Saturday, June 5, 2021

Hyperbolic text

I think about non-Euclidean space sometimes. Hyperbolic space in particular -- space with negative curvature. Parallel lines bend away from each other and are lost in infinity.
I've watched videos and played with math toys. Hypernom is pretty good. (Let it go full-screen, then move around with arrow keys, or touch the screen and use orientation on a mobile device. Or see other links at Henry Segerman's VR page.)
My favorite game to get a feel for hyperbolic space remains HyperRogue. This game has been around for a while (and I've never linked to it? Jeez). Give it a shot if you haven't. The author just added a VR option...
Now, I'm not talking about "wrapped" spaces like Manifold Garden. Those can hurt the head, but they're basically Euclidean -- parallel lines stay parallel. (A portal or two doesn't change the basic metric.) "Nested" spaces are more interesting; that's repeating infinitely at smaller and smaller scales, or larger if you go outwards. (Maquette, or that scene in The Room 4: Old Sins.) Again, nifty! But this post is about space which distorts with every step you take through it.
(HyperRogue is the best-known example, but other games are picking up on the idea. Hyperbolica looks like it could be good.)
When you wander around HyperRogue, you can tell there's more space than there should be. Whatever direction you go, you can get lost in a wilderness. You spot a small island in the distance, but as you approach, you realize its perimeter is a straight line -- there's just as much territory "inside" as "outside". And there are lots of these "islands"!
If this makes no sense, then you didn't give it a try when I told you too. Or just watch the video, okay? It's hard to describe! Which bothers me! I'm a text guy. Can we get this experience of hyperbolic space into a text game? Does that make sense?

Friday, June 4, 2021

New Myst Online dev material

Ryan Warzecha posted an announcement this afternoon in the Cyan Discord:
[2:09 PM] GreyDragon | Cyan:Intangible Assets
We are happy to announce that the MOULa Intangible assets are being released to the public. Lore on these “Unexplored branches” will be rolled out at https://guildofarchivists.org/. If you want to know more about the development of these spaces, check out http://openuru.org/index.php and https://www.guildofwriters.org/.
"Intangible assets" refers to a swathe of material that was planned for Myst Online but never completed or released. This includes everything from partially-built world models to concept sketches and scribbled planning documents. Some of these ideas were retooled for Myst 5, but by no means all. (In fact, some of it was retooled for different Myst Online Ages that did get released.)
This material is not brand-new. Several years ago, a group of fans started working with Cyan to update Myst Online. The company handed this Intangibles archive over to them for that purpose. Unfortunately, the project petered out after a couple of years. (You can see a remnant web page of the original Intangibles project. It was active from 2014 to 2016 or so.)
Cyan has now decided to release the entire archive under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NA-SA 4.0). The beans actually spilled last night when a few people noticed this pull request on the H'Uru (open-source Uru) Github repo. It has not yet been merged, but you can browse the files in Hoikas's repo or download the full package.
(Needless to say: spoilers.)
The Guild of Archivists site is now being updated with (in-character) information about the new Ages.
What happens next? The fan community is of course actively discussing this question. Everyone wants to see the material added to Myst Online, in whatever form it can be added. But this obviously depends on volunteer effort. The timeline for MOUL updates has always been "It happens when it happens." In the meantime, enjoy the concept art.
(Speaking of which, did you know that a new small Age was added just last month? You can follow my spoilery update log...)

Here's an unrelated Myst fan(?) project:
To all fans of the original MYST... I am remaking my original Selenetic age in Unreal 5 using the few things I’ve learned as an artist over the past 28 years since it was first released. I’ll post up progress and images here and on my Instagram page. There will be a free playable
[--@ChuckCarterART, May 28]
Chuck Carter was one of the lead artists on the original Myst. He hasn't been part of Cyan for a long time, but he worked with Cyan to publish his original game Zed a few years ago. Now he's going back to the original design document to create... what would you call it? Not exactly a reboot of Selenitic, and you can't say it's a fan project when the original artist weighs in.
In case you don't remember (hah), Selenitic is the Myst Age with audio puzzles and the Dreaded Subway Maze. Chuck says he wants to make the island larger and add more stuff to discover. Follow the twitter thread for more info. Should be fun.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

