Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Sarcasm Game (idea)


I tossed this out on Twitter last week: "I am now imagining a text-conversation game in which you don't choose what to say -- but you have a sarcasm dial that you can turn up and down."

That thought was inspired by a card game that I found on the Web, but am now unable to re-locate. (Comment if you know it.) (EDIT-ADD: Relationship by Zach Weiner, thank you Baf.) It was a card game with a satire-romance theme. Each card had a numeric value, and some cliched romantic sentiment ("8: you complete me", etc). Then there was a "Sarcasm" card you could play, which negated the value of the card (8 to -8).

This amused me, naturally, but then the idea got mixed in with game conversation engines. We've seen games where your choices are limited to "friendly" and "hostile", or "positive" and "negative", or some such. But of course the game then spits out a complete response on your behalf. You don't have any control of what positive or negative thing you say.

Sarcasm is a nifty compromise. Imagine the conversation is running along in real time, but you can see your upcoming line displayed as a subtitle. You can slide your controller anywhere from "sincere" to "brutal sneering sarcasm". As your lines come out, the words are predetermined, but the tone shifts.

(Tweetfriends immediately commented "That's just like screenwriting!" and "That's just like business meetings!" Message received: it's just like life.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What IF is harder and easier than


Aaron Reed's recent book Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 opens with this quote:
All around him, the Machines' fleet and orbital stations are blasting away at his tree ships, burning the mighty trunks like firewood.
(-- from The Duel That Spanned the Ages by Oliver Ullmann)

Aaron goes on to describe the development work that this scene would require in a triple-A, commercial, graphical game. Concept artists, modellers, texture artists, animators, sound designers, probably a musician, and programmers to pull it all together. You know the drill.

"As IF, all the author had to do was write those twenty-two words," Aaron notes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cut, wrap, take ten, take a trip to Cuba


(Note: Cuba is metaphorical. I am not going to Cuba. Brush up on your famous movie quotes.)

There we have it; just over $31,000 dollars. (I won't say exactly how much over, but I know who you are.)

Thank you all. To those of you who thanked me, you're welcome. To the rest of you, happy holidays, and if you don't celebrate any near-term holidays -- go invent one. We'll wait. We're not proud. ("Or tired.")

In one sense, the hard part is now over. I can put aside my fundraiser's hat, which (trust me) doesn't fit my head at all. I can go back to designing games and writing code. That's all I've ever wanted, mostly.

In another sense, the easy part is now over. I'm no longer watching money roll in with the tide; now I have to row out and earn it. I owe you people thirty-one thousand dollars' worth of game. Time to get crunching.

And now, some questions from the audience!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The final week


Here we are, with 6.9-ish days to go. I've just passed 600 backers and 26,000 dollars. Those numbers mean nothing to my brain, of course. I can't picture a pile of 10,800 overpriced muffins. I can imagine six squares of people standing ten-by-ten, but I don't know what it would sound like if they all cheered at once.

This whole experience has been a little unreal, is what I'm trying to tell you.

I took this past weekend (the US holiday) as a bit of a dry run. I spent one day eating (that's the holiday), and then three solid days working on IF work. Not the game design, not yet. I answered email, and then did an extraordinarily dull bit of interpreter coding needed for full Unicode support. (Do you know what "Normalization Form D" is? No? Lucky rotter.) This is what my life will be like come January. Overall, a success. I have leftovers, too.

Kickstarter projects traditionally start with a big burst of love, then slow down for a long while, and then rush towards the finish line at the end. I suppose it's different for projects that cross the finish line so early. Nonetheless, and naturally, I'm hoping for a big clutch of last-minute donations. Not because I'm greedy, right? This is fundraising. I'm not allowed to shirk it, because the funds will help me. You know this spiel. So here's my last fundraising plea:

The Hadean Lands story flew around the gamer press right away. Everything since then has been word of mouth. Fantastic, enthusiastic, helpful word of mouth -- but inevitably low-volume word of mouth. I've pushed the story at some of the literary, science-fiction, and fandom news sites, but it hasn't grabbed. Nor is it much of a business story, except for that one (very gratifying) blog repost on CNNMoney.

Therefore: if you think that IF is cool, mention me to your non-gamer friends. I think this project has the potential to reach book-readers, e-book-readers, watchers of smart TV, followers of online narrative projects -- the border between old and new media. Who do you know?

Yes, it's early. I'll come around when the game is released, and try to reach the same people all over again. But that's the future, and this is the last Kickstarter week, so now is when I'm asking.

Whew. Plea ends. Thank you for all you people have done.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The techy post, part 4 of 4


So, here's the Glk and Glulx update plans for 2011.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The techy post, part 3 of 4


The current state of the Inform and Glulx universe...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The techy post, part 2 of 4


Sorry, we've experienced a bit of post bloat. This series will be four parts, not three. (Just four, though.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Halfway, and extended teaser


It's November 16th, roughly halfway through my little experiment.

