Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A couple more recent puzzle games

We're coming up on IGF judging season. Okay, actually we're a week into IGF judging season. I haven't jumped in yet due to various other tasks that piled up my Thanksgiving holiday. (You might have seen yesterday's post.)
Anyway, this means I'll be accumulating a lot of game review posts which I'll drop in a batch in a couple of months. But before I start that, let's clear out the ones I've already written!
  • The Entropy Centre
  • The Case of the Golden Idol

Monday, November 28, 2022

NarraScope 2023: June 9-11, Pittburgh

A quick note that we've gotten things rolling for NarraScope 2023! The conference will be in Pittsburgh (my old college town), hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. (Not my old college, but right next door.)
We're really excited to have another in-person event. But we know the past couple of virtual NarraScopes have attracted plenty of online attendees who won't be able to make it to Pittsburgh. So we're aiming to run the (perhaps-mythical) hybrid conference. All events will be streamed, and we'll do our best to keep conversations flowing in the NarraScope Discord.
You can read the full announcement here. We've also posted the call for proposals for program items.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Leviathan launches today on Steam and Itch

It's out! The latest interactive comic by Jason Shiga, author of Meanwhile.
The first choice in Leviathan
A seaside village – and a monstrous threat. Explore as you choose, by day or by night. Can you unravel the secrets of history and defeat the Leviathan?
Leviathan is a comic, but not an ordinary comic. Follow the paths from panel to panel. Where the path divides, you decide where to go next! A thrilling tale of sorcery, deception, and discovery.
Navigating the Cobalt Isles
I have tested Leviathan on the Steam Deck and it works fine. However, I've seen Steam try to install the wrong version of the app on Steam Deck. If it doesn't launch, select Properties, Compatibility, Force the Use... and then select "Steam Linux Runtime". That should get the native Linux version for you.
You can of course also buy Leviathan in its actual-printed-book hardback edition.
The cover of the hardback edition
That's all the news for today. I hope it's enough!
Watch this space for information about the iPhone/iPad version of Leviathan. (It'll happen, but I don't have a release date for you yet.) And of course keep your eyes open for the next in the Adventuregame Comics series!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Recent narrative games: the old school

I didn't intend to play three different takes on the "old school" in a row. Or maybe I did, but didn't realize how different they would be.
Warning: This is the sort of post where I talk about games I enjoyed and mostly focus on what didn't work for me. I recommend all these games!
But endings are hard. Adventure games have always been tricky to wrap up. Adventure, the original, ended with a "master game" which both broke the fourth wall of the cave-world and handed you an uncharacteristically nasty final puzzle. Myst left you trailing around a bunch of worlds you'd fully explored while Atrus told you to buzz off and wait for a sequel. Monkey Island -- but we'll get there.
Naively, you want hit a dramatic, world-changing climax in the story while also smashing through the game's best puzzle. These ideas are, shall we say, in tension. So do you put the big puzzle before the big story beat? Do you make the final puzzle a cakewalk and give the player a victory lap? Or try to make the finale thematically satisfying rather than relying on pure challenge for the high? Can you keep your theme from being undermined by the focus on puzzles or game mechanics? There's a lot of ways you can play it, and a half-century of adventure gaming is still coming up with new ones.
So let's talk games!
  • One Dreamer
  • The Excavation of Hob's Barrow
  • Return to Monkey Island
  • The Past Within

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Leviathan launches on November 14th

Release date! We have interactive-comic-sign, two weeks and counting.
"Next thing I know, our ship is capsized..."
Okay, thirteen days and counting. Jason Shiga's Leviathan will be out Monday the 14th on Steam and Itch. Runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, and -- why yes -- Steam Deck too.
(The print edition is already available. Just to remind you.)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Cyan says Riven remake is "in development"

