What Zarf is up to, autumn edition

Yes, I've been running quiet for the past couple of months. I've been working away on various projects. But soon I will enter a season of furious public activity! While also still working away, because the projects aren't done yet.

First, as I recently posted, I will be at IndieCade to show off Seltani. That's Oct 23-25 in Los Angeles. Extra thanks to Carl Muckenhoupt (Baf of the fondly-remembered Baf's Guide) who will be helping me demo Seltani that weekend.

There's also an IF meetup on Saturday night at the IndieCade Night Games festival. I'll be attending that too.

The WordPlay festival of narrative games and IF is back in Toronto on Nov 7th. I'll be there, along with other stalwarts of the IF scene including Emily Short, Sam Barlow, Christine Love, and (our blog-host) Jason McIntosh.

(Is "stalwarts" an okay thing to call people? I don't always know.)

Let me also mention the Boston IF meetups (at MIT) on Oct 12 and Nov 11. Emily Short will be visiting for the November meeting.

Continue reading What Zarf is up to, autumn edition.
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Seltani at IndieCade 2015

A very quick note to say that Seltani has been selected as an IndieCade festival nominee!

(Among many other recent indie wave-makers such as Her Story, Kerbal Space Program, Plug & Play, and Prune.)

This means I will be in Los Angeles for the IndieCade festival. (October 23 to 25.) I will be showing off Seltani. Showing off a MUD in the middle of a modern games festival! I don't even know what that means!

(Well, I've demoed Seltani in public before, so I have an idea what it means. But never on this scale.)

I am proud, humbled, and not a little freaked out. Further details to follow.

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Videogames in the Hugo Awards

This post is not about nomination slates.

The recent excitement around the Hugos has led to record-breaking levels of public discussion and voting. That's good! It's also led to an early start to the "what's worth nominating next year?" discussions. Also good (and I've noted down some recommendations for my own to-read list). But that's not what this post is about either. This is a game blog, so we're going to talk about the possibility of a "Best Videogame" category for the Hugos.

To catch up: the Hugo Awards are the annual awards for best science fiction and fantasy of the year. They originated in 1953. There are a bunch of categories, including Novel, Short Story, Short Dramatic Presentation (TV episodes), and Long Dramatic Presentation (movies). But the categories have shifted over time; for example, a Graphic Story (comics) category was added in 2009.

So how about a videogame Hugo category? Many games are science fiction and fantasy. (I could argue that most videogames have at least some SF or fantasy elements.) (I could also argue that "sci-fi videogames" do not form a genre the way sci-fi books or movies do, but I won't get into that argument here.)

Looking back in history, I find that an "Interactive Video Game" category was experimentally added in 2006. It received very few nominations and the category was dropped before the final round.

But, I venture to say, times have changed and fandom has (slowly, cane-wavingly) changed too. Comics are in -- probably because lots more fans read comics. (I suspect this is because of web-comics.) Are games as widely appreciated by SF fandom? I'm sure they are, because the field of gaming has become so variegated and spread to so many audiences. Not everybody is playing Metal Gear Solid this week -- I'm not -- but an awful lot of people have played a casual web-game or an online board-game or some form of IF or an indie Steam game or, or, or... something.

So I'm willing to say it's time.

Continue reading Videogames in the Hugo Awards.
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Mysterium news roundup, 2015

Been a while since I cranked this machinery, hasn't it?

Mysterium was in Boston this year. It was fun! There isn't a whole lot of news out of Myst fandom, but I can point at a few things.

Obduction development continues. Cyan had a special preview trailer for fans attending the convention. Looked great, albeit very still-in-production. Yes, they want to release a trailer for everybody to watch, once they've got things more polished. ("Later this summer".) The game itself is running "a little late" and doesn't have a ship date yet.

There is no news on the Myst TV show front. (We recall that back in May, Hulu expressed interest pending script approval. Nothing has been announced since.) Rand Miller offered a lot of optimism but no details.

(For a liveblog of the Q&A session with Rand and the Cyan staff, see this Tumblr post.)

Starry Expanse development also continues. (This is the fan-made Riven-in-3D project.) You can watch the team's presentation and demo of Age 233 (Gehn's office). Or look at screenshots.

The convention built a "room escape" game in one of the hotel rooms! This was a fantastic construction, with journals and audio recordings and motion detectors and Arduino-controlled consoles. Cyan even contributed some audio of Atrus (Rand Miller) speaking. And... the game didn't really work. This is a darn shame. There were hardware bugs, software bugs, puzzle solvability issues. Several teams attempted the game; none solved it.

For a detailed post-mortem, see this Tumblr post. (With video tour!)

Disclosure: I was invited to help out with the puzzle design. Further disclosure: I got too busy and flaked out. Sorry! I contributed some ideas to the original brainstorming session, and I commented a bit during the design process, but that's all. Major props to Tonbury for the puzzle design, Taniith for heroic construction work, and Riv for a light-up linking book (the way out, which nobody reached). I wish we had had four more weeks for playtesting and polish.

And finally... well, not finally but pretty late on Saturday... I was on a panel about narrative games. I was joined by Ichiro Lambe (Dejobaan Games) and Dean O'Donnell (professor at WPI). This was a hoot, although somewhat unstructured; we bounced around topics and generally attempted to sound smart. Do we have video? Er... not yet. (Everything went out over Twitch but it hasn't all been wrapped up for Youtube yet.) I will update this post when that's available.

That is the news. (Or lack thereof.) Next year, hopefully, much more concrete information on Obduction and the TV show.

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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.


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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