Saturday, September 29, 2012

Zarfplan: September work

A month not of dramatic improvement, but of improvement regardless.

Jumping in a pool now works. Jumping into various other infelicitous environments -- details elided for spoiler reasons -- all work. You can draw metal rods into wire, and pound wire back into metal rods. There are now four different ways you can set things on fire, with different responses. Some of these behaviors support puzzles; others are just to keep the world believably fluid. (If an object is described as "dusty", and then you jump into the pool, it should stop being dusty.)

Why four different ways to set things on fire? Basically, I wrote up one set of responses for the sort of "burn X with Y" action where you hold a match to X. If you hold a match to a candle, the candle catches fire. But then I set up the retort, a glass vessel with a bunsen burner underneath. That's a different situation -- if you heat a candle in there, the candle melts. Maybe now you have a quantity of wax to play with. If you stick the candle into a kiln, it vanishes completely, poof, gone. (I'll leave the fourth as a surprise.)

All of this is a parcel of work, or four parcels, but fortunately I don't have that many cases of heat-responsive substances. (I can ignore rocks and steel tools, for example.) Each rulebook only has to cover ten or twelve cases.

Then, as I work, I think of cases that run into each other -- for example, as I was writing this post, I realized that I have one object which gets damp in water but then dries off in the kiln. I added a rule to cover that. (Most dampenable objects just incinerate in the kiln, so there's no need for a special case there.)

All game design is exponential explosion -- but if you can keep the exponent down around -0.3 or -0.4, the series sums to a finite value and the process eventually ends.

(Or, I should say, the process eventually gets into alpha-testing. That will be another whole ball of melted wax. I know I'm missing things, but the important ones will turn up over time.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

BostonFIG followup

I was at the Boston Festival of Independent Games and it was pretty darn awesome.

(Photo credit to BostonIndies.)

I had Shade and Meanwhile sitting out on iPads, and people played both of them! It wasn't literally eight straight hours of IF demoing -- there were gaps -- but it's not like people ignored the IF in favor of the interactive comic, either. Several people played a significant fraction of Shade. One dedicated player ran through the whole thing. (With some nudges from me. The ending requires a certain degree of relaxed experimentation and persistence, which isn't easy to maintain in a crowded demo room.)

(Yes, I wrote down a bunch of synonyms and action phrasings that I forgot to implement back in 2000. I will add them to the game when the iOS version comes out. User testing!)

Naturally I had a stack of IF cards to hand out to Shade players. I also got to show off the XYZZY Award I won for it, way back. And the puzzle-key I designed for the MakerBot promo game. (In the photo, the puzzle-key is sitting on top of the XYZZY. Sorry, I would have arranged that better if I'd known. Also I'd have been looking at the camera.)

Meanwhile was also popular, of course. It demos very well -- hand it to someone, and they'll get the idea instantly.

(I also had Pocket Storm running on an iPod. You can see the headphones in the photo, but nobody picked them up. Oh well. The good news is, I now know that an iPod can run PS for eight hours without recharging, even with the screen set to stay lit.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Two notes on Darksiders 2

Last night I finished an epic -- for me -- drive through Darksiders 2. I've been playing it for two weeks now. (It was my self-reward for the last HL milestone.) I think the counter on my save slot reached 36 hours. I know that's not large for a modern RPG, and weighs as a feather in the MMO world, but I don't play those genres much; for me, this is an enormous game.

Fortunately for me (I count my ambivalence quietly), the immersive, 3D, explore-puzzle-fight genre is in a gentle recession these days -- at least on consoles. I suppose its golden age ran from Tomb Raider to Sands of Time? There have been some excellent ones recently, mind you; Arkham Asylum counts, Bioshock counts, and we shouldn't neglect the finely-written Enslaved. But, again, those were rather smaller. I won't expect to burn this kind of time again until (presumably) a Darksiders 3 appears in (presumably) three years or so.

My first comment mirrors what I said about the original Darksiders: The writing is adequate. The acting, ditto. The plot is an overcomplicated mess, floating in a tepid goulash of Milton, Revelation, and second-string Vertigo. The characters are stock cardboard ("oh, look, a big grim muscleman") and every single game mechanic is lifted from an earlier game. But so what because the level design and puzzle construction are the best all-around work in the genre.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Zarf at BostonFIG

I am happy to announce that I will be showing off Shade for iOS at the Boston Festival of Independent Games, at MIT next weekend. I will also have Meanwhile, Pocket Storm, Fealty, and the rest of my iOS portfolio ready to demo.

(BostonFIG: Saturday, September 22, 10 am to 10 pm, MIT buildings 34 and 26. Free and open to the public.)

More IF stuff at FIG: Jason Scott will be a keynote speaker, and he will be showing Get Lamp at some point. Plus there's this whole showcase of other indie games. It'll be cool.

What, you ask? Shade for iOS? It's still in development -- don't go running off to the App Store to find it. As with Dreamhold, I'm planning to leave the game file unchanged from its circa-2000 release, but I will add in-game feelies of some sort. Only not a map. A map of Shade wouldn't be very interesting.

Hope, faith, etc

I've been checking Cliff Johnson's Fool and His Money production schedule regularly, as it ticked down past the diagnostic four-week mark. (In previous cycles, Johnson's habit has been to chime in at around four weeks to go, apologize, and reschedule.) As I write this, it says:
Sep-10   Finale & Bugs
Sep-17   Finale & Bugs
Sep-24       Done

However, I missed this additional note:

As priorities shift on an hourly basis, it is becoming clear that The Finale is falling behind schedule.

I concentrate my energy on the gameplay & on the bugs.

Do I release the Game without The Finale on September 24th and then publish the Game with The Finale at a future date?

What are your thoughts?

That's a tough question. Tougher because he's certain to get both answers from different groups of people, and they're both justifiable answers. Some of the answerers (on both sides, I'm sure) will be using exclamation points. I've gotten hypersensitized to Yelling On The Internet. Maybe my answer should just be "Dude, do what you're going to do, and don't let the Internets throw you off course."

But no. I am too much the Internet loudmouth myself to let the opportunity pass, so here goes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pocket Storm

I am delighted to announce Pocket Storm -- a generative audio environment for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Pocket Storm is my first Boodler project for iOS.

It starts with a calm summer night. Soon you'll hear thunder in the distance, then wind and a spatter of rain. After half an hour you'll be in the thick of the storm. By the end of the hour it will have faded into the night again. Then the cycle begins again.

The Pocket Storm is not like other environmental audio apps. Every thunderstorm is different! Wind, rain, thunder -- even chirping crickets -- every sound is chosen from a library, with subtle variations of pitch and timing. The Pocket Storm weaves these elements into a tapestry of sound which will never repeat.

Here's my Pocket Storm web page; or snarf it straight from the App Store.