You may remember I was pretty sour about Cyan's lack of Riven news this summer. The shoe has dropped:
Officially in development at Cyan.
(I said I was quitting Twitter, not that I would stop clicking links on it! But you can also see the teaser video on youtube.)
Cyan actually started teasing this a few days ago -- some images of rusty metal went by on Twitter. Fans said "Ooh, Riven logo?" and they were right. Awesome!
Cyan's FAQ has a little more info. Mostly they say that this is in progress, not "close to done". They don't know release dates, target platforms, or anything else. It's clear that with Firmament development wrapping up for a Q1 launch, the company is shifting to Riven as their next big project. Or one of their next big projects, anyway.
Remember that while Myst has gotten remake after port after remake over the years, Riven is almost entirely untouched. Cyan ported Riven to Windows Mobile and iOS several years back, but that's it. And those were direct ports: the original 2D graphics in the original slideshow format. This will be the first release of Riven with updated graphics and real-time 3D rendering.
If Myst 2020 is any guide, we can expect both regular-screen and VR support, and probably some minor puzzle redesign to improve VR accessibility. Maybe a puzzle randomization mode? Who knows.

Now, if you have been following my blog or any other Cyan fan news, you know there's more to this.
Starry Expanse was a fan-run project to remake Riven in full 3D, updated graphics, the whole bit. Cyan announced in 2019 that they were taking Starry Expanse on board in some yet-to-be-determined fashion. And then... silence. Two and a half years of silence. Until the 2022 Mysterium, when Cyan raised the question and then still refused to address it. In a snide, "shut up and stop asking" way. I was displeased.
They have now addressed this in their FAQ:
Q: Is this the Starry Expanse Project?
A: No, this is a from-the-ground-up remake of Riven from Cyan. However, the Starry Expanse team did assist in kicking off this project. See our blog post here for more details on that.
The second blog post is titled An Open Letter To The Fans of Riven. The important bit:
We spoke confidentially with the Starry Expanse team a couple of years ago about the exciting news that Cyan finally had the resources to tackle remaking Riven. Together, we reached an agreement which allowed us to reference core pieces of their efforts to jump-start our development. They subsequently ceased development on The Starry Expanse Project, as our official efforts to remake Riven began.
[...] The Starry Expanse Project team members are very much alive and exist independently from Cyan. Over the past couple of years, we have worked with and continued to stay in contact with various members of the Starry Expanse team, and have even hired one of their members to join our Riven team at Cyan.
So for the first time publicly, we are happy to report that our effort to remake Riven officially here at Cyan is alive and well, and it was helped by the Starry Expanse team’s years of effort, enabling us to begin the huge task of rebuilding Riven from scratch. With a very focused development team here at Cyan, Riven is well on its way to being reborn!
At the same time, the Starry Expanse site got its first update since early 2020:
We are beyond excited to share in Cyan’s announcement that the Riven remake is finally official, and that our team’s efforts have been instrumental in providing a foundation upon which the new Riven can be built. Although our part of the journey has come to an end, the next chapter will be an exciting one to follow for all Myst fans.
[...] We’ve kept a pretty low profile since [2019] — which was a shift for us after so many years of public transparency — but while we’d handed the reins over to Cyan in the months following our meeting, they were not ready to make a public announcement just yet.
This doesn't go into a lot of detail. That's fine. It seems pretty clear that drama happened behind the curtains. Nobody expects dirty laundry in these public announcements.
The most obvious inference is that the 2019 idea of Cyan working with Starry Expanse just didn't happen. They talked, they shared some work, but for whatever political or personal reason the whole thing stalled out. And it really seems like it stalled out at the beginning. We've had two years of no news because, I figure, there was no progress to report.
Now, "no progress" isn't "no news". If things have gone off the rails, you can say that. I still think Cyan should have been more transparent; but whatever. They weren't and here we are. Riven is underway and the SE team is "moving on to other projects" (except for the one person who's hired on with Cyan).
What did SE accomplish? Its biggest success was photogrammetry -- reconstructing the 3D topology of Riven's islands from the game's 2D snapshots. Cyan's original 3D models are by all accounts lost, or buried on unusable SGI hard drives, so photogrammetry was the only possible way to remake the game. You can read about this in Starry Expanse's blog history. I figure the photogrammetry models are the "foundation" that helped get Cyan's project started.
So I guess that's the end of the Starry Expanse story?
It's not a very satisfying story. You want to hear that the fans all got together and lived their dream of building Riven and had a triumphant release party and got rich and fell in love and grew old together and were played by Daniel Radcliffe in the biopic.
It's no fun to find out that the project got bogged down, or lost in the cracks, or the management sucked, or there was some legal paperwork problem, or people got upset and left. I don't know which it was, if any. Maybe all of them sequentially or simultaneously. "Creative differences" is the usual wallpaper, right?
This is the point where everybody nods and says, hey, we did what we could do, and now there's a Riven project in development and we're happy with that. I am happy with that! I haven't replayed Riven in full since 1997. I've been waiting most of that time for an awesome remake. This will be it.

