown over the years, and it shows. While the band’s live DVD is a must have, it’s no replacement for catching the band live. Hopefully, we’ll get many more chances to do so over the years.

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Life of Agony – Interview (2/13/2002)

by robohara at January 31, 2016 05:00 AM

Life of Agony once sang, “if you won’t walk with me, I will walk alone.” On February 13th, 2004, they didn’t have to. Hundreds of kids are standing out in the cold, waiting for the Diamond Ballroom’s doors to open. My wife and I aren’t with them — we’re sitting in the rear of the Life of Agony tour bus, hanging out with Joey Z (guitar) and Alan Robert (bass). Here’s what the two of them had to say about the band, the tour, and their future.

ME: So when did you guys roll into town?

Joey: Yesterday. We had a day off here yesterday.

ME: Did you all do anything here?

Joey: We went to the mall. (Laughter — the Diamond Ballroom is located right next to Crossroads Mall).

ME: You guys have been here a few times. Have you ever been down to the bombing memorial or anything?

Alan: No, we don’t really do a lot of sightseeing …

Joey: We’ve got a lot of work to do, believe it or not, you know a lot of bands do a lot of stuff but we’re trying to work on a new album right now …

ME: Yeah, I read that you’re working on some new material.

Joey: Yeah, well, writing, we’re in the process of writing, and that takes up a lot of time. It’s very time consuming when you have ideas all over the place.

ME: So when you’re working on the album on the road do you have a way to record material?

Joey: Yeah we have numerous ways of recording out here with us. We have two home studio machines and we have Pro-Tools out here with us that we set up daily …

ME: Really!

Joey: Yeah, so we’re out here working hard, both individually and as a band, we’re working hard. We also try and keep the website updated for the fans.

ME: Yeah, we checked it before we left the house.

Alan: We just put up a new Tour Diary section yesterday, a whole new section. We did it from here.

ME: You do it from the road?

Joey: Alan does most of the artwork for the band, all the cool images you’re seeing like the border stuff and symbol stuff, that’s all Alan’s work. And colors, all the cartoon characters, that’s all Alan’s stuff.

ME: Yeah, I saw the new Instant Messanger Icons you put online …

Joey: And there’s new merchandise out, Alan did a new shirt that’s selling like crazy. The cartoon shirt, the same image that’s on the site.

ME: The one with Keith standing behind the three of you holding the mic stand?

Joey: Yeah, that shirt is selling like crazy.

ME: So tell us what the new album is going to sound like.

Alan: Well, we’ll be playin’ one song tonight off the new album.

Joey: We all really, really want to do this. We’re lookin’ … we’re hungry. The only word that comes to mind is hungry and aggressive. We’re not Slayer and everyone knows that, but at the same time, the band … we had some polite music on Soul Searching Sun, and I think we’re going to try and stay away from politeness and go with more dementia and hungry sound and aggressive.

ME: It seems like casual fans say Soul Searching Sun is their favorite album, but the more hardcore fans seem to like the albums best in the order they were released.

Joey: So far what we’ve been doing is taking the better qualities of the band and bringing them forward. You know, the aggression of some of the guitar riffs, the passion of the vocals, the realness of the vocals and where that’s coming from. That’s being brought up to the table, all the great qualities. You’ve got to pull some stuff out, like the politeness. It was never really Life of Agony, that polite sound.I don’t know, I think we got kind of distracted.

Alan: Sometimes you gotta go back to the masters, and see what really influenced you.

ME: It’s hard when your fans are used to a particular sound and then you change that sound …

Joey: We did drastically. If you listen to Soul Searching Sun it doesn’t sound like the same band. Literally, like if you put one record after the next.

Alan: It wasn’t done intentionally, that’s the thing. We just grew and grew. And we really didn’t have anybody telling us “well you can’t do that,” so we just went with it, whatever we felt like.

ME: Do you have anybody telling you that now?

Joey: No.

Alan: No. We tell ourselves now actually, we’re a little more conscious of it now.

ME: Are you aiming for radio play with the new album?

Joey: I don’t think we think about it.

Alan: I think … radio is at a certain state that I can’t even turn it on. So you know, if we get radio play doing something that we wanted to do, that’s a different story.

Joey: If it’s bad ass, and they can’t help but to play it ‘cuz so many people like it, then that’s cool.

ME: I’m curious to see if the new Headbanger’s Ball will sway the radio back towards heavy music. It’s different living in Jersey than living in Oklahoma, here you have limited outlets to see and hear new music. Kids are going to see stuff on Headbanger’s Ball.

Alan: Tomorrow night, Saturday night, they’re playing River Runs Red from the DVD at 11 o’clock eastern time.

ME: And where will you be tomorrow night at 11 o’clock?

Joey: In front a TV, hopefully! (Laughter) Actually, we will! ‘Cuz we’ll be playing with Sevendust and we’ll be going on early so we will be able to see it.

ME: Are you excited about that?

Joey: Yeah! They played “Through and Through” a few months back and gave it a grand introduction. Jamey from Hatebreed gave it such a cool introduction. “This band is classic, from 10 years ago, this is Life of Agony. They’re on tour again, this is ‘Through and Through’.” It was a real nice introduction.

