Sunday, January 7, 2018

2018 IGF nominees: fascinating experiments

Reiterating: The IGF finalists are out! I was on the jury for Excellence in Narrative.
In today's post, the games that were really interesting but not necessarily entirely successful. This is not to say they were unsuccessful! Some of them go all-out in a particular direction which doesn't ring my particular bell. Some of them have tremendous flair and polish but also have a gap that bothers me. They're all worth playing and discussing.
  • Tacoma
  • The Sexy Brutale
  • Reigns: Her Majesty
  • Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
  • Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
(I played free review copies of The Sexy Brutale, Reigns, and WTWTLW. The others I paid for.)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 IGF nominees: real lives

The IGF finalists display a wide range of styles, themes, and kinds of interactivity. I say "wide", I mean "yowza".
But I can pick out groups, if not categories, so this post will cover games about real people's lives. Some of these are autobiographical; some are fictionalized stories about the authors' lives; some are fictions which are meant to illuminate real-life situations.
Yes, all fiction is meant to illuminate real-life situations, but I mean directly. Shush.
In this post:
  • Cosmic Top Secret
  • Lost Memories Dot Net
  • Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story
  • Bury Me, My Love
  • Attentat 1942
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of these games. The comments appear in the order that I played them.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tacoma: design ruminations

The IGF finalists are out!
Once again I was involved in IGF judging, and I was invited back to the jury for Excellence in Narrative. And once again I have a long file of review comments which I intend to post here.
However, my comments on Tacoma got so long that they turned into their own post! So I'm going to start with that one. Tacoma isn't my favorite game of the year, and I wouldn't argue that it's the best, but I'll say it's the most discussable.

Tacoma is a highly polished narrative game which doesn't exactly work. I haven't done a comprehensive review of the reviews, but that's the impression I get of the broad audience response. It doesn't hit home for me either.
To be clear, I thought Tacoma was creative, interesting, and well-written; I had a good time playing it. And it got a Narrative IGF nomination, plus a couple of honorable mentions! So it's certainly not a failure. But I want to focus on what didn't work for me. That's what the design rumination posts are for.
(Also note: I bought Tacoma with my own money when it was released in August. I wrote this post while mulling IGF entries, but I wrote it before the finalists were announced.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Meanwhile launching on Steam on January 17th

The coming soon page for Meanwhile is now live on Steam! It will be available for Mac and Windows. Our planned launch date is January 17th.
(I'd like to support Linux, but I haven't figured out how to get or build the SkiaSharp library in a way which will reliably work for Linux gamers. Feel free to drop me hints!)
I intend to also release the game on Itch.IO. I haven't set up the Itch page yet, but I'll link it when the time comes.
If you're new to Meanwhile, it's an adaptation of Jason Shiga's groundbreaking interactive comic book. A thrilling tale of quantum mechanics and self-discovery with 3,856 story possibilities!
This Steam release has been a long road. The original iPhone version of Meanwhile appeared in 2011; I've been working on the Unity port since August of this year. Jason and I are excited to finally get it out the door.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Zarf life updates

My life has been more interesting than my blog, these past few months. Time for a public catch-up post.
The big news is that, as of December 1, I have accepted a full-time job at Spirit AI.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thaumistry: design ruminations

When I mentioned to my friends that I'd finished playing Thaumistry, the first thing they asked was: "Is it old-school?" What a delightfully multivariate question! The answer is "yes and no", of course, but let's not drop it there.
Bob Bates is old-school, because he wrote for Infocom. But he's at the tail-end of Infocom's history: Sherlock and Arthur were two of the final titles in the Infocom canon, as the company tried to push forward into audio and graphics. So in that sense, he's modern. And Bates is better known for his work on the graphical adventures of Legend Entertainment. That was "modern IF" in the 1990s, but it's pretty old-school today, isn't it?
Thaumistry was published with Kickstarter support, and there's not much more modern than a Kickstarter game. Someone will say "how about a game that avoided Kickstarter because that bubble has burst," but let's not be cynical. I like to point out that Hadean Lands got 700 backers and $31000 in 2010, whereas Thaumistry got 1000 backers and $35000 in 2017. That makes the Kickstarter audience for parser IF look awfully stable, doesn't it? But my very rough comparison of the backer lists doesn't convince me that they're the same crowd. The lists overlap some, but they're not primarily the same group.
I don't know what the moral of that is. I backed the Thaumistry KS, in case you're wondering.
What I'll say is that even though Bates is a generation older than me, Thaumistry was constructed within the context of modern IF. I recognized many of the names who tested the game and helped develop the app. I was around when Bates asked coding questions on the intfiction forum. He used TADS 3; he took advantage of a modern parser. The game lays down prose as needed, free of that 1980s sense that every word is a precious commodity. (Or the late-1970s sense that every letter is! Ah, Scott Adams.) It understands that X is short for EXAMINE. It lets you UNDO three whole times in a row.
The game adheres to that principle (more modern than Infocom, but older than Myst!) that the player should not have to worry about getting stuck in a corner and needing to start over. There is one spot where you can die but it's heavily signposted. ("Now might be a good time to save your game," the game says. Even if you don't, UNDO has you covered.) It also supports autosave, which is absolutely necessary for any modern game -- not just IF!
And yet, with all this, Thaumistry feels... old-school. Not the implementation (solid) or the puzzles (reasonable) or the writing (energetic, usually funny). It's about the way the protagonist is presented. Or not presented.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Meanwhile: now in development for Mac and Windows

I wrote that long post about SkiaSharp in Unity, but I never answered the question: what kind of Unity project am I working on, which requires vector outlines and polygons?
Here's your hint:
Almost six years ago, I released Meanwhile: an Interactive Comic for iPhone and iPad. I've since ported it to Apple TV, but folks without Apple hardware have been forced to live without it. (Or to buy the hardback graphic novel, which I admit is a fine alternative.)
But relief is in sight! I have started building a Unity port of Meanwhile, and am working towards a Steam release for Mac and Windows.
For those who aren't familiar with Jason Shiga's nonlinear tale of mad science:
On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist’s wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?
Meanwhile is not an ordinary comic. You make the choices that determine how the story unfolds. Meanwhile splits off into thousands of different adventures. Most will end in doom and disaster. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.