Gone Girl: Sympathy for the GamerGater

This post contains spoilers for the film “Gone Girl”.

I managed to catch Gone Girl during its last days in the first-run theaters. I feel glad that I did; it’s a stylish film, what I think of as a Fincher/Reznor collaboration (per The Social Network) where the latter’s synthesized instrumental score is nearly a character unto itself, stepping into the foreground during the tensest scenes, playing as important a role as the actors’ spoken dialogue. I liked that.

The film’s content, though, I feel less unqualified admiration for. Maybe this is informed to some degree by the coincidence of the title’s initials, but it struck me as a film quite in step with GamerGate’s anti-feminist, even gynophobic philosophies. Gone Girl’s story takes place in a world where women actually do the awful things that GamerGate accuses its own female harassment-targets of. I couldn’t help but see it as a window into the mind of men who are petrified with contemplation of the life-upending terrors they fear women as having the power to perpetrate.

Continue reading Gone Girl: Sympathy for the GamerGater.
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Barbetween

I failed to mention, six months ago when it was new, that I made another very short IF piece called Barbetween. Here’s a little trailer I made for it last month:

I made that trailer because the Independent Games Festival requires that at every entry have at least one video attached to it — and, verily, I have submitted Barbetween an as entry to the 2015 IGF. Here it is in that context. (Zarf’s Hadean Lands is there too, by the way.)

Barbetween was originally written as an entry for Shufflecomp, a truly inspired interactive fiction game jam run by Sam Kabo Ashwell last spring. It challenged its participants to create games around songs that randomly assigned to them (based, in turn, on shuffled-up playlists submitted by other entrants). My playlist included “Between the Bars” by Elliott Smith, whose work I was not previously acquainted with. That’s what this game is based on.

I arrived at the transformed title because “The Barbetween Age” sounded like a legitimate name of a Myst level, to me. And that was relevant because I chose to build the game as a sort of art installation within Seltani, which Zarf’s described here before. The conceit is that the game is a “real” sculpture found on one of the byways of the Myst universe, meant to feel more like a visitable thing carved out of a real location, rather than simply a program running on a website. I tried to accomplish this by including in the work some subtle, perhaps surprising asynchronous communication with other visitors to the site, about which I shall say no more here.

If this sounds interesting to you, I invite you to spend 15 minutes or so in Barbetween, yourself.

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Jmac is reading Aisle at WordPlay, Nov. 8

Toronto’s Hand Eye Society has posted the schedule for WordPlay, an afternoon festival of digital writing and interactive storytelling held at the Toronto Reference Library on Saturday, November 8. (Yes, this coming weekend!)

As Zarf has already written, WordPlay centerpieces this year’s (somewhat geographically displaced) weekend for the IF gathering that the Boston crew has hosted more or less annually since 2010. He and I will both be in attendance, as well as many friends in interactive fiction from around the world. Do say hello, should you find yourself there too.

As the schedule notes, at 12:15 on Saturday I shall be narrating a group play-through of Sam Barlow’s classic work of minimalist parser IF, Aisle, taking next-move suggestions from the audience. I don’t know if this’ll be recorded, but if so we’ll certainly share the results here later.

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Two weeks left of IFComp judging

The 20th annual Interactive Fiction Competition remains open for public judging through Saturday, November 15. There are 42 games this year, many of which you can play right in your web browser, and all of which are free.

This is my own first year as competition organizer, and while I rather expect that many readers of this blog already count themselves as IFComp judges, I humbly invite the rest of you to take a look at this year’s crop of short new text games and consider participating as a judge. If you start within the next few days, you’ll still have time to meet the minimum judging quota of five games.

I don’t mind saying that we’re already on-course for a very healthy vote turnout, with over 2,000 individual game ratings already submitted — but more ratings are better, and with such a large crowd of contestants, every rating does count. I hope you’ll join us!

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Kicking it forwards

Since my Kickstarter project is done -- not done done, I still have postcards and so on, but done enough for soup -- I should write the "support this other Kickstarter!" post.