ME: “Through and Through” was the first Life of Agony song I ever heard. I was at a party when it debuted on Headbanger’s Ball, and I literally made everyone at the party stop talking while it was on so I could hear it. I bought the album the very next day and have been a fan ever since.

Joey: Wow. Awesome man, that’s great.

ME: So talking about life on the road, is it wild or is it calm?

Alan: Calm.

Joey: It’s like, the wild days are all behind us.

ME: How old are you guys getting to be now?

Joey: I’m 32

Alan: We’re both 32, Keith just turned 30 …

Joey: We’re both 32 but we feel young when we get up stage, and as a matter of fact I think we’re in the best playing condition we’ve ever been in. As far as the band sounding, if you don’t mind me saying, we sound f’ing awesome right now. I mean, we’re sounding better than we’ve ever sounded. So as far as our playability, we’re in the prime of our game and we’re only getting better by the day, by the show.

ME: And how has the turnout been for these shows?

Joey: Great!

ME: Are you surprised by that?

Joey: Unexpected, yes, very.

Alan: We didn’t know what the expect.

Joey: No album, no video, no radio song, nothing.

ME: But people are dying to hear what you have coming out, and they’ve been waiting a long time.

Joey: Yeah, and people want to hear those songs. They want to hear their favorite songs, they want to see the band play them, they want to see if we can play them live.

ME: I noticed a lot of people singing along with your songs on DVD, is that common at your shows now?

Joey: The other night in St. Louis, it was crazy. The place was jam packed.

Alan: It was the 14th anniversary of Life of Agony’s very first show … we had a nice toast on stage.

Joey: 14 years exact to the night, February 11th.

ME: It’s weird when you think like, almost half of your life has been dedicated to doing one thing. So tell us about your website, it’s constantly being updated.

Alan: People should check out our website and sign up for the message board. We have a whole mess load of people out there, a nice little community.

Joey: We interact, we answer questions as much as we can. Again we’re busy … I tend to go online a lot more when I’m at home.

ME: Do you get online at all when you’re on the road?

Joey: Occasionally. It’s very hard, kind of slim, for me like twice. Now Alan has his computer out and he’s dong a lot of work with the Tour Diary and keeping the website current which is very important.

ME: It’s very important. Like 10 years ago, we all got our information from magazines and the info was so dated, and now it’s like you can see what the band was doing last night …

Alan: To give you an idea, I posted the new Tour Diary section last night at 2:30 or 3am, posted it on the newsboard, and checked it 15 minutes later and there were already 4 or 5 messages … that’s in the middle of the night.

ME: It’s a totally different connection to the fans now.

Joey: And the problem with a lot of bands that aren’t running their own website I noticed, is you go out there and the last time it was updated was (six months ago), and it’s the same graphics, the same pictures, and it’s like, why should I come back here?

ME: You end up losing visitors and fans over it.

Joey: You discourage people, right!

Alan: Well a lot of times the label takes it over, that’s the problem. Then all the news filters through them and it’s when they get around to doing it …

ME: But you maintain control over your site, right?

Joey: Yeah. we’re doing all of this on our own. I thnk there’s something to be said about being out here with no tour support …

Alan: … No real label support, you know, obviously the DVD just came out but it’s just a one off for us. But we’re basically an unsigned band right now.

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January 30, 2016

what will you do now?

The Northnorth Passage

by verityvirtue at January 30, 2016 03:01 PM

by Caleb Wilson (writing as Snowball Ice) (Parser; IFDB)

The family curse has activated. If you do not go north, you will die.


(Cover art: compass rose, with N in all four directions)

The Northnorth Passage plays around with restricted actions. Though the parser gives the impression of freedom, you can only really do one thing. Obeying the parser, though, brings you through a series of self-contained scenes, colourful and detailed; Wilson’s writing sparks with life, with the kind of evocativeness reminiscent of Sunless Sea.

Yet, in each scene, you must forever remain at arm’s length. In this sense, it is similar to dynamic fiction, the term coined to describe linear games which nevertheless require the player’s interaction and participation to reveal the story. The PC’s travel north also seems to reflect the passing of time (the movement over swathes of space and time reminded me of Victor Ojuel’s Pilgrimage).

There was a very, very clever move right at the end of the game – an invisible puzzle, if you’d like – which wrapped it up perfectly. If I were to mention a game with a similar move, it would be very spoilery, but there is one…

January 29, 2016

Choice of Games

“The Lost Heir: The Fall of Daria” out now on Steam

by Dan Fabulich at January 29, 2016 09:01 PM

To celebrate the launch of The Lost Heir 2: Forging a Kingdom, we’re also announcing that Mike’s earlier game in our Hosted Games program, The Lost Heir: The Fall of Daria is out now on Steam! Take back the throne that was rightfully yours! When demon-summoning usurpers assassinate the king and queen, the right of rulership falls to you, their only child. Develop your own unique prince or princess, discovering a world of fantasy, magic, mystery, and adventure. “The Lost Heir: The Fall of Daria” is an epic 145,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Mike Walter—the first of a trilogy—where your

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New Hosted Game! “The Lost Heir 2: Forging a Kingdom” by Mike Walter

by Dan Fabulich at January 29, 2016 08:01 PM

There’s a new game in our Hosted Games program ready for you to play! Unite the kingdom to take back your capital city! You’ll need dragons, elves, and perhaps even demons to avenge your parents’ murder in this fantasy epic! In The Lost Heir 2, you’ll continue as the prince or princess of Daria displaced from your palace after the murder of your parents. Face betrayal, seek romance, battle enemies in war, and navigate the intrigues of court. The fate of the kingdom of Daria is in your hands. “The Lost Heir 2: Forging a Kingdom” is a 250,000-word interactive