I am a person who will buy a SteamPal, sure, why not

The game industry froth of the day is "SteamPal", a mobile console that Valve is maybe-sort-of-probably developing. (ArsTech article; Polygon article.) The rumor is a Switch-shaped device that can run any Steam game with a Linux port. Which is a lot of games, really.
Everybody's got the same take: the Steam Machine was a flop, but whoa, this looks nice. The gaming PC market is saturated, but this is a portable. The portable market is dominated by the twin kaiju of Switch and iPhone, but both of those are proprietary platforms with locked-down app stores. There is no portable "regular computer" device. If there were, and if lots of people had them, then lots of developers would support it because it's pretty much just a checkbox in the Unity build.
(I know, it's never just a checkbox. But I hear good talk about Valve's Proton. That's a Wine-y layer for getting your Windows app up and running on Linux.)
So what the heck. It's a Tuesday and six years ago I wrote "I am a person who will buy a Steam Machine". I might as well weigh in here.
First obvious point: that Steam Machine purchase didn't work out great, did it? Nope! It sat around for six months and then I installed Win10 on it. So why will this new thing be different?
Because in 2015 I had a specific problem: I couldn't play Windows-only games. And I didn't want to buy into Windows! I was hoping that Valve's support of Linux -- with a Windows emulation layer -- would get those Win-only developers to cross-compile. Then we'd have a solid gaming OS, free of the Microsoft tax and the Microsoft love of completely changing the UI every few years.
To be clear: there were plenty of Linux ports on Steam. But those were the cross-platform Win/Mac/Linux developers! I could already play those games. I was trying to get at the games that weren't launching on Mac. (You know, like the initial releases of The Witness and Obduction, both of which I was slavering for by 2016.) I wanted Linux ports for those.
Didn't happen. Drat. So I bought into Windows. I wasn't happy about it, but the problem was solved.
Today I have a different problem: I want to play games while I eat lunch. But I don't want to buy into Nintendo.

Roughly, I play two(*) kinds of game. Either:
  • I want to sit down and fall into a big screen for hours at a time. Or...
  • I want to screw around with it for ten minutes every time I need a break.
These are very different models. But don't make the mistake that one is "immersive" and the other is "casual". They're both ways of focusing my attention! But they are appropriate for different kinds of games.
Obviously, Witness and Obduction are all-enveloping visual environments. Those are "big screen for hours" games.
But plenty of great games aren't that. Sneaky little puzzlers where you just have to fiddle with the pieces a lot. Micro-roguelikes where a run takes ten minutes. Card games where the bot crushes you. I want to play those over lunch!
If a game is on iOS, I'll grab my tablet and do exactly that. I've racked up immense time on Cinco Paus, Ascension, FTL, and puzzlers like Pipe Push Paradise. I would never sit down in front of my big PC and play them for hours at a time -- but I play them a lot of hours in total.
On the flip side, games like Altered and Inner Tao gaze woefully from my Steam library. I'm stuck in both. (They're hard!) But if I sit down for a Steam session of either, it'll just end in tears. No progress. Quit out. I don't even want to launch them any more.
But if they were on my tablet? Sure, I'll pick one up during lunch and flick the pieces around. Why not? And sooner or later, I'll have a breakthrough. (This is exactly how I finished PPP. Which is hard!)
Now, Altered and Inner Tao aren't on my tablet, because porting to iOS is a headache and the overstuffed app store makes that effort a bad investment. That's the general sense I get from indie devs, anyhow. But if there were a mobile device where Proton/Wine handled 90% of the porting load?
Tempting. I hope. And that's not even counting the "gold rush" period, which the Switch enjoyed for a good few years. A SteamPal has the same potential upside. No guarantees -- but I'd certainly put in some work to make sure that Meanwhile ran clean on it.

