Followup on Steam Machines

A few months ago I posted "I am a person who will buy a Steam Machine". This month Valve put up a pre-order page, allowing us to pre-order the controller, the streamy widget, and the first two SteamOS boxes (from Alienware and Syber).

It would be narratively satisfying to title this post "I am a person who has bought a Steam Machine!" Sadly, it's not true. Yet! I will -- I figure I'll order in time for the headline launch date of early November. Pre-ordering might get me a console by mid-October, but am I that excited? Not really. Also, I have a whole lot of work to do this summer and fall.

(I'll have a whole lot of work to do this fall and winter, too. But I will at least have been paid for the summer work!)

The Steam Machine hasn't gotten a lot of good press -- not in comparison to the rapturous E3-load of promises from Sony and Microsoft. A quick news scan turns up headlines like "Don't buy a Steam Machine" (The Verge) and "Microsoft is building the Steam Machine Valve can't" (TechRadar). Well okay.

(On top of that, The Last Guardian really is shipping. Nothing Valve can do about that, obviously.)

I agree with the common criticism: Valve needs to push the "buy this and it works" console brand. Their pre-order web page touts customizability, not simplicity, and then it launches me into a pair of OEM product pages. (I credit Syber for showing me a clean good/better/best sales page, although they then ruin it with pop-up alphanumeric spew. Alienware's page is a mess; four models at the bottom of the page, just above the Beats headphones. Not even ordered by price.)

Just point me at a machine and explain why it's great. Marketing, people!

So. I'll still give it a shot. Valve and its partners are, unsurprisingly, bullish on the coming SteamOS game lineup. (See this quote from Alienware.) That's half the target they need to hit. The other half is to avoid a swamp of hardware-configuration noise which is indistinguishable from PC-land.

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Another technical question from Twitter: the integration of Hadean Lands with its iOS app. How did I set up iOS UI features like the dynamic map and the recipe index?

(Warning: if you don't think C code is interesting, this post is not for you! Sorry.)

The iOS version of HL uses my standard iOS IF interface, extended. I've added two tabs to it. The map tab shows your current location, and you can tap to travel to any room you've visited before. The recipe tab shows an index of recipes and other information you've learned. These work just like the "GO TO..." and "RECALL..." commands, so they don't make the game easier to solve, but they're convenient shortcuts.

I'm not going to post the iOS UI code I used. If you know iOS programming, it's very basic -- textbook UITableView and UIImageView stuff. Instead, I'll talk about the general problem: transferring information between the Glulx VM and your native (C) interpreter.

I should put "general problem" in quotes. There are several Glulx interpreters, after all. But let's assume that you're building a native app for your Glulx game, incorporating the glulxe interpreter engine (in C), and you want to customize it with game-specific features. You've implemented the UI part; now you just need to extract game state information. Say, the player's location to show on the map.

Continue reading Customizing an interpreter for a Glulx game release.
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A few days ago my idle twitter-browsing was upended:

Huh. I just checked the Greenlight page for @zarfeblong's Hadean Lands... I somehow missed the news that Valve had started the GL process (@andetkaihetera)

Really? I, um, missed the news too. But a quick glance at the HL Greenlight page showed:

This game has been Greenlit by the Community!

The community has shown their interest in this game. Valve has reached out to this developer to start moving things toward release on Steam.

I was off at Balticon, so I couldn't dig into the matter right then. (Which is why everybody else announced the news before me.) But now I'm back and more or less caught up on life. So here's what I know.

If Valve reached out to me, I missed it. The Greenlight page says "Updated: May 12 @ 7:24pm", and the voting stats stop on May 11. So I guess the game was officially greenlit two weeks ago and nobody noticed until this weekend? O the embarrassment.

The site now offers me a link to "become a Steamworks partner". So I have begun that process. I have filled out a great many forms' worth of tax and banking info, the usual excitement. (And the usual confusion about whether I should use Zarfhome LLC's EIN or my personal SSN, a question which I will never, ever get right on the first try.)

Bureaucracy aside, what does this mean for Hadean Lands? I wish I could just push a button and launch the thing onto Steam. But no -- not that simple.

Continue reading Hadean Lands greenlit! It turns out.
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Javascript wonkery

Here I will take a break from the ever-burbling stream of IF and Myst news, and talk about Javascript optimization.

You could say it's relevant because it came up in a Quixe bug report. ("I tried loading Emily Short's Counterfeit Monkey.... Load time dropped from 29.4 seconds to 10.4 seconds...") IF interpreter improvements are a high priority for me -- particularly if they could be big speed improvements for a fairly small code change. Double-particularly if they imply I've had crappy Javascript code out there for years.

Whoops.

Continue reading Javascript wonkery.
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New fantasy adventures and guides by jjohn

Joe Johnston, who co-hosted various Gameshelf TV episodes with me back in the day, has lately taken to independently publishing adventures and play aids for Labyrinth Lord, a modern revival of circa-1980 tabletop role-playing games (and which all but states on its website that it’s essentially first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with the serial numbers filed off). You can find them for sale at RPGNow; some are pay-what-you-want PDF booklets, while others make print editions available as well.