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The Digital Antiquarian

Silicon Hollywood: Cinemaware’s Transitional Period

by Jimmy Maher at January 29, 2016 04:00 PM


Bill Williams’s Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon marked the end of the first era of Cinemaware’s existence. Bob Jacob’s original vision for his company had been as a sort of coordinator and advisory board, helping independent developers craft games inspired by the movies — an approach to game development as conceptually original as he hoped the games themselves would prove. The finished results from his initial stable of four such development contracts, however, quickly disabused him of the scheme. The mishmash of styles, platforms, and technical approaches among his developers resulted in games that shared little in common either visually or philosophically — and that was without even considering the near-disaster that had resulted from Sculptured Software’s mishandling of the most ambitious of the four projects, Defender of the Crown. The rescue operation that Cinemaware had been forced to mount to get that game out in time for the Christmas of 1986, involving as it did the taking over of day-to-day management of the project, had proved the old adage that if you want something done properly you just have to do it yourself. By the time that Sinbad, the last of those original contracts by far to reach fruition, trickled out in mid-1987, Jacob was already well along in the task of remaking Cinemaware into a full-fledged development house. This mid-course correction necessitated a dramatic expansion of the operation in terms of assets, office space, and personnel — in other words, the addition of all of the headaches he had hoped to avoid via his original vision. But needs must, right?

Jacob now stopped hedging his bets among the combatants in the 68000 Wars. Cinemaware the full-fledged development house would be built around the Amiga, becoming in the process the American game developer most closely identified with the platform during its best years in its homeland. Given Defender of the Crown‘s huge success, it was natural for Cinemaware to turn to that game among their early titles as their technical and artistic model for the future. Indeed, Cinemaware’s in-house tools were built on the broad base of a reusable “game-playing engine” for the Amiga that R.J. Mical had started developing in the process of making that game. Each Cinemaware game would be developed and released first on the Amiga, with the Amiga graphics and sound then degraded as artfully as possible to the variety of other platforms the company continued to support. Cinemaware’s programmers developed quite a variety of tools to automate this process as much as possible, yielding, if not quite a true cross-platform game engine, a standard approach with many of the benefits of one. It gave Cinemaware what seemed the best of both worlds: the prestige of being the premier developer for the most audiovisually impressive platform of its day combined with the ability to still sell games on the other, less capable but more numerous machines whose owners lusted after a taste of the Amiga’s magic.

Thanks to Defender of the Crown‘s huge success on the Amiga, Jacob had some time and a solid incoming revenue stream to use in executing the transition. He would need it, especially as both artist Jim Sachs and programmer R.J. Mical, the two masterminds who had together brought Kellyn Beck’s Defender design to life at the last, had severed all relations with Cinemaware as soon as their work was done, angered over the extreme pressure Jacob had put on them and what they considered to be a paltry financial reward for their herculean efforts. Rather than hiring computer people who happened to be good at drawing graphics, as most companies did at the time, Cinemaware began to hire conventional artists and to train them if necessary on how to use computerized tools, a key to what would become an almost uniquely refined visual aesthetic. One Rob Landeros, who had worked under Sachs on Defender, became the new art director, while several programmers toiled, as they increasingly would in a transitioning industry in general, in relative anonymity. The days of people like Bill Budge becoming stars for their programming skills alone were quickly fading by the late 1980s, as Design as a discipline unto itself came more and more to the forefront. And no company was closer to the leading edge of that movement than Cinemaware.

Jacob’s first goal for his re-imagined company must be a practical one: to port each of those first four games, a set of one-off designs custom-programmed for the particular platform on which each had been born, to the full suite of machines that Cinemaware planned to support. Doing so was no simple task, involving as it did not only developing the tool chain that would allow it but also effectively re-writing each title from scratch using the new technologies. The process could lead to some strange outcomes. The ports of Defender of the Crown, for instance, had many of the elements that had had to be ruthlessly cut from the Amiga original restored, resulting in games that played much better than the Amiga version even if they didn’t look quite as nice. Purchasers of the Amiga original of Sinbad, meanwhile, didn’t even have the comfort of knowing that their version still looked better: Cinemaware redid Bill Williams’s crude “folk-art” graphics from scratch for the ports, resulting in the very unusual phenomenon of a game that was prettier on the Atari ST and even Commodore 64 than it was on the Amiga. To add a further dollop of irony to the situation, the graphics for those better-looking versions had actually been drawn on Cinemaware’s Amigas, in keeping with their standard practice for all of their art. Ah, well, at least the Amiga version of King of Chicago both looked and played better than the Macintosh original.