(What do you mean, we blew past the edges of the Petri dish on day 1? How does that make any sense?)

Rather than stew in self-congratulation -- I can do that perfectly well in the confines of my own skull -- let me offer you a Halfway Present:

An extended game teaser for Hadean Lands. Now with a second ritual to complete! And many more objects to play with in the process!

I hope this gives a better idea of how the game's magic will play out. (Warning: some of the things you will find are not useful in this teaser. They're for rituals later on in the game.)

Now, just a little bit of self-congratulation: CNNMoney asked to reprint my Update #8, the post on running Kickstarter successfully. Very kind of them.

Overall, you can probably guess that I'm utterly thrilled with the way things are going. Contributions are still coming in steadily, if slowly. I'm hoping that the upcoming weeks see my plans percolate out from the gaming press into business reporting, writing circles, and -- heck, I don't know -- web comics journalism. I mean, why aim low?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The techy post, part 1 of 3


I spin a bunch of verbiage on the Kickstarter page (and in the video) about Glulx and Quixe and other silly words. Long-time IF aficionados (with your bottles of aficiolemonade, yes, I know I've made that joke before)... sorry.

Long-time IF aficionados already know what I mean by all those terms; you can tune out now. Contrariwise, if you have no interest in the software architecture of IF interpreters... you can also tune out now. But if you think APIs are cool, read on.

Hadean Lands posts and interviews


In this spot, I'm going to collect links to news articles, interviews, and random discussion threads about Hadean Lands and my Kickstarter effort. Apologies to those of you who have been voraciously reading all the links as they roll by. (Which is all of you, right? Right?)

Comment if you see one I missed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Zarf Goes Independent: Hadean Lands


Hadean Lands cover art

Two weeks ago I put up a teaser image, which drew a lot of nice comments and anticipation within the IF community. (Thank you!) But one image in one blog post does not a lifestyle make, and today the real fun begins.

Here's the scoop: at the end of this year, I plan to quit my job and start working on interactive fiction full time. Yes, really. The space madness has struck and it's time to do this thing. I can't do this in my spare time any more; I have too much work to finish in the IF world, and it eats at me every time I leave for my day job.

Go to the Kickstarter page to watch the awesome introductory video! (A Gameshelf production, of course.) You can also play the teaser scene of Hadean Lands on my web site.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[Boston] Experience the Lurking Horror with us


The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction presents a Special Halloween Event: The Lurking Horror

Get ready for Halloween and come to play The Lurking Horror, an interactive fiction piece that brings Lovecraftian horrors to G.U.E. Tech, a fictional version of MIT. Dave Lebling, author of The Lurking Horror and Zork, also an MIT alumn, will join us as we fight the creatures of the Unspeakable. After playing, we will offer a campus tour of the different locations that are (approximately) in the game.

If you have not played interactive fiction (a.k.a. text adventures) before, this is your chance to learn the basics. If you already know how to play, come and experience how fun it is to play interactive fiction with a room full of people. If you've heard the call of Cthulhu, this is the place to be.

The event will also be broadcast online via ustream.


We've got four other IF events coming in the next two weeks. We announced these earlier, but now the times and locations are set:

Collaborative IF Playing Event
  • Thursday, October 21st, 7:30 pm until everyone's done having fun
  • Tufts, Center for Scientific Visualization, Anderson Hall -- the Viswall
  • Flourish Klink and the PR-IF crew will present several IF games to play in groups. The game is up on a projector screen; somebody reads, somebody types, and everybody can shout out suggestions. We've done this a couple of times at MIT, and it's a lot of fun. (List of games to be announced.)

PR-IF Meetup
  • Monday, October 25th, 6:30 until we're hungry
  • MIT 14N-233
  • Our regular monthly meetup. We will look at this year's IFComp entries, watch a surprise video, and discuss whatever else is up in the IF world.

IF Writer's Workshop
  • Wednesday, October 27th, 7:30 - 9:30 pm
  • Tufts Mayer Campus Center -- the large conference room
  • I (Andrew Plotkin) and the PR-IF crew will host an IF writer's workshop. Please bring a work in progress! (Any amount of progress, even just an opening room. Any IF platform.) We will try out each work for a few minutes, and then discuss how it plays.

Clara Fernández-Vara on Storytelling in Games
  • Thursday, October 28st, 6:00 - 7:15 pm
  • Tufts Halligan 111A
  • Clara Fernández-Vara (GAMBIT Lab, MIT) gives a guest lecture for Ming Chow's Game Development class. It is open to the public. This is not specifically about IF, but about narrative in game design in general.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tufts Interactive Fiction Month


This has been in planning since the summer; the details unfortunately took a while to get solidified. But the web site is up now, or at least the web site is out, so check it out:

Interactive Fiction Month at Tufts University

Tufts (that's in Boston) is doing a whole series of IF-related events, organized by Tufts ACM, with the help of the People's Republic.

