(Cases that are "curious" are as overdone as things "considered harmful". This one is just a nuisance, but I still have to solve it.)
When I started planning HL for iOS, I figured that I'd charge $5. It wasn't a casual-tiny price, it wasn't full-on-desktop-game. (2010 was early in iOS history but we could already see what "race to the bottom" meant.) I wrote up the Kickstarter page and offered $3 as the basic backer pre-order level -- "a $5 value!" So that was pretty well locked in.
During development I decided to release the game for Mac and Windows as well, but I kept the $5 price point. I'm not sure I had any hard logic for this beyond "I don't want to think about it." With a dash of "nobody will complain if it's the same price everywhere." I've had a couple of limited-term sales, but HL has basically been $5 since it launched.
Now I'm (slowly) approaching a Steam release. Scary! And worth revisiting my old assumptions. Should I raise the price?
(I'm not lowering the price, don't be silly.)
The good example on everyone's mind this week is Stephen's Sausage Roll, which launched with a $30 price-tag and an equally brazen attitude of "I'm worth it". Or, more, precisely: "Do you want this particular kind of puzzle? Are you going to jump up and down on it until your knees catch fire? If so, I'm worth $30 to you. Everybody else, just walk on by."
Also, as my friend Chris noted: "if this was a $5 game i'd just put it down and say 'whatever, too hard' [...] but being invested means i have to play it." Buying a game is buying into the game. We all know this, but the difference between $5 and $30 really throws it into the spotlight.
So maybe this all describes Hadean Lands too? Parser IF is niche appeal in a nutshell. Maybe I should kick it up to $7 or $10 on Steam. Or more?
I asked around my IF friends, and several of them said sure, they'd pay $10. Of course, they all own the game already, so it's not exactly a useful sample!
Many factors collide here.
- What price? Dare I go beyond $10?
- Do I also raise the iOS price?
- Do I also raise the Mac/Win price? (On Itch.IO and the Humble Store.)
- I'm adding the journal and map features (which exist on iOS but have never been seen on Mac/Win). I could say it's an "enhanced version" because of that.
- I'm also fixing some minor but long-standing bugs. It's probably asinine to call it "enhanced" on that account, though.
- I really don't have time in my schedule to extend the game in any way (beyond the journal and map UI).
- When it comes down to it, will Steam users come after me in a torch-bearing mob for raising the price of an already-released game? Or is "new to Steam" good enough?
(But one major point of the "I'm worth it" strategy is to signal to the torch-bearing mob to go elsewhere, because they wouldn't be interested in the game to begin with! SSR has a delightfully high rating on Steam, because it's only purchased by people who want it.)
We just got a new issue of SPAG. (The Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games, a long-historied zine of the IF community. It's old enough that it was originally "Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games" because we thought IF might die out or something. 1994, right?)
I want to respond to Ted Casaubon's article, "Safeguarding Your IF Voting From Animal Attack". The author looks at our IF voting traditions (IFComp and the XYZZY Awards) and puts them in context with last year's furor around the Hugos, the (much more famous) annual awards of the science fiction and fantasy community.
This is an excellent article overall. Ted's comparison is absolutely one that weighed on my mind last year, and still does today. The 2016 Hugo nominations were last month, and XYZZY nominations just started. Does the videogame world have a radical-angry faction analogous to the Sad/Rabid Puppies? Why yes. So it could happen here and we should worry about that. The article talks about that possibility and it does a good job.
Here's a work-in-progress shot of Hadean Lands on MacOS. I'm using an extended version of Lectrote, with HL's map and journal windows added in. (The iOS release of HL has always had these, but not the Mac/Win releases. Until now!)
Yes, two different windows are titled "Map of the Marcher". I'll fix that.
(Background: Lectrote is a new interpreter for Glulx IF games -- meaning most recent Inform 7 games. It runs on Mac/Win/Linux, and it supports all Glulx features except audio. I still have a "beta" label on it, but it's been stable for people so I think it's about ready to 1.0-ify.)
Once this is ready, I'll soft-launch it as an update for existing HL users (people who bought the desktop version through Itch or Humble, plus Kickstarter backers). I'll also post the process of turning your Glulx game into a Lectrote app like this.
