Sunday, June 3, 2018

IF titles: the next generation of generation

Many years ago, Juhana Leinonen wrote an IF name generator which mix-matched the titles of IF games:
  • Asteroid Synesthesia Factory
  • Ill The O Zone
  • Voices of Spoon Planet
  • Lethe Hobbit
  • The Quest Detective
This is "IF titles created by joining the beginning and end parts of random existing titles," to quote the author. The source code shows what's going on: it's taking a random number of words from the beginning of one title and a random number of words from the end of another, with some tweaks to avoid pulling just "The" or "A".
The result is very convincing. But this is 2018! Not only do we have neural nets, we have plug-and-play neural nets that any bozo can install.
I looked through some of Janelle Shane's blog posts -- she's been doing the lists of Pantone colors, D&D spell names, and so on which you might have seen. Obviously she knows what she's doing and gets excellent results out of her experiments. I do not know what I'm doing, so I probably got sub-par results. But they're still pretty great, so here's a list!
  • Hills of Paradise
  • Castle of the Impala
  • The School of Rock
  • The Door Drivers
  • The Volvil's Room
  • Guttersnipe: Sorcerors
  • Color the Demon Adventure
  • Vault of Survival
  • Il Das Etverra de Joie (Terror 1)
  • Playa Alley
  • The Dream Whore, Bubble Zefro
  • Smast of Imron
  • A Beginning of the Princess
  • Iramidic Text Adventure
  • Space Lust War Tale
  • El Sexter
  • Blackback
  • Friendly Doors
  • Shuce-Quest
  • Wolf: Spy to grind a codion
  • Gris e no pluu
  • The House of Zombrit
  • The Citch and the Dogs
  • The Heather Continences
This is pretty good stuff! I did a little bit of hand-selection, but this is most of one generator run, plus a few extras. (I couldn't resist The Heather Continences.) Most of my editing was to delete real titles like The Cube and All Things Devours.
Okay, so how did I do this? Content warning: the rest of this post is about Python code.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Least interesting update ever

Zarfhome now has a privacy policy. So does my personal web site. They're short.
Ironically, neither policy applies to this blog, because this blog is hosted by (which is Google). When you read this blog, or comment here, your interactions are governed by Google's privacy policy. Google doesn't pass any personal information along to me, unless you explicitly leave it in a blog comment.

UPDATE to add: Google has provided a notice for Blogger-hosted blogs, but I don't think it's showing up. Here it is:
This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services and to analyze traffic. Your IP address and user-agent are shared with Google along with performance and security metrics to ensure quality of service, generate usage statistics, and to detect and address abuse. Learn more.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A partial solution to the Slack problem

A couple of months ago, you may recall, I wrote an open letter to Slack saying that they shouldn't shut down their IRC and XMPP gateways.
Slack sent me a nice reply saying that they had passed it along to their product team. I am sure that their product team read it, and nodded sympathetically, and then didn't change their minds. Slack is still shutting down those gateways on May 15th -- tomorrow.
This is not great, but I have a partial solution.
"...Holy beefwaffles, Zarf just wrote a Slack client?!" Yes! Sort of. Ish? I wrote a very small Slack client -- the most minimal app that could still be called an interactive Slack client.
Before I describe it, let me point out a few alternatives that already exist:
These are cool! They are not quite what I want. I want something that will sit in a terminal window and show all my favorite Slack channels -- just the important ones -- in chronological order. Yes, interleaved.
The point is that I never have to type in this window; I can just keep an eye on it. Conversations flow by. If I want to jump in, I can type a reply there (to any channel).
Of course, my client doesn't handle any of the fancy Slack features like threading, reactions, search, or file attachments. It's just a plain text stream. If I want to do anything more than that, I fire up the official Slack client and go to town.
This sounds like extra work. Okay, it is extra work. But I like having lightweight and heavyweight solutions to the same problem. I use three web browsers, for example, from plain-text Lynx up to full whiz-bang Javascript-enabled Safari.