Here's the schedule, as it stands right now. (Note: please use the tinyurl version of these links, as the URL may change.)

GET LAMP Screening
  • Wednesday, October 6th, 7:30 - 8:30 pm
  • Tisch AV 304
  • Maybe you've seen it at PAX, but that was months ago! The one-hour convention edition of GET LAMP, followed by discussion by Jason Scott (director), Nick Montfort (MIT), and Andrew Plotkin (me).

Nick Montfort on IF
  • Thursday, October 14th, 2:50 - 4:00 pm
  • Halligan 111A
  • Nick Montfort discusses Curveship, his experimental interactive fiction system which is "designed to allow automatic narrative variation -- that is, computer-controlled, parametric changes in the way the story is told."

Collaborative IF Playing Event
  • Thursday, October 21st, 7:30 pm until everyone's done having fun
  • Center for Scientific Visualization, Anderson Hall -- the Viswall
  • Flourish Klink and the PR-IF crew will present several IF games to play in groups. The game is up on a projector screen; somebody reads, somebody types, and everybody can shout out suggestions. We've done this a couple of times at MIT, and it's a lot of fun. (List of games to be announced.)

IF Writer's Workshop
  • Wednesday, October 27th, 7:30 - 9:30 pm
  • Mayer Campus Center -- the large conference room
  • I (Andrew Plotkin) and the PR-IF crew will host an IF writer's workshop. Please bring a work in progress! (Any amount of progress, even just an opening room. Any IF platform.) We will try out each work for a few minutes, and then discuss how it plays.

Clara Fernández-Vara on Storytelling in Games
  • Thursday, October 28st, 6:00 - 7:15 pm
  • Halligan 111A
  • Clara Fernández-Vara (GAMBIT Lab, MIT) gives a guest lecture for Ming Chow's Game Development class. It is open to the public. This is not specifically about IF, but about narrative in game design in general.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7


Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7, by Aaron Reed. Cool-looking book, eh? It's been out for a few weeks, and I haven't seen a review beyond short "this book is awesome!" posts. I finished reading it last week. I ought to write a review.

This book is awesome, and... hm. What is it? Hm. Okay, what isn't it?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A few iotas of Myst news


I haven't posted one of these since the Gameshelf got its stylish new (that is, Greek antiquarian) logo. But the fanboy I remain, so here's what Cyan has been whispering:

The Manhole for iPhone/iPad/etc is out. (App Store link) It's a whimsical children's story-or-environment -- worth exploring if you only know the Myst series.

Riven for iPhone/iPad/etc is marked as "coming soon". Riven is my favorite of the series, but I haven't played it since its original release -- it's notably hard to get running on modern machines. (Even harder than Myst, which has been updated and re-implemented all over the place.) I am seriously looking forward to this one.

Cyan also pushed a stack of games up on Steam. But if you use Steam, you probably saw that.

And finally, this teaser page was linked from Cyan's home page today (although I don't see it there now). The banner tag was "Never Let Your Timbers Be Shivered." What is it? Looks like some kind of resource-based explore-and-fight. With pirates. That's all we know -- except that a Cyan folk also dropped into a forum thread and linked to this MP3 file.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

IF News & Dungeon Report


It's been a crazy couple of weeks in IF, and we're expecting several more months of crazy on the horizon.

  • Aaron Reed's book Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 has gone to the printer. You can pre-order it through Amazon. This is an I7 tutorial which concentrates on -- well, as the title says, on creating interactive stories. It's not a programming reference manual, and it assumes no knowledge of programming. I haven't seen this yet but by all reports it is fantastic.

  • Jason Scott's movie GET LAMP has gone to the printer and come back. You can order on the web site. He says that they'll start shipping out next week.

  • The Gameshelf's own Jason McIntosh posted his own IF video... oh, wait. You already saw that.

  • We invited people to get together at MIT and play Zork (the original MIT mainframe version). A whole lot of people did! It was a bunch of fun and we will be continuing the IF-playing series.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Ultimate Alphabet: hidden objects kick your ass


Since the dawn of Ravenhearst, the hidden-object genre has been with us. A screen full of junk, and a list of named items to pick out... Was it Ravenhearst, actually? The web is telling me that I should be blaming Mystery Case Files: Huntsville in 2005. That's still pretty recent, mind you.

2005 was also the year Myst 5 appeared, to not very widespread interest. Now, hidden object games didn't exactly displace the graphical adventure game. Those had been receding into their niche for years already. The Mystery Case Files were aimed at the newly-buzzlabelled casual-gaming market, meaning people who hadn't spent their teen years sweating over maps and joysticks. But the two genres have commonalities. Detailed environmental visuals led to a degree of convergent evolution: hidden-object games developed narratives, characters, dialogue -- even physical, mechanical, and symbolic puzzles. Sliding blocks and jumping pegs made their occasional appearance.

