On November 1, 2010, I opened a Kickstarter project for an iOS text adventure.
Last night I submitted the Hadean Lands iOS app for App Store approval. (And also uploaded it to the Itch.IO and Humble distribution platforms.)
As I said, this will be a simultaneous release on all platforms. So we're now at Apple's mercy -- not an unfamiliar feeling for modern game developers. According to the charts, the iOS approval process is currently running about eleven days. (I'm used to five or six days, but I figure they're swamped with app updates for iOS8 and the newest phones.)
I am targetting October 30 as the launch day. That means you'll be playing the game on the fourth anniversary of the Kickstarter launch. Tidy! If it looks like approval is going to run longer, I'll let you all know.
In the meantime, you can take a gander at the Hadean Lands web site, which is now up and running. The map is the game's big "feelie". Old Infocom fans will get a kick out of the IF sample transcript -- no spoilers for the game itself, just an example of how alchemical IF plays out.
So what will happen on (I hope) Oct 30?
- You will see the game appear in the iOS App Store. (Don't buy it yet!)
- You will see Itch/Humble widgets on the HL web page.
- If you asked for an Itch/Humble download key, you will get email (from me) containing that key.
- If you asked for an iOS app, you will get email (from Apple) notifying you that the app has been credited to your iTunes account.
The last bit is the tricky one. I will be gifting the app directly to all US-based backers. But Apple doesn't allow gifting between countries. So if you're outside the US (or your iTunes account is), I'll have to do some dancing.
Here's what I figure: for the major countries (UK, Canada, Australia, a few others) I will pick somebody I know and PayPal them a bunch of money. That person can then do the gifting. If you're the only person from your country, I'm afraid I'm going to have to contact you directly and PayPal you US $5 -- then you can just buy the app.
(I will be contacting you directly to talk about PayPal matters.)
I realize this is a hassle, and it may take extra time for non-US backers to get their iOS app. I'm sorry; I don't know a better way to do this. (Other than opening bank accounts in a dozen different countries, which I can't manage.) I was hoping that a solution would turn up before the game was finished... Fortunately, none of this hassle applies to the Itch/Humble downloads, so those will all go out on time.
I still have not started to plan the physical rewards. One thing at a time.
Wow. I didn't see this coming, although in retrospect there were a couple of clues we might have picked up on.
- Cyan cuts deal with Legendary to create a TV series based on Myst (VentureBeat)
- Series Based on ‘Myst’ Games in Development at Legendary
- (confirmed by Cyan's Twitter account)
Historically-minded fans will recall an abortive attempt at a Myst miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel, back in 2002. The project wiped out due to creative differences between the producers and Cyan. (Fannish shorthand for the event is "The studio wanted to show Atrus and Catherine having sex on the beach." I don't know how accurate that is, but the Sci-Fi Channel did not have a great reputation for its mini-series and TV-movie events, even before the advent of the Sharknado/Mansquito era.)
And then there was the Myst movie drama.
So now there's this new thing. What do we know about it? Not a release date, sadly; it's too early in the process for that.
Legendary Pictures has a long slate of fan-favorite movies, including Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises, and Inception. But this deal is apparently with "Legendary Television & Digital Media", a division of which I know less. It seems to mostly be a wrapper around recently-acquired Asylum Entertainment, which is known for... a bunch of things I don't know. (The Kennedys, etc.)
The Variety article also says:
The Millers see the Legendary deal as a way to not only create a compelling TV drama but to develop a true transmedia franchise that includes a companion video game and other platforms, particularly tablets, to expand plot points.
Could be good, could be bad, depending on how much attention it gets from Cyan. Hopefully the deal comes with enough money for Cyan to develop first-class new Myst content while still keeping Obduction on track.
Oh, and when I said "clues"? Robyn Miller had referred a few weeks ago to a possible TV show:
A friend and I wrote a very cool treatment for a #myst TV show. Alas, it's not to be. (tweet Sept 24)
We don't know whether any of that relates to the current announcement. It might have been a version that didn't get carried through, or it might have been completely unrelated. Or somebody just changed their mind.