But you're not here for my computer usage habits! You're here for the Slack client, so here's the repository. (Python3 code.)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Even more Myst Kickstarter stuff

A couple more things happened this week. I know, I know, I promise my next post won't be Myst-related! But for now...
On Wednesday, Cyan announced a stretch goal. But it's not pegged at a dollar level. Rather, they want to hit 3750 backers at the "Writers" tier. That's the $250 level, where you get the metal inkwell and pen (modelled after the one in Gehn's office in Riven). That tier now also includes the three old Myst novels and additional Riven design documents. If they hit the 3750 mark, they'll throw in the Uru soundtrack for all backers, plus some bonus tracks.
When they posted that, they had 1875 backers at that level; they're aiming to double that. Fans seem to be into it. In the past two days, the KS has gotten 450 new backers (or upgrades) to that level, and about $125K in new donations -- an impressive spike.
(They were also featured on the Kickstarter home page for a day, which certainly helped.)
They're asking for another 1400-ish high-tier backers, which is ambitious. But I'm tempted. (I didn't buy in at that level originally, but for design documents...) I'm also tempted to start speculating on the economics behind the move. Maybe the inkwell has a higher minimum order than they expected? Or the fancy box has a higher per-unit cost, so they're trying to make it up with the inkwell money? I'm just juggling ideas here, I have no way to tell.

We have a little more solid info, because Rand Miller did a live ask-me-anything session yesterday. I've transcribed a few of his comments here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Keeping an eye on the Myst Kickstarter

Running commentary on somebody else's project is probably a waste of keystrokes, but I will amuse myself anyway.
The Myst anniversary kickstarter is tootling along nicely, with about two-and-a-half weeks to go. They're up to $1.5M and almost 10000 backers as I write this.
The good news, announced yesterday, is that Mac versions of the games will be available. With some caveats: Myst Masterpiece is "giving [them] trouble", and they probably won't get the Mac versions into the physical DVD package.
The Mac conversions are being done by Codeweavers, so they'll use a Windows emulation layer rather than being native MacOS apps. Sigh, but that's the cost-efficient solution. (To be clear, the Windows 10 versions are themselves going to be some kind of emulation layer wrapped around the original ancient binaries. This project has no budget for any ground-up reimplementation work.)
The other good news, albeit not about this KS, is that the PSVR port of Obduction hits the streets today. Big news if you have a Playstation or get excited about VR! I'm neither, but go for it.
It's instructive to compare the Myst KS with the Obduction KS in 2015. (See KickTraq charts for Myst and Obduction. Gaze only upon the Daily Data tab -- projections will cause you naught but sorrow.)
Obduction finished out at $1.3M and 22000 backers. That means that Myst has already beaten it, but with fewer than half the backers. So we can say that some people will pay a lot for Myst nostalgia and physical artifacts. The most popular reward level is the fancy linking-book package.
Obduction had broader appeal; a lot more people will pay for a brand-new game. But they won't (in general) pay a huge premium for it -- the price level is set by the expectations for software. (Obduction offered a physical box reward tier, but the vast majority of backers just wanted a Steam key.)
Another difference: Obduction's KS had the usual dead patch in the middle of the donation period, but picked up towards the end. Myst, in contrast, kept a remarkably steady $25k flow rate through its first three weeks. (With a spike on 4/19 when they blast-emailed their customer mailing list.) It's only in early May that the pace has slowed. I'm not sure why backers keep trickling in like this. Maybe Myst fandom is highly dispersed, Internet-wise, and there's no common news source they all read?
Or maybe I'm looking at the wrong number. The two kickstarters had similar numbers of backers per day in the middle stretch -- it's just that Myst backers are putting in more money each.
I'm tempted to go off down a side trail of "Should Cyan have done a Firmament kickstarter instead?" (Or in addition.) But there's really not much new to say on the subject. One can reasonably predict that a Firmament KS would look like Obduction -- lots of backers, but relatively few going for the high-level rewards. Remember, the Obduction KS didn't cover all of Obduction's development costs, so this might not be an attractive path.
Anyway, that's the state of the excitement. If the backer curve continues on its current slight decline, the project will come in a little under $2M. If there's a big spike at the end, then higher, but this doesn't seem likely without a stretch goal to generate excitement. (And the company hasn't made any noise about stretch goals beyond "we're thinking about it.")
Other game kickstarters I'm backing or just backed:
  • Archives of the Sky: A tabletop RPG book from my IF pal (and coworker) Aaron Reed. It's a GM-less system; a group of players collaboratively create intimate human stories in a epic far-future setting. Think Alistair Reynolds or Iain Banks.
  • Paradox: The Rusty Lake / Cube Escape series has been trundling away for years on web and now mobile. I enjoy it, in its creepy and slightly gross way, but it's never been splashy enough to talk about much. Now the designers want to make a film short which is linked to their next game. Transmedia! I have no idea if this is going to work, but I'm down to give it a try.
  • Dystoa: Atmospheric walking simulator, what's not to love?
  • The Good Life: I've never played a Swery game, but my videogame friends can't shut up about him, so I threw in a few bucks. This KS just wrapped successfully.
  • Genesis Noir: This wrapped a few months ago, but I'm still excited about it. Noir tropes at the Big Bang, plus William Blake and jazz. I'm there.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Missing moments in games