In other news, I was interviewed on another podcast! Guy Hasson of Blind Panels talks to me about pretty much the entire history of IF. Plus other stuff I've done.
I could have titled this post "Survived GDC!" Maybe even "Surviving GDC," since I've worked up some tips about the experience. But before I get there...
GDC was great. Had a blast! Involving no literal explosions! So a big win all around.
I got to see a whole lot of people. If I start listing names it'll get boring and I'll forget some anyway. So I'll just note that I met Alexis Kennedy (of FailBetter Games) and Jeff Vogel (of Spiderweb Software). Among lots of others. And of course even more people that I know from the IF world or the game conference circuit and was happy to see again.
- Narrative Innovation Showcase (lightning showcase by many designers, assembled by Clara Fernández-Vara and Matthew Weise).
- Meg Jayanth on NPCs in 80 Days. (Here's a related talk she gave at Practice last year -- Vimeo.)
- Alexis Kennedy on narrative in Sunless Sea, and also boozing it up on stage.
- Sam Barlow on Her Story.
- Adam and Rebekah Saltsman talking about how they decide what games to develop at their indie studio.
- Jane Ng on the art design and implementation of Firewatch.
- The development of the Hitman and Tomb Raider franchises into Hitman Go and Tomb Raider Go.
- Tetsuya Mizuguchi looking back on 15 years of Rez.
- I didn't even attend any of the Friday talks, such as the extremely interesting open-source release of Inkle's game engine.
I finished Firewatch last night, only a bit later than everybody else on the planet. (Catching up!) (I am not in fact catching up at all.) I see that Jmac has already posted about it, and I don't have a whole essay's worth of thoughts. So this will be a bit of a response post.
My immediate thoughts upon finishing the game:
Firewatch was a nice little story game that worked well for me. I enjoyed walking around in the slightly-stylized wilderness. The park was big enough for me to explore over a few days, but not so big that I got tired of crossing it (in a given chapter) or inhabiting it (over the whole game).
The designers had a great sense of how to vary the feel of the environment. Different "biomes" had different color, texture, and audio palettes. Time-of-day changed the environment, which is old hat; but FW had the additional axes of season (beginning of summer to the end) and the slowly-encroaching wildfire.
Yes, I had a sense of compression -- it was a pocket world made up of micro-worlds. But that's appropriate, really. I didn't want to spend a real-life week hiking back and forth. Similarly I appreciated the magical map locator. Yes, orienteering would have been more realistic without it, but I would have gotten fed up with that aspect of the game quickly.
The biggest strength of the game, obviously, is the voice acting. The biggest weakness (for me) was the midgame tease of the "you are a psycho" trope. I spent a fair part of the game thinking "Oh, they're going to do that damn ending" and disengaging from the story thereby. In fact they didn't do that damn ending -- spoilers, you are not a psycho -- so I got back into it towards the end. But it was a misfire of the story construction.
I also felt somewhat harassed by the radio-response UI, which was notably terrible on MacOS. Momentum scrolling made it difficult to stop on a given choice, especially with a short time limit, especially if the frame rate was down (as it often was on my middle-aged iMac). I feel like one particular misclick changed the whole ending of the game -- that is, not my character's ending, but the interpretation-of-what-happened discussion that occurs at the end. So that was annoying.
As for the overall narrative structure... FW doesn't push any particular boundaries; it grabs some familiar structures and makes a good job of them. E.g., the interpretation-of-what-happened discussion at the end. Or the way it reflects dialog choices into the game world later on. Or the game's introduction, which is not just CYOA-style IF, it's practically a Twine clone. (For example, it adopts the convention of highlighting the last few words on a page as a "next page" link, rather than having an explicit "click to continue" button. This isn't something inherent to Twine, but it's evolved in Twine story-game culture.)
That's all I've got. Glad I played it. Glad it was the size it was.
Now, onto Jmac's post, which I see is also about pacing...
Well, I didn't have the same problems. The transition to the focus on the two lost campers was kind of rocky, yes. But the game offered it up and I went with it. I'm generally complacent when the author gives me a push. (That's why I'm terrible at reading mysteries. I'll follow any misdirection without complaint.)