But the hidden object world stayed casual -- meaning aimed at a broad market; meaning easy. Picking a microscope or watermelon out of the onscreen welter might be time-consuming, but it didn't require puzzle-thinking per se. Hints were freely available to point out that last annoying dog collar. And when adventure-style or logical puzzles turned up, they stayed at the shallow end of the brain pool.

I don't mean to say I despise these games. Occasionally, when I want to kill an evening or two, I'll put down a few dollars and find me some objects. Recently, I've been trawling Apple's App Store -- because really, if you're going to spend an evening tapping on objects on a screen, the iPad is just the thing for it.

So I found myself looking at Mike Wilks's The Ultimate Alphabet, saying "Well of course." (App Store link.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

IF and the Hitchhiker's Guide, but not the way you think


I have a new theory about IF. Okay, no. It's an analogy. It's not even much of an analogy, but let me change the subject. Pacing!

Let's talk. About pacing.

(Time passes.)

IF authors think about pacing all the time -- in a sense, everything an IF game is pacing. Why is there a puzzle at that point? Because you want the player to stop and engage with the story at that point. Why is some object in a closed (not even locked) chest? Because you want the player to slow down and take in the environment before proceeding. Why did you set up an implicit open action for that door? Because you don't want to slow down the player as he dashes through. Every decision about what to implement, what to split out, and what to bundle together, is a decision about how much attention you want the player to invest at that point.

This sort of pacing has its analog in the world of traditionally-written fiction. When writing a novel, you decide how many words to spend describing each plot event, each character and detail. That's familiar ground.

But then there's the broader sense of pacing: when is the character running for his life, and when is he catching up with his friends? When is she manipulating a hostile alien god, and when is she in the burn ward recovering from the consequences? In other words, how do you arrange different kinds of story action?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Audience participation in single-player adventures


For the past few years, Mateusz Skutnik has been publishing a series of mini-graphical adventures (in Flash) called "Submachine". (JayIsGames has a good list of links and reviews.)

Submachine Network

The games are spare on storyline, but each game has a little bit. Even if the pieces don't fit together tidily... yet. As you might expect, there's been lots of ongoing forum discussion about the series.

Now the author has put up a new Submachine site: Submachine Network Exploration Experience. This is explicitly not a game; it's a set of interlinked mini-worlds, slices of the other games. The only "puzzles" are exploring and discovering new coordinates to explore. (Earlier games introduced a coordinate-based teleporter system.) But -- this is the cool part -- each mini-world contains some printed notes: forum transcripts, giving different people's theories of what's going on and what various parts of the game mean.

This is a lovely way to include the player community in what is, mechanically, a series of solo adventures. It incorporates player contributions; it acknowledges that player response is part of the story, without throwing "canon" (whatever that means) out the window (whatever that means). The Exploration site is clearly expandable -- the creator can add new mini-worlds whenever he wants. Or add new transcript notes. It's not part of the series (there will be more Submachine games) but it's part of the world.

You know my kinks, Watson, so you know this immediately reminded me of Myst Online. Cyan's project was a hugely ambitious MMO, of course, whereas Submachine is one designer's tightly-scoped project. But with SNEE (do I call it "SNEE"?) Mateusz Skutnik is tackling the same issues: ongoing story and the fan community. And, I must admit, he's now a step farther than Cyan ever managed.

(I don't recommend you start with the SNEE site -- it won't mean much if you haven't played the earlier games. Start with Submachine 1: the basement. The whole series is accessible from the Submachine World web site.)

EDIT-ADD: You should immediately read author Sarah Monette's essay on worldbuilding with 10 gnomes, which is about Mateusz Skutnik's hidden-gnome games, their artwork, and how it embraces different facets of the industrial landscape of Elfland. I mean Poland.

EDIT: Spelling the author's name right!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I have not played Echo Bazaar


I have not played Echo Bazaar. But whoo-ee, a whole lot of my friends sure are playing it.

The reasons I'm not playing are as banal as I can possibly make them. I don't want to use my Twitter account that way! I want to play once a night, not once every 70 minutes! I like whining on the Internet!

...I'm busy writing stuff, and I have no time to get hooked on new games. Except for these iPad hidden-object time-wasters! And the new Prince of Persia retread is coming out soon!

...No, look. The truth is that I love this kind of game -- I was an early Kingdom of Loathing fan. Worse, for years I've wanted to write this kind of game. But I only have scraps of filthy sketchwork and insoluble economics diagrams, and those Echo Bazaar people have actually gone ahead and done the thing. And I hear it's awfully cool.

What's even cooler is when a horde of highly literate gamers, designers and interactivity freaks get hold of something like this and start whaling on it in four-part harmony. And suggesting new design ideas. And then the game creators notice and start commenting back.