(*) Footnote and digression: Of course there are more than "two kinds of game". The obvious third class is: "I want to lie on the couch with the lights turned down and fall into a small cozy screen." Which is to say, The Room. (And riffs like House of Da Vinci, the Faraway series, Isoland, Rusty Lake...) These have a sweet spot of not being overwhelmingly visual -- they can be pretty, but you don't have to live them from the inside. But they are intimately touch-oriented. You want them in your hands.
I don't need a SteamPal for these games, because they do get iOS ports. They're mostly iOS originals. They're the natural natives of the platform.
I'm sure Valve's device will be D-pad-centric. That's fine; it just means a different set of native inhabitants. Indie grid puzzlers? Maybe! I can hope, anyhow.
(And if the SteamPal fails... nah, I'm still not getting a Switch. Sorry; the Wii left me feeling unloved.)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

2021 IGF nominees: exploding with delight

And so we come to the end of another review post run. I have naturally saved my favorites for last.
As I said up top, this year was about delightful games. And that's a personal reaction! This post is not about flawless games, or universally loved games. It's about games that I played through with a big goofy grin on my face because they made me happy. You may feel differently. You may say "But that game utterly failed to do what I want!" That's fine. Just recognize that it did something, and it did it with a whole and joyful heart.
(Okay, A Monster's Expedition is flawless and universally loved. I don't make the rules, nor the exceptions that prove them.)
  • Lost Words: Beyond the Page
  • Blaseball
  • Genesis Noir
  • Umurangi Generation
And while I'm here, a few titles that I already wrote up. But this is the exploding-with-delight post, by gum, and I can't not mention these:
  • A Monster's Expedition
  • Cloudpunk
  • NUTS
  • Paradise Killer
And thus I close. Plenty of games I haven't talked about. Spiritfarer, OMORI, There Is No Game, Signs of the Sojourner are obvious omissions -- sorry! I have not yet played Chicory, Teardown, Bugsnax, Welcome to Elk, or many others. Ynglet and Moncage look like they'll be awesome when they're out. Jeez, I didn't even mention Kristallijn.
Plus, I just got my second Pfizer dose. I should probably get this posted before the fever comes on.
Here's hoping for a better summer and fall. Yow -- if things go well, IGF 2022 judging could start again this October! I better rest up.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

2021 IGF nominees: tiny adventures

A bit of a mix here. These aren't classic adventure games, but they're not the abstracted explorations that I call "story devices" either. I'd say the common strain is the old Flash adventure genre -- the weird little narrative worlds like Submachine. Of course there are plenty of other influences too. That's just the fuzzy center that I gathered this group around.
  • The Flower Collectors
  • HoloVista
  • The White Door
  • When the Past Was Around
  • Mirages of Winter
  • In Other Waters
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played a free review copy of Mirages of Winter. I bought the others myself -- mostly last fall.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

2021 IGF nominees: puzzle time

Puzzle games and narrative games have a natural tendency to collide. I mean, yes, all genres want to hybridize these days, but the original "adventure game" was puzzle-narrative before anybody thought to disentangle the two. Besides, your narrative wants pacing -- that's puzzles -- and your puzzle game wants some kind of push-pull beyond "see the next room".
All of which is just to say that even though these are narrative game reviews, I also play a lot of puzzle games. I'll list some notable ones here. Not gonna be long reviews, and anyhow I've written some of these up before.
  • A Monster's Expedition
  • A Fold Apart
  • Carto
  • Shady Part of Me
  • Creaks
  • Lightmatter
(Note: I was on the narrative jury. I bought and played all of these games before IGF judging started, though.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

2021 IGF nominees: story devices

Sometimes I say "interactive storybook"; sometimes I say "story device". Usually textual (except when it's wordless). No model world or explorable map. Focus is on direct interactions with the text, or the story, or an abstract puzzly interface that makes no sense (until it does). What can I say, it's a "know it when I see it" category.
My comments in this post came out pretty mixed; I wasn't entirely into this year's story devices. This doesn't mean I was unhappy to see them, though! This is a relatively fluid sub-genre. There's more scope for exploration of form than there is in, say, parser IF. So it's always fun to see what people are going to do with it.
  • unmemory
  • Utility for the Soul
  • Arrog
  • Stilstand
  • LOVE - A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of these games.)