In addition to all the ports, Jacob of course also needed to think about new games. With his company now established as a big name in the industry, he turned to licensed properties. This may have marked the joining-in with a mania for for licenses that many industry observers were already beginning to find distressing, but it did make a certain degree of sense for Cinemaware, a company whose stated goal was after all to bring movies to monitor screens. Jacob found what he thought was a nice little property to start with, not particularly huge but with its fair share of name recognition and public familiarity thanks to countless television reruns: the old slapstick comedy trio the Three Stooges, a vaudeville act that had made the leap from stage to screen in the 1930s and remained active through the 1960s, creating more than 200 films — mostly shorts of twenty minutes or so, ideal for later television broadcast — in the process. It didn’t hurt that Jacob, something of a connoisseur of B-grade entertainment in all its multifarious forms, had a genuine, abiding passion for Larry, Moe, and Curly, as shown by the unusually lengthy manual he commissioned, dominated by a loving history of the trio that has little to do with how one actually plays the game.

Eager to get his Three Stooges game finished to maintain Cinemaware’s momentum but with his small programming team swamped by the demands of all that infrastructure and porting work, Jacob made the counter-intuitive and potentially dangerous decision to place a game’s programming in outside hands just this one last time. The Three Stooges went to Incredible Technologies, a small programming house based in Chicago. This project, though, would be different from Cinemaware’s previous outside contracts: Incredible wouldn’t be paid to be creative. Instead Cinemaware would provide all of the art and sound assets as well as a meticulously detailed design document, courtesy of Jacob’s right-hand man John Cutter, describing exactly how the game should look and play on the Amiga, the Commodore 64, and the IBM PC. As he had during the latter stages of the Defender of the Crown project, Cutter would then closely supervise — read, “ride herd over” — Incredible’s development process.

Cutter, who wasn’t a fan of the Stooges going into the project but developed a certain affinity for them over the course of it, was inspired by the games of Life he remembered from his childhood to make of The Three Stooges a computerized roll-and-move board game. Many squares lead to one of half-a-dozen or so arcade sequences, each based on an iconic Three Stooges short. About half of these minigames are reasonably entertaining, the other half unspeakably, uncontrollably awful. Among other potential fortunes and misfortunes on the game board, there’s a Three Stooges trivia contest that’s persnickety enough to be daunting even in the age of Google and Wikipedia. The rather noble first goal of the game is to earn enough money during your thirty turns on the game board — it’s single-player only, despite the board-game theme — to save “Ma’s Orphanage.” The rather creepy second goal is to go so far above and beyond that Ma gives her three beautiful daughters to the Stooges, one each for Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Released in early 1988, The Three Stooges is easily the most simplistic of all the Cinemaware games, enough so as almost to read as a caricature of Cinemaware by one of their critics who were always so eager to decry their work as a bunch of pretty graphics and sound all dressed-up with no particular place to go (a criticism that was, it must be admitted, far from entirely unfounded for Cinemaware’s games in general). Cutter has little good to say about his own design today, citing as its greatest strength a brilliant fake-out of a cold open that remains the funniest single instant Cinemaware ever put on disk.

Back in the day as well, Cinemaware was at great pains to emphasize the graphics and sound in The Three Stooges as opposed to the actual gameplay, and understandably so. It marked the first game from Cinemaware to make use of digitized images and sounds, captured from the Stooges’ own films, thus becoming perhaps the first game to deserve to be called a truly multimedia production for this the world’s first multimedia computer. Like all of Cinemaware’s games, it looked and sounded absolutely spectacular in its day on the Amiga. But all that multimedia splendor did come at a cost. Programmed with competence but, one senses, not a lot of inspiration by Incredible, you spend most of your time waiting for all that jaw-dropping media to be shuffled into memory off of floppy disk rather than actually playing. Just to add insult to injury and to further illustrate where Cinemaware’s priorities really lay, the set-piece sequences that introduce each minigame can’t be skipped. No matter how impressive they are (or were in their day), they get a little tedious by the time you’ve seen each a dozen times or more.

Larry finds his "Stradiverius" is busted, in the opening to an arcade game based on Punch Drunks.

Larry finds his “Stradivarius” is busted, in the opening to a minigame based on Punch Drunks.

And yet, despite all these problems, I have an odd fondness for the game, counting it among the few Cinemaware productions I still find tempting to play from time to time today. My fondness certainly isn’t down to any intrinsic interest in the subject matter. The manual opens with a quote from movie critic Leonard Maltin, stating that there are two groups of people in the world: “one composed of persons who laugh at the Three Stooges and one of those who wonder why.” Among the former group was Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who, according to news reports from 1988, “sat in his tent day after day — sulking and staring at old Three Stooges movies.” As for myself… well, what can I say? I’m afraid I’m among the perplexed.

What saves the game, to whatever extent that’s possible, is the real passion for the Stooges that one can sense on the part of its creators, even if one doesn’t quite share it. Passion — or lack thereof — always comes through in a game, as it does in any creative work. Jacob emphasizes that he wanted to create a game that was “100 percent pure” to the Stooges — a game from Stooges lovers for Stooges lovers, if you will. To this day he speaks with real delight of a visit by Moe’s widow to Cinemaware’s offices, and most of all of the approval she expressed of the game’s anarchic spirit.

And there is at least a modicum more strategy in The Three Stooges than you’ll find in the likes of Life. Replacing Life‘s spinner to determine where you go next is a disembodied hand that you can stop just where you want it as long as it’s moving slowly enough. By this means you can avoid the terrible arcade games and the other undesirable squares on the board and maximize your earnings. Unfortunately, the hand gradually gains speed unless you periodically devote a turn to playing a Moe-beating-on-Larry-and-Curly minigame to slow it down. (No, I have no idea why that should have any effect.) The key strategic question of the game, such as it is, is thus when to beat and when to stay your hand. Hey, when you’re playing Cinemaware you have to take your depth where you can find it. The Three Stooges is only slap and stroll, but I like it.

