Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tour Bibliotekh

Today is the (revised) launch day for "If on a summer’s night a game designer...", the Calvino game jam. My entry is called Tour Bibliotekh.
("But what is the entry's name?" Shush.)
It's a rather self-indulgent piece which is set (I am dead serious) in my apartment! Specifically in my library room. I finally set up all my bookshelves the way I wanted, and then I wanted to show them off. So I took some (360ยบ) photos. Then I remembered about the Calvino jam, and realized this would be an apropos setting.
I should say that this isn't a game in the way you might expect. It's not a puzzle and there is no "winning". It's a walking simulator; or, I suppose, a browsing simulator. Poke around and see what you find.
I'll tease one bit: connect things up right and you'll find my secret history of why the Charleston Shoe Thieves are called the "Shoe Thieves". No, I'm not a serious blaseball fan, but I see enough chatter about it to keep current. And the wiki explanation of the team name really didn't satisfy me at all. Maybe you'll like this one better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Boosting some current Kickstarters

I promised to have my Calvino game jam entry up yesterday. But if you look at the jam page, you'll see that the deadline -- and therefore the release date -- has been extended to Sept 30. I like the idea of kicking another week's worth of stuff into it, so you get to wait a bit longer for that.
In the meantime, let me mention some Kickstarters that I think deserve some love.

Club Drosselmeyer is an interactive theater / puzzle / music / circus-arts event which has played for the last few years in the Boston area. I went last year for the first time and had a blast.
The theme is The Nutcracker, only it's gonzo-WW2 swingtime era, so the Nutcracker is a dancing robot and there are Nazi spies creeping around stealing blueprints. Also, live music and acrobatics! The live show was a smart construction. You could go for the puzzles, the LARP-style interactions with characters, or just to cut it up on the dance floor.
This is not the year for live theater, so the Drosselmeyer crew has planned out an interactive radio show. Again, you can go for the puzzles or just listen in on the audio broadcast. If you want to get involved, there will be some kind of call-in system -- audience interactions will shape the direction of the night's show. But you can also play on your own schedule; the event will remain playable as an interactive web site.
Note that if you have a group that wants to play as a team, you can share one Kickstarter registration. The registration only lets one phone call in, but you can set up a Zoom chat or whatever you want for audio sharing.
Drosselmeyer has been a treasure of the Boston theater-game scene since it opened in 2016. This is your chance to check it out from anywhere in the world -- well, anywhere that can make phone calls to the US. The Kickstarter has been stuck at 40% for a few weeks now and it deserves better.
Bonus: here's me looking somewhat suffused in my 1940s getup for the show. Yes, in the bathroom, that's where the big mirror is.

IndieCade is going virtual like everything else this year. They're planning a week-and-a-half slate of talks, demos, a showcase of indie games, and online community. I like this plan! (Although, hint from the trenches: nine days is a really long show. Stay hydrated.)
Furthermore, they want to keep an active community and game showcase running year-round. The Kickstarter is to fund tools, streaming, and staff to support this.
I've only been to one IndieCade, in 2015. I was invited to demo Seltani, which I did (with Carl Muckenhoupt's help -- thank you!) I also kicked around the festival and met a bunch of cool people, including Sam Barlow and Cat Manning, and generally -- not to repeat a cliche -- I had a blast.
So I would like to see what IndieCade does as a virtual entity. Consider it.

Romancelvania: Honestly I have no idea about this one. The KS page isn't up yet. But this writeup sounds hilarious: Castlevania plus The Bachelor. Honestly, I could use a game where the devs say "We were all making each other laugh hysterically."
So I have no idea if it'll be any good, but it's worth a mention.

That's all I've got on my active (or not-yet-active) KS list. Of course there's a long, long list of backed games in progress. I'm not going to count. You know how Kickstarter works. (My KS game was four years late; complaining would be extra-silly.)
But I'll have my Calvino game up next Wednesday -- promise! And you'll have all day to enjoy it before the IFComp games go live on Thursday...