Miller also recently tweeted about a couple of treasures coming up from storage:
Just found ALL the original hand drawn Riven maps! Thank you storage unit. I'll post them soon. (tweet Oct 5)
Could be research materials being dug up! Or he just likes rooting around in old storage units full of treasure. Like the rest of us.
Last year a game called Extrasolar showed up. It's a casual browser game about exploring an alien planet.
I haven't written a full review, but let me assure you that Extrasolar is delightful. You drive a rover around the fictional world, photographing wacky alien life-forms. At the same time, you're drawn through a storyline -- investigating the corporation that discovered this alien world and the technology which made it possible. The story is maybe a little thin, but it's nicely produced and offered in a juicy ARG-like framework. The point of the game, anyhow, is the planet. It's gorgeous, it's detailed, it's got layers of thoughtful biological world-building, and you get to wander around it with a camera. What could be cooler?
Extrasolar belongs to that pleasant species of game with which you can be obsessed without ruining your work day. You set a photography spot for your rover; four hours later you get the results back. Checking your rover is a coffee-break activity, not a way to lose a whole afternoon. If you buy a paid account (a one-time fee), the turnaround drops to one hour, but you can then program up to four photographs at a time.
The game launched with one explorable island and one "season" of story content. It took me about six weeks to play through (on the free, four-hour-turnaround schedule) (I paid up afterwards).
The company now wants to expand this to a second island and a second season. They've set up a Kickstarter project for this purpose. The project deadline is Wednesday, and if you take a look, you'll notice that it's basically tanking. Less than 25% funded. That is not what a KS project wants to see in its final week.
This is sad. Extrasolar is an ambitious idea; it's a game that isn't like a thousand other games you've played. It shouldn't be languishing in the Kickstarter races. For that matter, it shouldn't need Kickstarter; it should have a steady stream of players who are satisfied and happy to pay for season one. I don't have anything clever to say about that, nor any brilliant plan for making it successful. The game industry is rough and outside-the-box games have it rougher. (What this means for my own game-design future -- well, it's not encouraging.)
I will say that you should try it. Even with a free account, you can start to see bits of the story by Wednesday evening, and decide whether to donate to the Kickstarter. Then you should donate to the Kickstarter anyway. I'm not optimistic about it, but I could be wrong.
Extrasolar: Season 2 (Kickstarter)
Yes, that's me blurbing the game on the KS page. Also, I recommend reading through the updates on the KS blog. They've offered up a lot of the reasoning behind their play model, their technology, their science-fictional worldbuilding. This is a level of detail that game companies usually don't get into in public, and it's worth a read even if you don't plan to donate.
Here's a more energetic project: Elegy for a Dead World, a game about exploring an alien planet. But in a completely different vein!
I know less about this one. I've walked past a demo at PAX, and I've talked a little with the designers, but I haven't tried it myself.
The idea is that the game offers you images and fragments of a setting; then you write. That's the whole thing. It's not a puzzle game and it doesn't have a secret story built in that you're supposed to uncover. It's a system for players to create and share their own texts. A nice set of writing prompts and a framework to write in. If you're unsure about the literary inspirations here -- the three alien worlds are Shelley's World, Keats' World, and Byron's World.
This is way out there. It has more in common with a fanfic challenge than anything else. I have no idea if it will work; I don't even know if it's the kind of thing I want to play.
But this is exactly what I've backed it. I want to see more strange, experimental, off-the-wall games get launched. And this one, as I said, is doing a lot better. It's over 50% in the first week, which is on track for success.
(I have to admit, my first question was "Can people build environments for their stories and then explore each others' worlds?" Because I am obsessed with building and exploring worlds. No, that's not what Elegy is about. You can read each other's texts, and there will be some kind of rating system so that popular ones float to the top.) (I have no idea what they're doing about the kind of gamer who draws a dick on everything.)
You should back this one because it's a crazy idea that no reasonable dev studio would pursue.
Elegy for a Dead World: A Game About Writing Fiction (Kickstarter)
I have been turning the crank hard and I am tired. Admittedly, there've been a lot of FTL breaks. They get some of the blame for me being tired.
As you recall, a beta version went out to testers on September 8th. Since then, I have gotten loads of transcripts... five megabytes of transcripts! With 16000 commands! All of which I've read through!