And if you want to read between one more line...
With a very focused development team here at Cyan, Riven is well on its way to being reborn!
"A focused team" isn't the whole company. Speculate away.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Goodbye Twitter

Back in April, oh my gods, April was a million years ago, I wrote: Yes, I will quit Twitter if Elon Musk buys it.
My thinking hasn't changed, and he just signed. So there it is.
(I originally suggested that I would quit the day the stock was de-listed. Looks like that's tomorrow morning.)
"If Nethack has taught us anything, it's that if you don't eat food, you die."
I am just going out. I may be some time.
I have exported my Twitter account data and signed out of all my Twitter clients. You can continue to follow me here at this blog -- it's got an RSS feed and everything! -- or at @zarfeblong@mastodon.gamedev.place on Mastodon.
(Cross-server following on Mastodon isn't entirely obvious. Copy the link above and paste it into the search bar of your Mastodon page. Not the browser URL bar. It should bring me up and show a + button you can click.)
Further questions:
See my April post. I foresee a lot of ways Twitter can get worse under Elon. I refuse the psychological torture of hanging on every galaxy-brain-tweet trying to divine whether it's bad news. I will be better off for a clean break.
Are you deleting your Twitter account?
No. I'm parking it. I'm logged out. There's a tarp thrown over my Twitter client. Notifications and DMs will not reach me.
But I'm not letting anybody else snarf @zarfeblong. My tweet history remains visible.
If Twitter threatens to delete my account for inactivity, I could log in to preserve it. I won't be checking mentions or DMs, though.
Any chance of coming back?
I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe Elon will turn Twitter into a wonderful well-moderated fairyland. Maybe he'll sell it back off next Tuesday. If it seems like a good idea to come back, I'll come back.
But I am not optimistic about this. No promises.
(If Twitter gets sold off again, I figure it would be to someone even less encouraging than Musk. If it re-IPOs, it would be at a shadow of its former valuation, which was already on the edge of a plummet when Musk stepped in. I don't see a good outcome here.)
Is Mastodon your Twitter replacement?
No! I don't expect Mastodon to turn into an expansive bustling crowd of friendly discussion the way Twitter-circa-2010 did. Mastodon is a bunch of silos and there's friction in between them. This is on purpose.
I'm mildly optimistic that I'll be able to keep up with some friends via Mastodon. If not, oh well.
What about other platforms?
This blog will continue.
I'm on a few Discords regularly. Slack continues to be solid for small social groups. (It doesn't want to be -- Slack wants to be a pure business solution -- but you can still use it that way.)
As for true public social networks, dunno. Haven't seen anything enticing yet. (Cohost does not appeal for reasons that I won't get into here.)
If you want to reach me...
Email is still best: erkyrath at eblong dot com. Gah, do we even bother spambot-fiddling our email addresses any more? What a very 1990s look. So it goes.
See you around.