His latest work includes Tranzar’s Redoubt, which challenges the players to break into a wizard’s hideout and rob him blind in grand fantasy-grindhouse tradition, as well as How to Hexcrawl, a guide to running traditional fantasy adventures in sprawling outdoor settings rather than familiar square-grid dungeons. Both feature excellent, original artwork by Dyson Logos.

(This news comes via Joe’s own gaming blog, Tabletop on the Desktop.)

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We noted last fall that Cyan had started developing a Myst TV series with Legendary Television. Yesterday this jumped forwards a notch:

The show is not yet greenlit. The deal seems to be that Hulu looks over the script, and if they like it, they'll start production on a season of TV (not just a pilot episode). The script is by Evan Daugherty, who is best known for the screenplays of Divergent and Snow White and the Huntsman.

(I've said snarky things about SWatH, but it was memorable and visually striking, at least...)

The producer will be Matt Tolmach; executive producers will include Larry Shapiro as well as Cyan's Rand Miller and Blake Lewin.

We still don't know anything about the script itself. The Deadline article says "It will explore the origins of the island of Myst from the game where a man wakes up on a mystery island..." But it's not clear if that represents any sourced information or if the journalist is just googling.

As a footnote: don't read the comments. I was half-amused, half-disgusted to find that there's a television equivalent of the "what about Android?" guy. It's the "what about Netflix?" guy. Since these articles are about games and TV, both species show up.

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I am happy to announce that Hadean Lands can now be purchased directly from the Humble Store. (It's currently listed under New Releases, though of course it will scroll off that page pretty soon.)

This is the same version that's been available all along. (No, I have not done a bug-fix release. I know, it's getting to be time...)

The Humble Store is fixed-price, not pay-what-you-want. The win is that 10% of proceeds go to charity.

You can still buy HL through the pay-what-you-want widgets on my web site. It's still in the Adventure Gamers Store. And of course the iOS version is still available from Apple.

(Have you voted for Hadean Lands on Steam Greenlight?)

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XYZZY Awards

The XYZZY Awards for best interactive fiction of 2014 have just been announced. I'm happy to say that Hadean Lands won in four categories: Best Puzzles, Best Setting, Best Implementation, and Best Use of Innovation.

The overall Best IF Game of 2014 went to 80 Days, which absolutely deserved it. It was a tightly-contested award -- Hadean Lands was in the running, along with Kevin Gold's Choice of Robots, Porpentine's standout Twine work With Those We Love Alive, and IFComp winner Hunger Daemon by Sean M. Shore.

Winners in other categories included Lynnea Glasser's Creatures Such As We, Ade McT's Fifteen Minutes, michael lutz's the uncle who works for nintendo, and a symbolically satisfying tie between Twine and Inform 7 for Best Technological Development.

Here's the full list of winners and finalists. Congrats to everybody!

Since this is my brag post, I'll also note that I'm working on a new IF game! This will not be parser-based. I've got ideas about cool things to do with a touchscreen other than typing a lot.

No other hints right now. Stay tuned for more information.

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Various world models in IF

Another question from the tweetzone: "What are the significant differences for object/rooms + hypertext/choice vs parser + web?"

Here's (more of) that strand(s) of conversation:

I want tools to create a hypertext based game that still has a room and object model for the engine. Any suggestions? (@KalevTait)

I've done it (in Glulx) but the game design space is poorly understood. (As compared to parser+object model.) (@zarfeblong)

this just means it needs more research (@emshort)

What are the significant differences for object/rooms + hypertext/choice vs parser + web? Maybe I’ve misunderstood. (@jurieongames)

Emily's further responses:

parser + web = you still type. world model + choice = you're selecting what to do from options based on model (@emshort)

Oh, and I guess choice-based games tend to come from a CYOA, paragraph-based design approach? (@jurieongames)

often. even if they don't, enumerating all the options that would exist with a parser gives you a too-long list (@emshort)

so you need then to build a hierarchical interface or else have a smaller tighter verb set, for instance (@emshort)

I agree with Emily here (as usual), but I want to back up and talk about ways I've approach IF design.

Continue reading Various world models in IF.
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Designing alchemy in a puzzle game

A question about Hadean Lands from the tweet gallery: "Have you written anything about how you approached designing the alchemical system?"

Excellent question! The answer is "No, but I should, shouldn't I," yes okay. (Thanks @logodaedalus.)

My twitter-sized reply was "Sound cool while supporting the puzzles," but I can say more than that.

(Note: I will start this post by talking about HL in generalities. Later on I'll get into more spoilery detail about the game structure. It won't come down to specific puzzle solutions, but I'll put in a spoiler warning anyway.)

Continue reading Designing alchemy in a puzzle game.
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