Yes, I'm posting these statistics just to impress you with my diligence. A lot of that transcript-reading was "skim through parser errors and player notes." Nonethless, a lot of useful feedback.
The backer surveys have gone out. I have heard back from 610 backers, about 85% of you. Thanks!
If you are among the disappointing 15%, please check your Kickstarter account for the survey, or send me email. I don't need your email address right away, but I do need the stuff about your iTunes account (Apple ID), Humble Store account, or Itch.IO account.
Also the question about "how do you want to be listed in the credits". It will be difficult for me to make corrections to the credits list after the game ships. For various technical reasons, when you update an IF game file, you break all the old saved games. So I will be doing that cautiously in the iOS version at least.
So, here's where I am with the game.
Last night at 8 pm I tagged a branch, compiled a release build, ran the end-to-end test script, and pinged the testers about where to download it. Hadean Lands is now in beta.
(If you chose the "access to the closed beta-testing phase" backer reward, and you haven't gotten email from me, please contact me for testing info. Assuming you still want to test, I mean.)
This momentous day is a good time for some announcements!
Hadean Lands will be available both as an iOS app and as a portable (Glulx) game file. The Glulx version will be playable on Mac, Windows, Linux, and anything else that the (open-source) interpreter can be ported to. I expect to sell the Glulx version through the Humble Widget and through the Itch.IO game download service. The sticker price will be $5 no matter where you buy it from.
All backers will get the Glulx version as a free download. Yes, every person who backed me. Even if you contributed just a dollar; even if you asked for your money back; everybody. This wasn't part of the original Kickstarter plan, but you deserve something extra for waiting this long.
I am going to ship the game first, and physical rewards later. People signed up for postcards and posters and CDs and calligraphy and all that good stuff. It will all happen! But I am not going to worry about any of it until you have playable copies of the game.
(Footnote to the above: I do not plan to be on the Humble Store or in any bundle. I'm just going to use the Humble tool for selling downloadable content. I might wind up on the Humble Store at some point in the future.)
What's the timeline? Later this week I will send out the dreaded Kickstarter backer questionnaires -- one for everybody, one for people who get physical rewards. These will cover shipping addresses, App Store account names, whether you want your Glulx download from Humble or Itch.IO, and so on.
Beyond that, I have several tasks still in front of me, including cover art, a map, a web site, and integrating the game into my iOS framework. Plus the time it will take Apple to approve the app. I'm allocating a month. That's not a hard deadline, but as a rough target, think "early October" as our ship date.
This means that HL is likely to ship in the middle of IFComp voting. This is a right nuisance but we'll have to manage. I can't promise to get HL out before IFComp starts, and it would be stupid to delay it until after IFComp is over.
One of the tasks of my list is "the expectations-setting blog post". I was half-joking when I wrote it, but I think this is a good time to talk about how Hadean Lands has come out.
As you probably know, online discussion in the gaming world has recently gotten noisy and nasty. Plenty of people have written about this. I haven't written about it.
I have solid reasons for not writing about it. I am in the final stages of writing a game. I am prone to being distracted by the Internet, and particularly by big ugly Internet arguments that make me feel terrible but I can't fix them. When these arguments fall my way, I reach for the mute button. I need to finish my damn game.
Plus, my Internet security is imperfect (because security is always imperfect). I'm a straight white guy, so maybe not the most likely target of ire, but if someone takes against me I'm hosed. My web sites could be compromised. People could demand their Kickstarter money back. The worst time for this to happen would be right as I'm shipping four years of my game-writing life.
So I've been keeping my mouth shut -- which makes me a coward. Screw that.
On Monday an open letter to the gaming community went up. It is a simple statement:
We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.
If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.
If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.
This was organized by Andreas Zecher. A lot of names appear below it; you will see mine there.
That's a start. As we all admit, signing a letter is easy. I want to say more. I'm not sure where to go, though. So I'll say some pro-forma stuff, and then I'll tell a little story, and then I'm done.
The month is not over, but I am heading to DragonCon for a week. So you get your report early. Conveniently this allows me to report "not quite done yet" without too much slippage past my mid-August deadline. And without smacking into the more realistic end-of-August deadline.