Curly in a cracker-eating contest, based on Dutiful but Dumb.

Curly in a cracker-eating contest, based on Dutiful but Dumb.

In very limited doses, that is.

For Cinemaware’s next game, Jacob again turned to an existing property, albeit a  more obscure one: the Commando Cody serials of the early 1950s, which portrayed the adventures of the titular hero as he flew around with his personal rocket pack to battle against enemies both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. Commando Cody not exactly being a hot property in the late 1980s, Jacob thought the license a slam dunk, to such an extent that he allowed the game to get very far along in the development process without signing a final contract with the owners of the property. He even gave at least one extended preview to a magazine of Cinemaware’s upcoming “Commando Cody” game. But when he returned to Cody’s holding company to finally settle the legalese, he found that none other than Steven Spielberg had “stolen it” from him by making a deal of his own. Jacob then turned to the contemporary comic-book character The Rocketeer, whose creator Dave Stevens had himself been heavily influenced by Commando Cody in creating his own rocket-pack-equipped flyboy. But that also fell through because Stevens was already in talks with Disney, talks that would eventually lead to the 1991 movie The Rocketeer. (I suspect that the explanation for Spielberg never doing anything with his Commando Cody license can be found here as well.) And so Rocket Ranger was completed as an entirely original, unlicensed work — hardly a huge loss, as the various flying rocketmen that preceded Cinemaware’s weren’t really notable for their vibrant personalities anyway.

Like Defender of the Crown, the mechanics of Rocket Ranger were designed by Kellyn Beck under the watchful thematic eye of Jacob himself. Its basic structure is also the same: a light strategy game surrounded by action games that stand in for the dice rolls in the likes of Risk. And once again it plays with the tropes of history without making a whole lot of sense as history. This time we’re in an alternate version of the 1940s where the Nazis have developed space travel and made it all the way to the Moon. Unsurprisingly given advantages like that, they’ve already won World War II. But never fear! Now we’re in the future, time travel has been invented, and we’ve been sent back with a few trusty hi-tech tools — most notably, a personal rocket pack — to sway the balance of power and change the course of history. No, it doesn’t make much sense, but don’t worry about it. The important thing is that you get to fly around the world and — maybe, if you’re good enough — to the Moon to fight evil Nazis. And, this being a Cinemaware game, there’s also the usual sultry love interest along with a whole army of fetching female slaves to rescue, plenty of fuel for the libido of Cinemaware’s many teenage fans.

Whatever Rocket Ranger‘s structural similarities to Defender of the Crown, the criticisms of the latter game and other Cinemaware titles as all show and no substance were beginning to hit home for Jacob and company. This they demonstrated both by their somewhat prickly defensiveness when the subject came up and by their determination to emphasize the greater depth of this latest game. Rocket Ranger is indeed longer, more varied, and much more challenging — more on that in a moment — than the games that preceded it.

At the same time, though, it is still a Cinemaware game, which means the majority of the team’s efforts were still expended on presentation. Unlike so many flashy games then and even today, there’s a real aesthetic behind all of its screens, echoing the gargantuan Futurist sets of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis almost as much as the pulpy serials of Jacob’s childhood. It remains to this day lovely to look at, while the music — composed and programmed by Bob Lindstrom, editor of the Apple II magazine A+ but a “secret Amiga fanatic” in his free time — is also pitch perfect, owing a lot to John Williams’s work for movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. As in The Three Stooges, digitized sound is used sparingly but effectively, including real airplane noises recorded at Los Angeles Airport, just down the road from Cinemaware’s offices. There’s also a bit of digitized speech here and there, performed by whomever was judged to have the right chops among Cinemaware’s staff; John Cutter’s wife Melanie, for instance, played the love interest. To pack all of these elements onto the game’s two Amiga disks and, just as importantly, to move it all it in and out of memory during play with reasonable alacrity, Cinemaware developed a custom data format they called “Quick-DOS.” It let them compress 4 Mb of code and data into less than 2 Mb of standard Amiga disk space, and to read it in at three times the usual speed.

Rocketman versus Zeppelin.

Rocketman versus Zeppelin.

Cinemaware was very proud of Rocket Ranger, the first original game they’d developed completely in-house using all of their shiny new tools. And no employee was prouder than their leader and founder, who viewed the game as something of a coming to fruition of the original vision for interactive movies that had prompted him to start the company in the first place. “We really got the format right with Rocket Ranger,” he said. Never one to mince words, Jacob declared Rocket Ranger nothing less than “the best game ever done” and, as if that wasn’t hyperbole enough, “the biggest project ever tackled by a computer company” to boot. To his mind the game had “so many twists and turns, permutations of the story, and branch points that you can’t believe it.” John Cutter, who oversaw this project as he did all other Cinemaware games as the company’s only producer, said he was “more satisfied with Rocket Ranger when it was done than any other project I have ever worked on.” Both men remain very proud of the game today, especially Jacob, for whom it quite clearly remains his personal favorite of all the Cinemaware games.