So, without ullage:

I do not have time, I do not have time...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aliens built the pyramids and all I got was this lovely translation puzzle


In early 1995, when I was a tiny ickle thing and had only written one major interactive game (not a text adventure), I played a web game.

...That sentence requires a respectful pause, because, you remember 1995? Vas you dere, Charlie? Were there games on the toddler World Wide Web?

Okay -- there were; quite a few by then. Not so many that a person couldn't play all of them, or try. I gathered some young fame as the maintainer of Zarf's List of Interactive Games on the Web, and if you were a Mosaic user in those early years, you remember me. Hi!

1995 was the last year of The List, because that summer is when everything went zoom and there were more web sites, and web games, than any human being could shake a stick at. But one of my favorite additions of that January -- really, of the whole list -- was David Levine's Contact Project.

Because he posted it on sunsite.unc.edu, which became ibiblio.org, the original Contact Project web site is still available. Kai the historians!

The format was straightforward. A message was posted -- notionally a sequence of musical tones received from Tau Ceti. (The creator politely transcribed them into letters for us, but no other hints were provided.) The challenge: translate the alien message. As players made progress, more messages appeared, with more symbols (tones) to translate.

So, to begin with -- if you enjoy a translation puzzle challenge, go look at the messages. It's completely fair, and both creative and clever in its use of familiarity (the aliens want their message to be translated, like our golden tablet) and foreignness (they are aliens nonetheless).

Levine set up a web forum (undoubted the first web forum I ever used!) for players to post messages and share information. Looking back on it now, I startle myself: I had completely forgotten how involved I was! I posted frequently, contributed some source code for decoding tools, and maintained a web page of all the information we discovered. (My page is unfortunately lost, but you can reconstruct everything by reading through the archived posts.)

I was also more of a tone-deaf Internet jerk back then. Heya, youth.

That's not what this song is about.

A couple of days ago, David Levine posted a long article about the Contact Project, its origins, and its consequences.

At the end of March 2010, I found out that I was apparently a central figure in a conspiracy theory regarding aliens and a government cover up. This is perhaps the strangest thing that has ever happened to me.

-- from I am a one-man conspiracy, apparently, David Levine

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Villanelle d'Pomme


The golden halo of Steve the Saint
Makes the iPad the only toy worth your time
And developers take it with righteous complaint


An increasingly ironic iron-fisted taint
To those of us who won't give Gates a dime
Dims the golden halo of Steve the Saint


He wagers we'll put up with any restraint
For a shot at the app that's a hit pastime
And developers take it with righteous complaint


By developers' lights, the logic is faint
But a Flash in the pan can never outshine
The golden halo of Steve the Saint


The most Apple-happy pundit cannot paint
This as treating developers any better than slime
And we bend and take it with righteous complaint


The alternatives bog down in Steve's churned ruts
As we all drool at the sound of his chime
And the golden halo of Steve the Putz
And developers take it right in the nuts.



Thanks to Patrick Nielsen-Hayden for the footnote that inspired this little effort.


Just to be clear about this: I have ordered my iPad 3G. I agree with both Siracusa and Datskovskiy: Apple has declared that it doesn't have to care what developers think, and it is right. Because Apple has the device that I want to use. Ultimately, it's about the users, and the users are at Apple's stores, online and off.

For ten years now, the best computer environment available (for me) has boasted the best development and hacking environment available. It's been awesome, but it's been Apple's decision to do it that way; it's not a civil right. Their new computer environment won't work the same way. Too bad. Bad for Apple, in the long term, I believe -- but I can't change their mind.

Will I use my iPhone and iPad? Yes. Will I create iPhone/iPad apps? I haven't decided yet. If I do, it will be in full awareness that Apple can jerk my chain at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. It's not personal, it's not political; it's just a risk of the market.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

PAX East 2010: Zarf's story


This is the story of a five-day weekend, a parhelion, two mazes, mortal terror, a cheese sandwich, magnets, and joy.

Not in that order, though.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stress and relaxation


Which of these games is not like the other? Answer: both of them!



...That's a Zen joke. Here, let me fill your bathtub with brightly colored sleep furiously.

Here's the blurb for Zen Bound:

Zen Bound is a calm and meditative puzzle game about wrapping wooden sculptures with rope. A game in which a high score is not the goal - instead it is something to focus on and enjoy at your own relaxed pace.

...And here's the lead-in for Canabalt:

Tap to start your daring escape.

Bit of a difference in focus there, right?

These blurbs do not lie. In Zen Bound, you rotate your iPhone to wrap a rope around wooden blocks. There's no time limit. The soundtrack (by Ghost Monkey) is a slow, cool-and-smooth jazzy relaxation. You cannot die. You cannot lose.

In Canabalt, you sprint across the rooftops of a city that is being pulverized by giant robots. Let me say that again: pulverized by giant robots. Bombs fall around you, buildings crumble underfoot. You will eventually slip and fall. The soundtrack (by Danny Baranowsky) is a buzzing, thumping techno mix which puts the wind at your back. You cannot slow down. You cannot survive.

