Sunday, July 25, 2021

Kickstarter boost: of pawns & kings, Blue June

I back a fair number of story-game kickstarters. Usually I blog about them when the game ships and I've had a chance to play the complete game. But today I'm pushing a couple of projects which are still crowdfunding.
(I have no connection with these games except that I saw them on Kickstarter and said "hey, that looks cool.")

of pawns & kings is a point-and-click set in a lush 3D-rendered environment. A boy goes off into the wilderness to discover what happened to his grandfather. The author cites Monkey Island, Riven, and Labyrinth as inspirations. I just wanna run around that jungle and mess with puzzles.
There's a demo, but honestly I backed it on the strength of the KS intro video, which bubbles with enthusiasm.
The project has a week to go and is only at 27%. I say this is a shame.

Blue June is a 2D point-and-click about a girl pulled into a nightmarish dream version of her school. Stylized but atmospheric.
The project is in its last 24 hours and is 75% funded. Give it a push.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Mysterium 2021 report

Another Mysterium has come and gone. It was online again this year. I took lots of notes! But if you want to go directly to the goods, check out the Mysterium Youtube channel.
Some highlights:
Rand Miller doing a live let's-play of Myst. Not all of it, just an hour's worth of running around with off-the-cuff directory's commentary. This was Myst Masterpiece Edition (1999, still slideshow-style but improved resolution). Favorite bit: all the trees on Myst Island were rendered as perfect cones with a foliage texture. But when you look at screenshots, you see that the silhouettes are a little bit fluffy. Why? Because Rand loaded them up in Photoshop and smeared all the edges with the thumb tool. CGI magic!
Of course the big upcoming news is the Mac/PC/VR port, which is due "third quarter" -- which is to say, by the end of September. They did an hour-long State of the Union report on that.
(Panel, Youtube.)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

I see they called it Steam Deck

I wrote about Valve's rumored portable a couple of months ago, when the rumors surfaced. Now we see the thing! It is called the Steam Deck.
The point is that the Switch is super-duper-popular, but it only runs Switch games. The iPhone is super-duper-popular, but it only runs iOS games. Your regular gaming PC isn't portable, but it can run all games (except for a few console exclusives, but whatever). Fill the gap.
I don't have any particular clue, but this seems like an obvious winner move on Valve's part. In my earlier post I talked about wanting a portable device for quickie games -- puzzlers, micro-roguelikes, small narrative games. That's what this is. I'm not going to play giant immersive adventures on it. I'm going to play little things while I eat lunch.
Possible pitfalls for the Steam Deck? It's not cheap. It's heavier and bulkier than the Switch. The battery life can't possibly match Apple's vertical engineering. Valve is trying to support every possible game interface (thumbsticks, trackpads, touchscreen); at least one of those will probably suck. (Cough cough trackpads.) The GPU can't melt tungsten blocks, which means the noisy people will hate it. And Steam needs to trim their storefront down into something that makes sense to casual players on a small screen.
Doesn't matter. The wide-open Steam ecosystem is the selling point. I think that will be sufficient. As I said, I will go out of my way to make sure Meanwhile is a joy to play on it.
"But the Steam Machine flopped!" Okay look. The Steam Machine -- a custom Linux gaming box -- had no selling point over a "regular" Windows gaming box. It had fewer games. The hardware wasn't inherently better or cheaper. You saved the cost of a Win10 license, but that's marginal. As a replacement for the (huge, established) "buy a PC" gaming market, the Steam Machine had no leverage.
The Steam Deck is a new market. It's not a replacement for anything. There is no established line of Windows-compatible gaming portables. People who want that form factor have either a Switch or nothing, and this has way more games than the Switch. (I'm sure you'll be able to stick an Itch.IO client on it too.)
Also, Linux portability is way past where it was in 2015. Valve's developer page says that "most [Windows] games work out of the box" thanks to Proton. (Proton is basically WINE tuned for Steam games.) Developers will have to test on Linux, but Valve is betting that a burgeoning Steam Deck market will push most of them into it.
As I said, it's a smart move. If it works, it sets up a world where Windows and Linux are equivalent gaming platforms -- developers will support both and players just won't care. Then Valve will be in a position to relaunch the desktop Steam Machine. Right? No more MS tax, no more MS ads in the start menu, no more MS redesigning the UI every few years. Just two thumbsticks and a screen that plays games.
So, anyhow, yeah. I'm going to preorder a Steam Deck tomorrow. Maybe it'll all fall down again, but it's my fun-money. And Meanwhile will be well-tested on it, at least.
(I'll make sure Hadean Lands runs too. But a seven-inch screen with a virtual keyboard might not be ideal for parser IF. I'm still working on redesigning the parser model from the bottom up, sorry...)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Daedalian Depths

Interested in a puzzle book of classic form? Try Daedalian Depths by Rami Hansenne. A tribute and homage to Christopher Manson's archetypical, unsolvable Maze. But this one is solvable!
(I will avoid puzzle spoilers in this post, but I will repeat some information that the book explains directly in the prologue. I am also going to talk about the puzzle design in very general terms.)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Narrative structure for dogs

I reviewed Cloudpunk last month, but I only talked about the (awesome) visual design and (awesome) soundtrack. That's because, ahem, I played Cloudpunk back in 2020 when it launched. I had thoughts about the narrative design but I forgot to write them down. Oops.
But now I've finished playing through Cloudpunk: City of Ghosts! That's the full-size DLC -- what we used to call a "sequel". And now I'm all thinking about the narrative structure again. So I'm going to totally cheat and write the Cloudpunk post I should have written. I'll call it my City of Ghosts review, but that's just the cover story.
(Which is to say, this post covers both games.)
(Psst: I'm also going to get to Chicory: A Colorful Tale and An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs. Don't tell anyone. It's a surprise. The surprise is dogs.)

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.