I did feel that the game did a poor job of linking together the two backstory-stories: the protagonist's sick wife and the lost campers. It's not that either of them disappeared from the game; but when one came up, the other faded away, and vice versa. So there was a disconnection there, but it wasn't between me and the scenery.
No, I did not find the cabin. Yes, I adopted the turtle. Then I forgot about the turtle until the last day. That could have been kept more on-surface. The turtle was fine, don't worry.
I suspect that I did not play Firewatch at the pace it expected. In retrospect, I approached the game as a dual role-playing exercise, in unwitting partnership with the actor Rich Sommer, who so memorably provides the voice of player-character Henry. While I did love participating this unusual sort of time-displaced acausal improv, I may not have kept to the trail the game had marked for me, to my own detriment.
An earthy dude in every respect, Henry spends the whole game in radio contact with an off-screen colleague, and makes his opinions, desires, and emotional state all entirely transparent. Which is not to say blunt — Sommer portrays him with subtlety and sincerity. Henry is just not a man who hides his mood. And that mood is often I have to go do this thing, now.
I always took this, willingly, as a cue to hustle. While the game always tempts you to explore the woods freely using Henry’s (entirely diagetic) map and compass, doing anything other than making a beeline to his next goal would have felt like the letting the backside of the pantomime horse drag his feet while the front surged ahead. Despite my suspicion that the game would have allowed me to put Henry’s concerns on hold as long as I’d have liked to instead have him investigate odd spots on the map, the thought of it just didn’t feel right. Onward!
In so doing, though, it seems that Henry and I hiked right past a lot of interesting stuff, there in the game’s recreation of the Wyoming wilderness. Shortly after I finished the game, a friend asked whether I’d found the elk, a detail that a lot of players had apparently overlooked. No, I hadn’t found the elk. Today I learned that there’s a turtle of some interest elsewhere within the game, and a cabin. I did not find any of these things. I do not mind that I didn’t! I seldom obsess over “one-hundred percenting” games; I play until I feel done, and the ending Firewatch handed me felt like enough.
However, the fact that I did jog past all these sights made me reconsider how the presentation of the game’s story seemed unusually out of sync with my experiencing and processing of it.
Early on, we see some unsettling things, and we hear reports that people we’ve met earlier are missing. Presently, the main character becomes convinced that strange and terrible events are afoot, and that he or others might be in imminent danger. Shortly into the mid-game, these concerns become interleaved with a “B-story” regarding a boy and his dad who used to camp often the woods, long prior to the player-character’s arrival.
If I sound uncertain about these latter characters, it’s because I started learning about them while my focus as a player remained entirely on the tension of the “A-story”, all the scary stuff and unnerving encounters. I wanted to follow those, and see what happened next! The game, on the other hand, wants the player’s focus on the first thread to cleanly dissolve into the second, just in time for the reveals near the end of the story.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way for me. My Henry, in his hurried pace, started putting two and two together far sooner than I did, and began to speak his conclusions out loud while I was still jumping at shadows and thinking “Wait… who are these guys again?” The given denouement made sense, I suppose, but I still felt like I’d missed some important cues, despite my earlier efforts to closely wear the role.
Interactive narrative is hard, and interactive narrative that leaves pacing in the player’s hands — tying it to an explorable map, in this case — presents its own unique challenges. While text-based interactive fiction sits on decades of examples, beautiful, accessible, visually immersive “walking simulators” like Firewatch have only begun to figure it out for themselves. I very much look forward to more work like it.
Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book by Jason Shiga is now available for the 4th-gen Apple TV.
That's pretty much the whole announcement. You can buy it. If you've already bought the iOS version of Meanwhile, you can download it for Apple TV for free. (Go to the App Store app in the TV interface; select "Purchased"; scroll down and select "Not on this Apple TV".)
Oh, and the iOS version has been updated to fully support the iPad Pro. Somebody with an iPad Pro, try it and tell me how awesome it is.
On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist’s wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?
MEANWHILE is not an ordinary comic. YOU make the choices that determine how the story unfolds. MEANWHILE splits off into thousands of different adventures. Most will end in DOOM and DISASTER. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.