So, which of these games is relaxing to play?

Friday, March 19, 2010

IF at PAX-East -- compleat schedule


Everything IF-related going on at PAX!

Some of these are official PAX events, on the PAX schedule. The rest will be in the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite, open noon-midnight in the Back Bay Hilton. (Across the street from the Sheraton.) Come by any time and say hi to IF people!


Storytelling in the world of interactive fiction

(Friday, March 26th, 5:30pm-6:30pm, Wyvern Theatre (312))

Text adventures have been quietly experimenting with narrative gaming for thirty years. Five authors from the amateur interactive fiction community discuss the design ideas in their games -- reordered storylines, unreliable narrators, deeply responsive NPCs -- and how they apply to other kinds of games. (Rob Wheeler (mod.), Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin)

GET LAMP Panel/Screening

(Friday, March 26th, 9:30pm, Naga Theatre (210))

The premiere of Jason Scott's documentary on IF history and culture. Approximately 90 minutes of film, followed by a panel discussion. (Jason Scott (mod.), Steve Meretzky, Dave Lebling, Brian Moriarty, Nick Montfort, Andrew Plotkin, Don Woods)

PAX Speed-IF

(Saturday, March 27th, 1:30pm-2:30 pm, IF Suite)

Write a short IF game in two hours! Actually, we'll give you until 10pm, so you can attend the rest of the convention too. Work alone or in groups. The game theme will be a surprise; I7 and TADS 3 templates will be provided. (Hosted by David Cornelson)

Dispelling the Invisibility -- IF Outreach

(Saturday, March 27th, 7:00pm-8:00pm, IF Suite)

What's working? What's not working? Why? What hasn't been tried? (Harry Kaplan (mod.), Andrew Plotkin, Jason McIntosh, Chris Dahlen, John Bardinelli)

PAX Speed-IF wrap-up

(Saturday, March 27th, 10:00pm-11:00 pm, IF Suite)

Everybody shows off the games they wrote.

Action Castle!

(Sunday, March 28th, 10:30am-11:30am, Wyvern Theatre (312))

"Action Castle" is a goofy role-playing game where the GM pretends to be an IF parser, and the players must speak in IF-ese.

No Hints Please -- Adaptive Difficulty Strategies

(Sunday, March 28th, 1:30pm-2:30pm, IF Suite)

Jim Munroe, Aaron Reed, Dave Gilbert.

Purple Blurb

(Monday, March 29th, 5:30pm-7:00pm, MIT 14E-310)

This is not a PAX event, but it's happening in town the day after PAX. Emily Short and Jeremy Freese speak at MIT on the subject of interactive fiction and electronic literature. Hosted by Nick Montfort for his Purple Blurb lecture series.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dual Transform at JayIsGames


Last month I mentioned the IF Competition at JayIsGames. What I didn't mention at the time was that I entered -- under a pseudonym, which is how I usually enter IF competitions.

Turns out I tied for second place! I announced this on my web site, and twitter and stuff, but did I mention it here? No, because self-promotion is like unto black necromancy to me, and I suck at it.

Today JayIsGames is featuring Dual Transform, my very-nearly-winning entry. With a nice little review-slash-intro. Thanks, folks! You can play it on their web site.

EDIT-ADD: Also the Onion A. V. Club! (Scroll down.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

That "new" "official" Infocom web site


This story has already guttered out, but the serious disassembly happened on Usenet where most people won't see it. So I will dedicate a few hectopixels to documenting the situation.

It began on Thursday, Feb 18th, when Jason Scott -- who should have known better -- posted:

GOOD LUCK, KID: http://www.infocom-fiction.com/ (from @textfiles on Twitter)

The caps were apparently insufficient sarcasm, as this drew a flood -- okay, a small backwash -- of "Oh my god Infocom returns could it be true!" posts, on Twitter and various gaming web forums.

Let us now consider the facts.

The infocom-fiction.com web site has the old Infocom logo, the tagline "Interactive Fiction revisited", and this promo image:



Exciting, huh? The image name implies a game called "Triumvirate", presumably a follow-up to Trinity.

Except, alpha, the web site is not new. It appears to have been registered in June of 2007, and it was last updated in July of 2007. That "coming soon" has been frozen for two and a half years now.

And beta, the web site is not owned by Activision. It's registered to a guy in Germany named Oliver Klaeffling. Now, I have no beef with some IF fan deciding to write a followup to Trinity. That's fanfic, and fanfic is cool. But you shouldn't start cheering for the logo on his web site; cheer for the work. And Klaeffling does not appear to have finished the work.

"But what about the trademark?" you ask. Okay, this is where the story gets -- not exactly interesting, but at least a little bit convoluted.