For my part, I think it comes very, very close to nailing the gameplay as thoroughly as it does the presentation, but is ultimately undone by balance issues — ironically, balance issues of the exact opposite kind to those that plagued Defender of the Crown. Simply put, this game is just too hard. The arcade-style minigames are mostly entertaining but also extremely punishing, while the strategic game feels all but impossible in itself, even without the added pressure of needing to succeed at every single minigame in order to have the ghost of a chance. Just an opportunity to practice the minigames — as usual for Cinemaware games of this era, in-progress saving isn’t possible — would have made a huge difference. As it is, very few players have ever beat Rocket Ranger. It feels like a game whose difficulty level has been set to “Impossible” — except that there are no difficulty levels. An extreme over-correction in response to the criticism of the ease with which Defender of the Crown can be won, it serves as one more object lesson on the need to test games with real players and to work however long it takes to get their balance exactly right.

Cinemaware's trademark sultry damsel in distress, 1940s version.

Cinemaware’s trademark damsel in distress, World War II edition.

Cinemaware’s final release of 1988 marked both a major departure from their usual brand of interactive movies and an innovation easily as prescient in its own sphere as Defender of the Crown had been in its. It was called TV Sports: Football, and it introduced a whole new approach to the idea of the sports simulation.

Those wishing to trace the history of the modern “EA Sports” stripe of sports simulations, cash cows that generates billions of dollars every year, generally reach back to one of Electronic Arts’s first titles, a little 1983 basketball game called One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. From there the history proceeds to John Madden Football, the 1988 genesis of the series that would come to personify the whole genre of mainstream sports games when it reached Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo in 1991. All of this is valid enough, but it nevertheless misses the other important blueprint for sports gaming as it would come to be known in the 1990s. “Early on,” says Jacob, “I saw that people relate to sports through television and the way to do it was to emulate the TV broadcast. I think of EA Sports and I go, ‘Yes, that was my idea.'”

TV Sports: Football

On the field, complete with a television-style perspective and helpful caption.

What’s striking about TV Sports: Football and all those games that would follow is that these aren’t really simulations of their sports as real players or coaches know them. They’re rather simulations of the televised presentations of their sports, interactive spectacles that cleave as closely to the programs we see on our televisions as they possibly can. This is, when you stop to think about it… well, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Cinemaware went so far as to include spoof commercials (“Stop Sine Nasal Spray: We’re not #1… but we’re right up there!”) in their game. The modern sports-simulation landscape is an amalgamation of Electronic Arts’s early forays into league licensing and star-athlete branding with TV Sports: Footballs faux-television presentation.

Electronic Arts may have had John Madden, but Cinemaware had Don Badden.

Electronic Arts may have had John Madden, but Cinemaware had Don Badden.

There’s much of social or philosophical import that we might say about lives that have become so mediated that we crave an extra layer of it even within our mediated simulations. But then, for many — most? — of us this is what sports are today: not a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and a brand new pair of shoes out there on the field, but rather afternoons gathered around the television. We’re the people who go to a real event and find that it just doesn’t feel right without the comforting prattle of the announcers, the people who make it a point to remember to bring a radio next time. Is this part of the tragedy of the modern condition? I don’t know. You can debate that question for yourself. Suffice to say that Cinemaware struck a rich cultural vein with TV Sports: Football that continues to geyser to this day. Sports as spectacle, sports as multimedia entertainment… this is what the people really want, not sports as icky sweat and effort.

How appropriate then that it was the Amiga, the world’s first multimedia computer, that first brought it to them. Another design by the stalwart John Cutter, TV Sports: Football comes complete with everything you’d expect from a Cinemaware take on football: two disks worth of thrilling graphics and sound, buxom cheerleaders to keep the old spirits up, and gameplay that’s a little sketchy but serviceable enough until you figure out the can’t-miss tricks that can yield a touchdown on every drive and rack up scores of 70-0.

The inevitable cheerleaders.

The inevitable cheerleaders.

Although no later Cinemaware game would ever approach the sales numbers of Defender of the Crown, each of this new generation of titles did quite well in its own right, not only in North America but also in Europe, where Cinemaware was becoming just as well known as they were on their home continent thanks to a distribution deal with the major British publisher Mirrorsoft. Like Americans, Europeans found Cinemaware’s games just too sexy to pass by even if they ought to have known better — and, with Amigas already selling so much better in some European markets than they were in North America, there were a lot more customers there with the computer best equipped to strut Cinemaware’s stuff. It was easily enough to overcome some subject-matter choices that weren’t terribly well-calibrated to European sensibilities. The Three Stooges, for instance, were virtually unheard of even in English-speaking Britain, and American football also remained a mystery to most Europeans, much less the television broadcasts on which Cinemaware was riffing in TV Sports: Football. (One British reviewer decided there was nothing for it but to start from first principles: “The ball has to cross an imaginary barrier that rises horizontally from the opposition’s base line. This move is known as a Touchdown.”) Rocket Ranger represented the most uncomfortable culture clash of all; Cinemaware was forced to strip out all of the Nazi imagery and make the bad guys into generic aliens in order to sell the game in the Amiga hotbed of West Germany.

Sizzle without steak or hat without cattle though their games still to some extent may have been, Cinemaware was clearly doing something right. Jacob was happy to reinvest their earnings in yet bigger, bolder plans, all still in service of his vision of games as overwhelming multimedia experiences. We’ll see where that vision took him and his company next in future articles.