I've already talked about Elegy for Dead World, which came to a triumphant conclusion a couple weeks back, and Extrasolar, which sadly did not. But there are lots of crowdfunders still open this season. Kickstarters, Patreons, Indiegogos... Indiegogoes? Indiegogols? Anyway, here are a bunch which at least brush up against the interactive fiction world.

Continue reading Kicking it forwards.
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All codes have now been distributed

Whew. The game is up, and all of the gifts and promo codes have been sent out. If you didn't receive something you should have received, contact me.

(This was an epic tale involving late-night gnashing of teeth, a lot of confusing problems, and three distinct phone calls to my bank. Rockland Trust, cheers to them, they were very nice and made everything work. Once it was, you know, banker's hours.)

The web site (http://hadeanlands.com/) now has the purchase links for the iOS App Store, Itch.IO, and Humble.

(Note that the game doesn't appear on the Humble Store site itself. I'm using the Humble Widget to sell the download off my own site.)

Also note this excellent write-up of the game by Emily Short. She was a beta-tester, so it is not an unbiased review, but she gets why the game is built the way it is.

The next phase is the physical rewards. (CDs, postcards, posters, etc.) But before I start focussing on those, I am going to take a bit of a victory tour. I will be speaking about Hadean Lands at the WordPlay festival in Toronto (November 8th). I will also be attending (though not speaking at) the Practice conference at NYU.

Now, I just have to get the leaderboard page updated, and go to bed. Going to bed: important.

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Zarfplan: Less than 24 hours now

App Store approval came through on the 25th. Everything is now queued up to launch the game on the 30th. Again, that web site: http://hadeanlands.com/

Let me reiterate the launch process, now that I know (nearly) all the details.

At one minute after midnight (Eastern time), I will update the web site to show Hadean Lands on sale.

Next, I will send out a batch of email containing Humble and Itch.IO keys. The email will be marked "From: support@zarfhome.com", so keep an eye on your spam filters. Emails should all go out by 2 AM Eastern time.

The iOS app, again, is tricky. I have to employ several different mechanisms and the help of some generous volunteers. (Generous with their time, I mean. I'm covering all the costs.) So the iOS apps will go out in several batches at various times. I hope that they'll all be credited to your accounts by the evening of the 30th.

I wanted to make this perfectly simultaneous, but perfection was not available. I apologize.

The details: if your iTunes account is based in Great Britain, Canada, Germany, or Finland, you will receive the iOS app gifted from one of my volunteers. (Thanks to Juhana Leinonen, Christoph Ender, Brian Lavelle, and Tucker McKinnon for helping!) If you are in another non-US country, you will receive a code in email from support@zarfhome.com; redeem it in iTunes. If you are in the US, you will receive the app gifted from me; the exact time depends on arrangements with my bank.

If you have trouble getting the app, or if you fail to get email that you think you should receive, contact support@zarfhome.com and I'll fix it.

Finally: I will be running... not a contest, exactly. But I'd like to track who solves Hadean Lands first, or at least who makes the most progress in the first week.

I've set up a "Leaderboard" page on the web site. ("Leaderboard" is a silly word for a puzzle adventure game, but it's what everybody recognizes.) If you want to show up on it, tweet to the hashtag #HadeanLands when you complete a ritual for the first time or visit an interesting room for the first time. I'll keep an eye on the hashtag and update the page with your progress.

(I'm updating the page by hand, so don't expect instant results. As I said, I'll only be doing it for the first week or so. There is no prize for this other than the glory of your Twitter-handle in lights.)

(And, obviously, the leaderboard page will have some spoilers! It won't give away puzzle solutions, but it will reveal the names of rituals and actions that you might not have discovered yet.)

That's all I've got. Final preparations tomorrow, and then at midnight -- the magic begins.

Good luck to everybody. Including me.

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Zarfplan: Awaiting approval

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.

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Wow. I didn't see this coming, although in retrospect there were a couple of clues we might have picked up on.

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)

Wow! Just unrolled them and they're in perfect condition. Haven't seen these maps in at least a decade! (tweet Oct 5; photo)

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.

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This month in planetary exploration

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)

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