Activision bought Infocom in 1986. That included all the games and all the trademarks. However, they stopped using the Infocom label on new releases after Return to Zork in 1993. (Zork Nemesis and Grand Inquisitor were just labelled "Activision".) They continued to reprint the old text games as "Infocom" until 2002, and then they dropped it entirely.

I don't know exactly when the legal status shifted, but at some time after 2002, the "Infocom" trademark was up for grabs. (In contrast, Activision kept a firm grip on "Zork".)

In July of 2007, Oliver Klaeffling applied for the Infocom trademark. He had already registered the infocom-fiction.com domain, and he put up the image you see above. Then -- nothing. He never completed the trademark application process. The USPTO declared it "abandoned" in October 2008.

At almost the same time -- October 2007 -- another Infocom trademark application went in, this one by "Omni Consumer Products LLC". This is a deliberately silly company name, but it's a real (small) company. It consists of Pete Hottelet finding fictional products (such as "Brawndo" from Idiocracy) and getting permission make them as real (licensed) products.

So that's where the "Infocom" trademark is now: it's held by the maker of Brawndo. Take that as the character note of the 21st century, if you like. Hottelet does not appear to have to have done anything IF-related, but Dave Cornelson said he was emailing him about the trademark, and maybe something will come of that.

Where does this leave Klaeffling? He doesn't have a trademark, and Activision still owns the copyright on Trinity. In the past, Activision people have been generous about permitting free fan-made games in the Infocom settings. But I have no idea if those people are still at Activision. I also have no idea if Klaeffling intended to release his game for free or as a commercial product. Also, of course, I have no idea how far he got implementing it. Conclusion: I have no idea. But it's safe to say the game isn't coming out this month.

Footnotes: Thanks to Stuart Moore for posting facts rapidly on rec.arts.int-fiction. Also this handy trademark blog post from 2007.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Myst Online: Uru Live Again


I know, I'm supposed to be all on top of Myst news. But I've slacked on this post, which is the post where I tell you that Myst Online is back online, totally free (but Cyan is accepting Paypal donations).

Everything takes longer than expected these days. Cyan Worlds' plans are to move MO:UL to open source, and we finally have some good news. We've taken a first step and started a MO:UL server, so the Ages of Uru are available again. We've opened all the Ages, and added most of the goodies in MO:UL. We're referring to it as MO:ULagain - feel free to explore and enjoy.

-- from Cyan's Play Myst Online page

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Multitasking, with circles and arrows and etc


(Not a game post today, sorry... It's time for Zarf Wibbles About Apple Gadgets.)

What with the blizzard of iPad hype, everyone is talking about "multitasking" and how it is either a crucial tool of the Matrix infoconomy or a hideous, battery-destroying distraction from Getting Crap Done.

Irony shields to maximum, either way.

I just read through an essay, Understanding Multi-tasking on the iPad by Milind Alvares. It is a good overview but I think it oversimplifies to hit its target ("the hell with traditional multitasking", if I may summarize Alvares in five words).

"Multitasking" is a bunch of things, none of which is absolutely crucial, but none of which can be dismissed either. And some of them are stuck together. Let us then list:
  • Software multitasking -- can several programs be running at a time?
  • App multitasking -- can the user do something that involves several apps?
  • User multitasking -- can the user do several things at once?

(The very word "multitasking" begs its question -- what "task" are we talking about, a human's or a computer's? -- but I'm using it for familiarity's (and Google's) sake.)

What do each of these things mean?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

JayIsGames IF competition opens


The 7th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, hosted by JayIsGames has just begun. That's thirty new short-form IF games, around the theme of "escape". All are playable online on the competition page.

This is one of the first big modern-IF events to occur outside the IF community. (The extended federation of IF communities, I should say, since there are many.) This comp has clearly gotten the attention of IF regulars; I see several familiar names on the game page -- Stephen Granade, Jim Aikin, Jim Munroe, among others -- as well as many who are entirely new to me. I am keen to find out both what the new authors are writing, and how the new players react to (what I think of as) the established talents of the field.

Voting is open for the next three weeks, and anyone can vote (you have to sign up). Enjoy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

PAX East -- the IF suite!


Further PAX excitement: I have reserved a large suite on the top floor of the Back Bay Hilton. (Room number TBA.) When PAX begins, this will become the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite.

The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction is the label we've adopted at the Boston IF meetups. We intend to make games and such under this label, someday; but our first offering will be this room, where we will welcome all PAX attendees on behalf of Boston and its rich IF history.

(Hopefully, not all PAX attendees at the same time...)

If you know the IF community online, come by and meet us in real life. (See the PAX page on IFWiki for the list of familiar names who will be at PAX -- it's a long list, and I promise several of us will be hanging out in the room at any given time.) If you're curious about IF, come by and ask us about it. If you want to play some IF, or learn about how to write it, come by and see the software demos we'll have running. If you want to eat potato chips, we can provide those.