(Sources: Amazing Computing of July 1988, November 1988, and June 1989; Amiga Power of November 1991; Commodore Magazine of November 1988; Computer and Video Games of April 1988; The Games Machine of April 1988; The One of January 1989 and June 1989; Retro Gamer 123; the book On the Edge by Brian Bagnall; Matt Chat 292; two Gamasutra interviews of Bob Jacob, one by Matt Barton and the other by Tristan Donovan.

Rocket Ranger and TV Sports: Football are available as part of a Cinemaware anthology on Steam. You can download the Amiga version of The Three Stooges from here if you like.)


January 28, 2016


Inklecast Episode Three

January 28, 2016 06:01 PM

Welcome to the inklecast, bite-sized snippets of game design. This week: how do choices help you roleplay, and are Bioware games just a quiz with the answers already pencilled in?

This one's gone up a day early, as cast-master Tom is at the Global Game Jam in Oslo tomorrow.

And with next week seeing the release of Sorcery! for Steam, so we're considering a Sorcery! special. Let us know in the comments or via Twitter if you have questions. (But, please, no "how do you visit the Gardens of Briar"?)

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Visual Novel: Seduce Me the Otome

by Gingy Gibson at January 28, 2016 12:01 AM

seduce me

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I feel like it’s safe to say that you can often tell a lot about how good or bad a story will be based on the visual novel’s title.  Like everything there are certain exceptions, but as a general rule I’ve found that VNs with extremely specific titles like Cosplay Fetish Academy or Sepia Tears tend to be lackluster and unintentionally bad, and rarely have any great depth to them.  So when I stumbled upon a VN called Seduce Me the Otome on Steam, which not only made a serious decision to have “seduce me” in the name despite its PG-16 rating, but also felt the need to specify that it was an otome, I knew I was in for a special treat.  And so I grabbed my moonshine and salsa, downloaded the VN, and dug in.  Ten minutes in, I knew I was right.

seduce me

As I expected, the story wasn’t too complex or revolutionary.  You play as a girl named Mika, though you can change the name if you’d like.  She is a senior in high school from a wealthy family, just drifting along until graduation in an area outside of modern-day Chicago alongside her two best friends, Suzu and Naomi.  Her life is suddenly turned upside-down by the death of her grandfather, a rich CEO of a toy company who leaves his fortune and estate to her.  She is quickly moved into her new home by herself, whereupon she immediately discovers five demon boys sprawled out on the floor of the mansion.  Introductions are made, and soon she finds herself living among a reverse-harem of incubi.

Seduce Me the Otome (henceforth just Seduce Me) was a fully-voiced game, minus Mika who has no voice actress.  This wasn’t uncommon in older dating sims, but more recently protagonists have been getting voiced, so I wished that Mika was too just to make the VN seem more modern.  You’re already breaking your reader’s immersion by having multiple images of Mika up at all times, so a voice actress wouldn’t have hurt things too badly.  The voice actors that were used for the rest of the cast aren’t bad; earnest is the word I would use to describe most of them.  I do wish that they had been able to find older voice actors for the father and grandfather though, because frankly they sound about the same age as the demon boys you’re trying to date.  At least there was a good variety of voices in the cast, and some of them (like Diana’s voice actress) really sold the characters for me.


The aesthetic for the game is a mixed bag.  The backgrounds vary from pretty good to good, but the actual character sprites are rough.  Their bodies are ok, but their faces are hard to look at since most characters having their eyes drawn too close together and more than a few have the same face.  They have a decent range of poses, but there were several scenes (especially on the demon boys’ routes and Mika’s flashbacks) where you just have a plain background for a while with only a dialogue box below, because for some reason it was too much money, time, and/or effort to draw children sprites.  In addition, Mika’s sprite that stays in the bottom lefthand corner looks like her eyes are always tilted skyward, and even if that was done intentionally it’s a poor design choice since this makes her appear to be constantly and creepily gazing up at the reader.  The CGs are mediocre and only emphasize the so-so nature of the sprites.  The music was all right; I liked the opening and closing themes, but the background music was average and often not there at all; whole chunks of Seduce Me were played in absolute silence, and whether that was a glitch or a deliberate (and poor) choice, it made the VN less enjoyable for those sections.

As for the story, the best thing I can say about Seduce Me is that it gave me more than a few good laughs, and not intentionally.  The idea of a girl suddenly been moved into her grandfather’s deserted house, letting five demons move in with her after two of them sexually assault her, being kidnapped on multiple occasions, and other events of the same caliber genuinely made me laugh.  It was just so ridiculous.


The author is also guilty of one of my biggest writing pet peeves, which is to tell something without showing it.  She insists that Naomi and Suzu are the best of friends who just happen to have different personalities, but every interaction I saw between the two of them was bitchy and had to be mediated by Mika.  A girl that was labeled as a friendly rival to Mika consistently came off as nothing more than a garden variety mega-bitch.  Lastly, the writer also keeps claiming that Mika’s dad truly loves his daughter, but (except for the tail end of one route), all I saw in him was a business-minded asshole that couldn’t even be bothered to carry his daughter’s bags into her new home after forcing her to move into the mansion and live there by herself.  Don’t just tell me that these people feel and act one way or another, give me a scene that backs up your claim!  And as a minor grievance on this point, Mika would occasionally reference other characters (particularly K) that I never encountered in a certain character’s route, because going on that route had ensured that I would never see K or other characters.  Perhaps a bit of editing was in order there, or inserting a minor flashback to let me know who this person was (rather than just telling me that they would approve or disapprove of something).