It's not quite done yet! But at least the update posts are getting closer together, right?
At this point the entire puzzle-line of the game is playable. That is, you can start at the beginning and solve every puzzle. (Without using cheat or debug commands.) This doesn't end the game; it leaves you in a state marked "endgame", although "denoument" would be a better term. It's the wrapping-up sequence which leads to the ending text. There are no puzzles here, but it's an interactive sequence. At least, probably interactive.
I've intentionally left the denoument flexible -- or, if you like, "undesigned" -- because I didn't think I could construct it without the whole of the game in my subconscious. It's the last whiff of my "implement the first scene first, then the next scene, and so on until the end" plan. I stick to that rule for short games. It would have been impossible for HL, but I am writing the last scene last.
So that's the last task, mostly. Plus I have a few bits of background color to fill in, and the extremely annoying travel bug that I mentioned last time. And there are still 59 "TODO" marks in the source code; I should look through them and (mostly) delete them silently.
I will do some of this work at DragonCon. (What? Travel is good thinking time. I can't convent for a week straight. There'll be a lot of time alone in a hotel room, or wandering around a strange city.)
At the farthest limit, I will have it all wrapped up in the first week of September. I will then pass the complete playable draft around to the beta testers, and start looking at the iOS work.
I will also write another update post at that point. So -- you'll hear from me in less than two weeks. At that point I'll be able to talk more about the process of Shipping The Damn Thing. Strange and scary as that prospect may sound.
The publisher itself doesn’t market them this way, and I haven’t run across anyone else applying the label. So, from my own perspective, let me say it first: Telltale Games’ most recent narrative video games, including The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, have realized the ancient dream of true interactive television.
By this I don’t mean TV shows with audience call-in gimmicks attached, or experimental games delivered via broadcast television, or similarly venerable exercises of the medium. I mean an evolutionary application of contemporary television storytelling techniques to the naturally interactive environment of video games to create something entirely new, and deeply interesting.
We would like to invite the IF world to show up and hang out at WordPlay in Toronto on November 8th. (Free admission.) That whole weekend, really -- we'll have some kind of dinner and stuff.
For the past few years, the Boston IF gang has hosted community get-togethers in association with various local game-related shindigs. (First PAX East, then NoShowConf.)
What with one thing and another, that's not happening in Boston this summer. (Although we will be in attendance at BostonFIG in September.)
However! Jim Munroe is running his second annual WordPlay festival in Toronto on November 8th. This seems like an excellent opportunity to declare a get-together. So let's do that.
(Discussion on forum thread: http://www.intfiction.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=14961)
I didn't go to Mysterium this year. I wanted to; it was held in Spokane, so the attendees got to visit Cyan's offices and chat with Rand and Robyn Miller and basically geek out all over the place. It didn't fit in with my summer plans, though. Fortunately the fans took copious notes. Here's the current Myst news:
Obduction development continues. Unreal 4 engine.
Cyan has posted a gigantic folder of Myst Online concept art (dropbox link). This is early material -- I'm guessing 2000 to 2002. A little bit of this wound up in Myst Online, and a bit more has leaked out online, but most of it is new to me.
A group of fans have gotten permission to work on Myst Online content -- updating areas from Myst 5, building areas from the concept art above, and importing original fan Ages. These may wind up in the official Myst Online server, although the final decision is up to Cyan, obviously. They say they're aiming to have something playable by the end of this year. I hope that works out. (More discussion in character.)
The Starry Expanse project (a fan remake of Riven) has made excellent progress building Riven's Jungle Island. Here's a video tour (youtube) of what they've done. You'll see that some textures are missing, and the water effects need work, but what they've got is fantastic.
Unwritten, the Myst-setting RPG, has been somewhat delayed but is making progress. They've shipped their Kickstarter tchotchkes; I have a nice D'ni-style notebook and some wooden tokens. (This is a Fate-based RPG, so there are Fate tokens.) The game manuscript itself has gone through a couple of rewrites, with input from Leonard Balsera. Last I heard they were aiming at shipping this month, but I get the impression it'll be another couple more.
There was a pancake printer. I don't know either.
Further notes from the convention:
Mysterium is back in Boston next year, and I hope to be there.