(Really, you don't need to be a PAX attendee to visit the room. If you're in Boston and you missed getting a ticket -- we hear they're selling out fast -- you can still come hang out. But you're going to be sad on Friday night when we all leave to do the IF panel, and then watch Get Lamp.)

The current plan is for the doors to be open noon to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, and maybe noon to 3pm on Sunday. (Excepting those two IF event times on Friday.)

Further details will be organized on the wiki page. We'll probably have a SpeedIF event (write a complete IF game in two hours -- bring your own laptop), maybe some less-formal panel discussions, maybe show clips from Get Lamp that didn't make it into the Friday evening showing.

One other event I forgot mention in the last post: Emily Short and Jeremy Freese will be speaking at MIT on Monday, the day after PAX. This is for Nick Montfort's Purple Blurb series, and the details aren't officially out yet, but recent Purple Blurb events have been 6pm in MIT room 14E-310.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

IF activity at PAX East -- schedule!


We now have confirmation of two IF events at PAX:

Storytelling in the world of interactive fiction

(Friday, March 26th, 5:30pm-6:30pm, Wyvern Theatre)

Text adventures have been quietly experimenting with narrative gaming for thirty years. Five authors from the amateur interactive fiction community discuss the design ideas in their games -- reordered storylines, unreliable narrators, deeply responsive NPCs -- and how they apply to other kinds of games. (Rob Wheeler (mod.), Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin)

GET LAMP Panel/Screening

(Friday, March 26th, 9:30pm, Naga Theatre)

The premiere of Jason Scott's three-hour documentary on IF history and culture. Will he show all three hours? Who knows? (Noted via twitter.) (By the way, check out his awesome cover art for the DVD set.)

Purple Blurb

(Monday, March 29th, details TBA but I believe 5:30pm at MIT 14E-310)

This is not a PAX event, but it's happening in town the day after PAX. Emily Short and Jeremy Freese speak at MIT on the subject of interactive fiction and electronic literature. Hosted by Nick Montfort for his Purple Blurb lecture series.


We also have confirmation that PAX East will be sold out and no badges will be available at the door. Preregister or stay home. (By which I mean, "preregister"!) If the cost is a problem for you, they're looking for volunteers, who will get free admission.

EDIT-ADD: I forgot to mention the Purple Blurb presentation on Monday! See above.

EDIT-ADD again: We are going to be hosting an open IF hospitality suite where you can come see IF people and talk and try our games and stuff. See this post!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pointing at "point and click"


In my last post I made sneery gestures at the term "point-and-click game". It is, of course, a meaningless term when applied to computer games, and has been since the mouse was popularized: nearly every game since 1990 has involved pointing and clicking. (I guess the ones before that were "hunt-and-peck games"?)

But, equally of course, genre terms have never made any sense on the literal level. "Science fiction" is broader than fiction about science; "fantasy" is more specific than made-up stories; and, closer to home, "adventure game" does not denote every game about people having adventures.

No, my real beef with "point and click" is that I have no clear idea what it means. What games are point-and-clicks? I have theories. Guesses. I don't know if they match up with anybody else's theories. When someone says "point and click" I have to go look at screenshots to figure out what kind of game it really is.

I never hesitate to blather about genre definitions but in this case it will be more fun to run a poll. Yes, one of those ridiculous Internet polls. Only The Gameshelf doesn't have a poll widget and I'm not energized enough to... well, to ask Jmac to install one... so I'll just post a list and you-all can comment. Comment! I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing.

Which of the following games are "point and click"?

Note that the question is not "which of these are good games?" or "which games did I enjoy?". This is pinning down the boundaries of a category.

If you want to say why a given game is or is not in the category, that's cool too.

Go.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Games I played this holiday season


I spent two weeks sitting around playing games, because it was time to do that. Or, possibly, not yet time... because Bioshock 2 is February, Heavy Rain (from the Fahrenheit guy) is February, that Inferno game is February, God of War 3 is March, Prince of Persia the Movie the Game is May... Yes, I know, those are mostly the brand-name cranking for the year, and I am Part Of The Problem. There are other games that I'm looking forward to.

The point is, it's WinterStuffFair, and what is there out on the shelves that looks cool? Assassin's Creed 2, and a Silent Hill Wii game that they swear isn't another pointless sequel, but a (pointless?) remake.

I didn't play any of those. Instead, I played the original Assassin's Creed, and took breaks in Machinarium.

Nick Montfort introduces IF


Today in Youtube... oh, I'll just quote Nick:

An short introduction to interactive fiction (text adventures, such as Adventure and Infocom's games), the history of the form, how they are played, and a little about what's involved in writing them. With Nick Montfort, http://nickm.com Video by Talieh Rohani for the 2009 Jornada Nacional de Literatura in Passo Fundo, Brazil.



Nothing you or I don't know, but good for the general audience. Plus, you can see some of Nick's hardware collection.

Also: Nick's gameplay teaser video for his game Book and Volume.