Monday, August 14, 2017

System's Twilight design notes from 1994

On May 10, 1994, my friends and I bundled ourselves into a car and drove from Pittsburgh up to Lake Erie. I forget exactly what town we stopped in. But we stopped there, got out of the car, put on our eclipse glasses, and watched the annular eclipse of 1994. It was fantastic. We got the little leaf-shadow rings and everything.
Why do I mention this? Because (if I recall correctly) after we got home, I bundled up the first playable beta of System's Twilight and send it off to playtesters.
A week from today is the total eclipse of 2017. I'll be heading to Kansas City, unless travel disasters ensue -- which they might! But that makes it an apposite week for this bit of history:
All my design notes for System's Twilight! I've had the folder on my shelf all this time; I just sat down and scanned the pages.
If you played the game way back when, you will find these pages amusing, or at least laden with twisty nostalgia. If you haven't played the game, the notes will be incomprehensible. Either way, enjoy!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nouns: a new tiny Twine game

Several years ago, PR-IF launched the Apollo 18+20 project, creating one short IF game for each track on the album Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants.
Now another MIT group has launched nanobots, a Twine anthology honoring a newer TMBG album. Which is called, if you hadn't guessed, Nanobots.
I don't know the creators, but I jumped in to create track 15: Nouns. It's my first Twine release, albeit a very short one. But then, the song Nouns is very short as well.

Monday, July 10, 2017

On the centralization of IF services

Over the past year, we've turned IFComp and the IF Archive into IFTF projects, and we're in the process of figuring out how to support Twine as well.
You could reasonably ask, is this a good idea? Are we building a single point of failure for all of these community resources?
I have a short answer and a long one. The short answer is that this is what happens when the IFComp administrator, the IF Archive manager, and the lead Twine developer get together (with other folks!) to start a nonprofit. The volunteers behind the projects haven't changed.
But there is more to the answer.
Look back to 2014. The Archive had been sitting comfortably on a server at CMU for several years. However, due to people moving around, this was no longer going to be possible. We needed a new hosting solution.
Finding a reliable web hosting service is easy. (I use three different ones just for myself.) The hard question is, who is going to be responsible for it? Who pays the bills, who sets up the software, who answers the email when something goes pop? You'll note in that 2014 announcement that the server went pop just a couple of days after the move.
I could have said, "Look, I'll just host the thing myself." That would have been the obvious answer, right? I could have stuck it on any of my three hosting services and paid the bill. Would have worked fine. But I did not do that. Why not?
I had a notion -- perhaps not a well-formed notion, but a notion -- that everything should not land in my lap. I was fine being Decision Person for the Archive, but I wanted to do that as part of a team. Someone knows the software, someone handles the hosting service, someone deals with submissions. But different people, right? That way, if someone is run over by a tea-cart (or suffers a less drastic fate, like getting too busy to think about IF stuff) then the rest of the team can regroup.
I do not want to be the single point of failure.
Today, with IFTF, I've been trying to solidify this notion and turn it into an operating principle. Each project has a committee. Each committee has a charter. The charters are written with the assumption that the committee will outlast any single person. Jmac is not the owner of IFComp, he's the current committee chair. He doesn't have to run it for fifteen years (like Sargent did, all credit to Sarge for that).
The committees are backstopped by the IFTF Board of Directors, who are empowered to step in if the committee falls apart. That is, if the committee fails to do its job, as defined by the charter. And then the Board can keep functioning if someone leaves or resigns; that's covered by the bylaws. Yes, it's a rule-bound approach. We even run meetings by Robert's Rules! More or less. But the point of the procedure is to keep things steady.
No single points of failure. That is the long answer.
Because when you've seen a community evolve continuously over 25 years, you plan for transitions. I don't intend to go anywhere -- but I am thinking about what comes after me.
(And speaking of community evolution: this is your weekly reminder that IFComp is running a fundraiser for prize money! Our first fundraiser! We just broke $1000, keep it coming!)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hadean Lands and Leadlight Gamma bundle sale

Yes, we're deep in summer-sale madness, but let me draw your eyes to one more: the Parser Power Summer Double!
For the next seven days, only on Itch.IO, you can buy Hadean Lands together with Wade Clarke's Leadlight Gamma in a half-price bundle. Comes with some freebies, too -- the LLG soundtrack and a hi-res download of the HL map.
If you're not familiar with Leadlight Gamma, it's a retro CRPG-IF hybrid game of high school monster terror. Originally released in 2010 for the Apple 2! How retro is that?
(Bonus items will not appear in your Itch download inventory list; they will be emailed to you after your purchase of the games.)
Why only on Itch? Because Itch supports multi-author bundles, which is a cool idea and we want to try one.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tough mobile puzzle games

Monument Valley 2 shipped, and needs no net-boosting from me. It was mentioned in Apple's WWDC keynote; that's max visibility in ten seconds.

I played MV2, and indeed it was as lovely and finger-satisfying as the original. But, like the original, it wasn't particularly puzzle-intense. Once you locate all the movable objects on the screen, move them, and see how they match up, you've done most of the job. Which is fine: the creators are clearly aiming at the general audience, not at puzzle fiends.
So, the question: what recent puzzle games are as pretty and whimsical as MV2, but will also melt your brain out your ears?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The combat-free environmental-survival MMORPG

Seltani was built, to some extent, on ideas I'd tossed into a 2008 blog post. Myst Online had just been cancelled (early 2008). I was interested in how such a game -- an MMO puzzle-exploration-adventure -- might have been built without MOUL's technical or scaling problems.
Neither the 2008 post nor Seltani really addressed the question of what players would do in such a game. (Neither did Cyan, of course.) I pretty much threw that problem into the "user content" bucket. People will build stuff and then explore each other's stuff! Well, I'm very happy with Seltani's world-writing model, but this is clearly not enough to feed an active fan-base.
So. This weekend I hung out with two friends who got to comparing their Guild Wars characters. (They're not serious about Guild Wars, but, you know, they raid.) I don't know the game, so their conversation was a cheerful torrent of opaque terminology, but I got to thinking about the depth of MMORPG mechanics. That's a genre which keeps the players coming back, right? It's not a solved problem: most MMOs fail. But we know it's a solvable problem.
This is the MMORPG formula, as I understand it:
  • A deep combat system with lots of options. (Different kinds of attack and defense, different character specializations with synergies.)
  • Long chains of equipment upgrades which require players to go out and complete many different kinds of tasks.
  • Big fights that require lots of well-equipped players to cooperate over an extended interval.
But does any of that make sense in a social, non-combat-oriented scenario? Spoiler: yes.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rime: design ruminations

I bought a PS3, in part, because I figured there might be another Fumito Ueda game someday. Then I watched The Last Guardian skitter away into an uncertain future. Then I lost patience with the Playstation platform, and set up a Windows gaming box. Then The Last Guardian shipped for PS4, and I realized that I was never going to play it because Sony was just too awful to put up with.
(Did I tell the story of how I bought all my PS3 games using store-bought gift cards, because I was too paranoid to give Sony my credit card number? And then Sony got hacked and proved my paranoia right? If I'd been a real conspiracy theorist, that would have been the happiest day of my life. I'm not and it wasn't.)
Anyhow, I've seen Rime floating around the convention show floors for a couple of years now, and it looked like a pretty cool... PS4 exclusive. But no! It showed up on Windows, so I get to play it after all.
Rime is a beautiful, moving, lovingly-polished, wordless narrative adventure game. It makes me want to say that the wordless narrative adventure game is a dead genre.
It's not dead dead. But I'm going to be more skeptical about it in the future.