I've been steadily updating Lectrote, my new cross-platform(*) IF interpreter. In the past month it's gotten icons, a preferences dialog with font and color options, and -- most exciting from my point of view -- autosave.
(* Cross-platform meaning that Lectrote runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The interpreter only runs Glulx games, not Z-machine or TADS or any other format.)
Autosave means that if you close the game window (or quit the interpreter) and then open it again, you will find your game where you left off. You don't have to use the
RESTORE commands unless you want to keep multiple save points.
As I wrote last month, autosave is a bit of a nuisance. I spent February getting it all polished up and tested. And then the tests revealed some obscure low-level bugs in the iOS implementation of autosave. Turns out my iOS Hadean Lands app was failing to store one VM table, and therefore running about 50% slower than it should have. Whoops. Good thing I wrote tests, right?
Lectrote on the desktop seems to be adequately speedy for most games, including Hadean Lands. So that's the last big technical barrier to creating a really nice HL app for Mac/Win/Linux...
I don't mean to imply that a Steam release is coming this week. It will still take some time to adapt Lectrote to a single-game interface. Naturally I will document this process! I want to make things as smooth as possible for any author who wants to release an Inform game as a Mac/Win/Linux app.
(The iOS process is, er, not very smooth. This is mostly because Apple's process for the iOS App Store is baroque, to say the least. I'm not planning to put HL in the MacOS App Store, so it should be simpler.)
I'll also see if I can include the extra dynamically-updating windows from the iOS version of HL: the clickable map and the alchemy index. In theory, these aren't too hard to set up -- I can copy the logic and contents right over from the iOS app. In practice, theory sits on the curb and laughs at you when you say things like that. So we'll see.
But the end is in sight. Give me another couple of months.
Once I have a working HL app, I will release it as an update for the existing Mac/Win/Linux versions of the game. If you have downloaded HL from the Humble Store or Itch.IO (either as a purchaser or a Kickstarter backer), you will be able to download the new app and try it out. If no horrible bugs turn up, I'll start preparing the Steam release.
(Yes, it's been available on my web site all along. But sub-Q is cool! Also they pay for reprinting short IF! I like that sort of thing. So go replay it there, if you haven't tried it in a decade or so.)
SUtW is an interesting side note of its era. 1997 was still solidly the era of "IF means puzzle-based parser games", although IFComp was rapidly loosening up the definitions. My idea wasn't exactly choice-based IF -- I was still committed to freely-typed input -- but I wanted to get away from standard verb-noun commands. And, of course, I wanted to try escaping the notion of puzzles.
I wound up with a sort of freely branching, non-goal-oriented narrative; what we might call a "time cave" today. I wasn't able to sustain much of it. But I liked what I got.
(I'd have a hard time telling you exactly how big the structure is! Some of the source code got eaten by a hard drive crash -- remember when MacOS didn't have memory protection? It wouldn't be hard to disassemble the Z-code and reconstruct the source, but I've never had the urge.)
Thanks to Tory for this opportunity, and also for pulling together the cover art. SUtW predates the era of IF cover art, so I didn't have any ready to go.
I am happy to report that Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book has passed its review for the Apple TV store. It will be available on February 29th. Because Leap Days are nifty.
Jason and I are excited about this launch. If you're not familiar with Meanwhile -- and, really, you should be -- it's Jason Shiga's mad-science fairy tale about a kid in a laboratory of crazy inventions. You've got a time machine, a mind-reading helmet, and a doomsday device. What more could you want?
Meanwhile started out as a book, and I adapted it for iOS a few years back. Now I've ported the app for the Apple TV -- or rather, I've re-engineered it. Going from a touchscreen to the Siri remote forced me to completely rethink how the app focuses and displays the panels of the comic. It's come out beautifully, if I may say so.
(And, as always, Meanwhile is completely playable using VoiceOver for people with visual disabilities.)
Meanwhile will be a joint purchase. If you've bought the iOS version, you'll be able to download the Apple TV app for free as soon as it's released. And vice versa.
As far as I can tell, there aren't any interactive graphic novels on the Apple TV store yet. (Do people still say "hypercomics"?) So this is our window. Maybe we can start a trend. Pass the word around.