This weekend I finally played David OReilly's Everything. (I tried a pre-release build a couple of years ago, but I had trouble with the controller and gave up almost immediately. This time I played all the way through, or at least to what I can call an "ending".)
Spoiler warning: I am about to start talking about the ending ("ending") of Everything, and how it is constructed. I'm going to go into detail. So if your kink is surprises, buy Everything and play through it before reading this. It won't take you too long.
Death of the Author warning: I am about to start talking about the intent of games by seeing how they are constructed. Indeed, I will be making assumptions about how the design evolved. That is: I will be reading games as texts. I realize it's perfectly possible to go find the designer and ask what they intended, or how the game evolved -- but that's not the point here. That is not, as Alan Watts says in Everything's adopted narration, the game we're playing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Myst 25th-anniversary Kickstarter

Cyan just launched a Kickstarter for a 25th-anniversary re-release of Myst. And all four sequels, newly updated for Windows. And the single-player Uru collection (Complete Chronicles). Myst (the first one) will be included in both classic slideshow and full-3D (RealMyst) forms.
Everything will be available on Steam, but the big prize is a physical collection of discs in a case which looks (of course) like a linking book.
(Regrettably, this is Windows-only. They don't have the resources to update all the Mac ports.)
Cyan has been hinting at this for a few days now. Also, you know, posting to Facebook about it, which goes a bit beyond hinting. But here it is.
So that's the headline. Is there anything interesting to say about it, other than "Back this"?
Obviously, we'd prefer a new game rather than a re-release of some old games. I still have all my old CD-ROMs of the Myst series -- although it's a shaky bet which ones might run on any computer that's not buried in a closet. But Myst 3 and Myst 4 have been out of print for a very long time. This release is a first opportunity for a lot of younger players. I'm rather keen on replaying them myself.
(Yes, 3 and 4 have some obvious flaws, which are running jokes in the Myst fan community. So do 1, 2, and 5. There isn't a one of them that I regret playing.)
The more important question, to me, is "What happens to Cyan next?" Recent articles have made it clear that the company is in very tight straits right now. Obduction did not make enough money to fund a new game. In fact, Cyan is still paying for Obduction work, since the PSVR port remains stuck in the pipeline.
So this Kickstarter, if it succeeds, will get some cash into the barrel. But it looks like they're just aiming to raise enough money to fund the production of the physical rewards. (They have, very sensibly, omitted all mention of stretch goals. If the project over-funds, they'll make more of what they've planned.)
Hopefully they've done their spreadsheets right and they'll break even on the rewards. Then they'll have an additional ongoing income stream from Steam sales. I don't know if that will add up to much -- as several developers have posted recently, it's a rough year for narrative games, and re-releases of old games are going to be hard put to compete. But any long tail is better than no long tail.
In the meantime, we'll have nifty memorabilia to fondle.