The villains were all right, but served more as vehicles to move Mika and her chosen SO’s story along than as actual sources of conflict to the overarching plot (what little plot there was).  The first one, Malix, was a swearing murderous devil whose motives to attack and kill the demons were never really clear to me.  The second one, Diana, was at least interesting and fun to listen to, so part of me wishes that the Malix character had been cut out entirely so Diana could be present in the whole story.  Maybe then I would have felt like Diana was more of a threat and less of a new inconvenience now that the other one (Malix) had been removed with all the struggle one requires to get chip crumbs off a hardwood floor with a new vacuum.


Mika herself was pretty pathetic, serving as a damsel in distress for most of the story and drawing a wide variety of characters to her despite having few (if any) redeeming or enticing elements to her personality.  There was even a scene where she argued with a teacher in class about the true meaning of the Little Mermaid story, and the other students literally applauded and cheered for her afterwards.  I’d call her a Mary Sue, but there was already a Mary Sue in this story who served as her rival and was possessed by a demon, so Mika must be something else.  Plus it’s not like any of the other characters were extremely well fleshed out, so perhaps I should let that go.

The biggest issue I had with Seduce Me wasn’t the writing, however, but the pacing.  Clearly the writer wanted to get us to the boys as quickly as possible and was willing to throw the story under the bus in order to make that happen.  Mika gets called to the principal’s office within the first 15 minutes of playing to find out that her grandfather has died and will be buried on the same day.  Now let me just pause right there and say that, as someone who used to write obituaries for my job and talked with funeral home directors on a near-daily basis as a result of this, I can tell you that if you asked a funeral home to pick up a body and have it embalmed, stuffed in a coffin, and put in a grave (already marked with a headstone) in under 24 hours, they would laugh you right out of the building.  It just doesn’t happen.  But grandpa is dead and buried, and the will is read at his grave immediately after the service because Mika is the only one who got anything.  Once she gets home after that, Mika is told by her father that she’ll be moving into dead grandpa’s house the next day, and she packs up all her belongings that night and is moved out of her family home come morning.  Major events like losing a beloved family member and finding a new home are not supposed to go by so quickly; you need time to get your reader invested in the characters and their struggles at the beginning of the VN.  But no, we need to hurry forward to the sexy incubi (who, by the way, are not at all overtly rapey and prone to sneak into her bed at night, contrary to actual incubus mythology), so screw any feelings of sadness or conflicted emotions.


Almost as bad, but perhaps more unforgivable, was the lack of effort put into each of the character’s individual routes.  In otome games, I expect certain elements of each character’s route to look at least somewhat like the others; in Seduce Me, for instance, every demon boy you romance goes through the exact same chain of events (you meet, you bond, he tells you his true name, you’re kidnapped, he saves you, you bond more, Diana shows up, you’re saved by the power of true love, the end).  The human boy and each girl have different scenarios, but I felt like Naomi and Suzu’s routes were more similar than different.  This kind of storytelling is somewhat acceptable as long as each romance option is different enough to make all their routes enjoyable.  What I cannot forgive is the blatant copying from one route to the next.  It wasn’t just scenarios, entire paragraphs of story were copy-pasted across multiple routes, often with the only variation being the name of the person you were romancing.  That is just lazy, and if it was too much work to write individual scenarios and scenes for each character, then perhaps there should have been less routes available and fewer characters to romance in the first place.  In fact, the best route was the one where you throw the boys out and later become a powerful demoness queen of hell.  That’s right, the best route in this dating sim involves not dating anyone at all.

At this point, it probably sounds like I’m crucifying Seduce Me and am about to condemn it to the same circle of hell that I’d send every copy of Bionic Heart 1 and 2 into, were I ever given that power.  But here’s the really strange and messed up thing about Seduce Me: I liked it.  I honest to god enjoyed playing it.  While writing this, I’ve been trying desperately to come up with reasons other than inebriation for my enjoyment of such a bad VN, and I think that it all boils down to Seduce Me being just the right kind of bad.  The writing is terrible enough to make me laugh and say “What the hell” at least once every five minutes, but it’s good enough to keep me reading.  The sprites are poor enough to make me shake my head, but not so ugly that I can’t look at them.  The story has just enough pull to suck me in without really getting invested in the characters, and the music is pleasant enough that I didn’t want to mute it and put something else on in the background.  This is a greasy burger on a bed of oily fries that have been smothered in enough salt to cure me like a piece of meat, and while I can’t argue in favor of any redeeming qualities about this meal, I’m going to happily eat the whole plate.

Seduce Me the Otome is available on Steam and from the creator’s website for free; since its release, multiple characters have also had epilogues released for their routes, and even a drama CD if you can believe that (though you have to pay $5 for the CD).  Honestly, if you’re looking for a shallow romance story that’s unintentionally hilarious, grab it and play through a couple routes. Plus there’s a sequel in the works now too, and part of me really wants to see what happens next. There are much worse VNs out there to read, and at least this one put a smile on my face.


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