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Myst VR teaser drops

I'm sure you already saw it, but I strive for completeness here, so here you go: a trailer for Myst in VR. The Steam page and GOG page are also up.
There's really not much to say about this. As Cyan's announcement says, they've been teasing this for a while now:
In fact, we suspect that some of you were onto us as far back as last summer when Rand gave his keynote at Mysterium 2019... We’ve been holding our breath ever since that video hit the internet hoping his keynote speech wouldn’t go viral, so for those of you who picked up on what we were laying down last year... Thanks for helping us keep things under wraps!
(From today's Firmament news update, one of the places where Cyan announced this.)
I take that last bit as a direct poke, since I blogged about Rand's keynote in 2019! VR possibilities and all! No, Rand didn't say "VR" -- he just called it a "definitive edition of Myst". But we all knew what he meant.
The real surprise here is that they're announcing it now. Firmament is currently on track for probably 2022, so this is looking like parallel development rather than sequential. Of course, it's impossible to know how the schedule will fall out.
The trailer and screenshots indicate that they've gotten a good ways into development. And it is very pretty.
Other tidbits:
  • The title is just Myst, no modifiers.
  • It will be VR-only and Quest-exclusive at launch, but flatscreen Windows and other VR platforms will follow.
  • The Steam page says "Built from the ground up to play in VR and flatscreen PC with new art, sound, interactions, and even optional puzzle randomization..."
  • The teaser has a slightly different opening narration in Rand's inimitable voice.
  • The D'ni text seen in the Myst book is a rather delightful easter egg for fans. See the top comment on the youtube page for a transcription.
I am of course pleased by this news, although I'll have to wait for the flatscreen release. Mind you, Firmament is still top of my wanted list.
The note about "puzzle randomization" is interesting. Many of the puzzles in Myst are entirely suitable for this. (Think about the clock tower, for example -- the required time code could be anything.) This isn't a huge expansion of the game's design, but it will be a nice change for people who want to replay it without feeling like they're following an invisible teleprompter. And it will be "optional", so detail mavens don't need to freak out.
The video and screenshots imply that they've scaled the island up a bit, and added lots of detail. But they haven't redesigned anything from scratch. It's still the classic, "noncanonical" Myst. Trap books will still be trap books. The puzzles will still be mostly nonmimetic insertions. Myst Island will not have bathrooms or living spaces.
...Or will it? Cyan could add practically anything as new bonus content; we'd cheer for it. It's really just a question of how much scope they allow themselves.
Okay, back to waiting mode, everybody.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Recent additions to my Infocom collection

Last year, after the Infocom source code dump, I posted my Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog.
This was the same data -- source code and some playable game files -- but with every version separated out and tagged. Release date, release type (alpha/beta/etc), game file version, all the information I could find.
Since 2019, people have sent me a fair number of pointers to "new" source code. Some of these were previously collected in various places; some have been dug out of MIT tape archives. I've been adding them to the page as they came in.
Want a quick tour?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Hadean Lands: minor update

I have posted an update to Hadean Lands on Steam, Itch, and the Humble Store. This includes improvements to the UI framework only. (No changes to the game content.)
The game now supports OS dark theme. If you have your system OS theme set to "dark", all of the game windows (including the journal, map, preferences, and so on) will use a light-on-dark theme.
The story window will still be set to the color theme you last selected (Dark, Light, Sepia, Slate). You can adjust this to match in the preferences.
The preferences menu now has two system-responsive options: "Light/Dark" and "Sepia/Slate". These allow the story window to adjust if you switch your OS theme back and forth. I don't know why you would, but the game allows for it. (New players will see "Light/Dark" as the default preference.)
Other changes:
  • The Electron framework has been updated to 8.4.1. This should fix the "harfbuzz" library error that some Linux users were seeing.
  • There is a "Display Cover Art" menu option in the View menu, should you wish to bask in that.
  • The Mac version is now notarized.
Let me know if you run into any problems. Thanks!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Fan-built Ages in Myst Online

I've been writing about the idea of user-contributed content in Myst Online for almost long as Myst Online has been around. Then the game got cancelled in 2008. Then it was brought back as a static legacy server (source code available).
So people started experimenting with the tools for creating new Ages. A bunch of fan-run "shards" went up, both to test client fixes and to collect fan-built worlds.
Did I write about this new activity? Nope. I did not.
Playing around in the shards was a hassle. I'd have to figure out which sites to watch; I'd have to run variant client software; I'd have to keep track of bugs and age format details and who knows what else.
I don't mind going shoulder-deep in a steaming pile of half-working software! It's literally what they pay me for. But I have so many IF tools and systems on my plate that I just didn't need another one. So I said, look -- I'm going to blog this stuff for the typical Uru user. And the typical user doesn't know or care about shards. They log onto MOUL, Cyan's official shard. So I'll write up new content when it's imported into MOUL.
That was, oh, I think it was 2010 when I decided that.
Guess what happened today!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The parser and the Myst plot hole

Occasionally someone asks, "Could Myst be done as a parser text game?" Sure! But you wouldn't want the translation to be too literal. Some of the puzzles would be less fun, more difficult, or more tedious when rendered in text form. So it's worth going back to rethink the design.
(Ironically, the sub maze -- Myst's most-reviled puzzle -- would translate pretty well. The relevant clues could be worked into environmental text. Plus, text IF has no movement delays, so if you missed the cues, brute-force mapping would be rather less tedious...)
But the most interesting design question is: do you allow TAKE? Myst is full of objects, but you can't carry any of them except book pages. (And one lit match.) But parser IF is all about the joys of acquisition! Do we stick to the limitations of the original game? Or shall we update the puzzle design to include keys and crowbars and lamps and all those other adventuring tools?
And while I was thinking about that, I realized... huh. The original game missed something.
To recap briefly (and spoilerifically): when you find enough red or blue pages, the evil brothers tell you how to open the secret fireplace compartment. That contains the last red and blue page and the green D'ni linking book. The green book shows you Atrus, who tells you to find and bring him the white page. His copy of the Myst book (his exit from D'ni) was sabotaged, and he needs the white page to fix it.
But in fact Atrus doesn't need the white page! And Atrus should know it! There's a simpler way to free Atrus which has nothing to do with the white page. This alternate solution isn't implemented in the game, but it is absolutely possible according to the logic of the story.
If you feel like solving the puzzle, I'll leave a bit of spoiler space.