4000 pages of Infocom documents

I said 4000 pages of Infocom documents. You heard me, right?

These are paper records saved by Steve Meretzky while Infocom was operating. He saved them after the company fell down; he preserved them for decades; he let Jason Scott scan them while making Get Lamp. The originals are now at Stanford University. The scans (slightly edited to remove personal information) are now on the Internet Archive.

What's currently up there is all the design documents for many of Infocom's games. (I originally wrote "nearly all" but in fact it's seven of them.)

Further doc dumps (memos, email, schedules, business plans) will appear in the future -- they require more editing and permissions, since there's more personal information there.

Go nuts.

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The Room 3: design ruminations

(Or "roominations", har har.)

I have finished The Room 3, third in the series of gorgeous puzzle-box games for touchscreen. I didn't know it was in production -- The Room 2 seemed to wrap up the storyline, such as it was -- but I guess the designers have decided to ride this clockwork train for as long as it ticks. I'm not objecting; this entry in the series is a satisfying chunk of puzzle manipulation. It's longer than the first two games put together, and it expands the original game mechanic into an explorable environment. (By offering an architectural space of rooms, and also adding a new "zoom into tiny sub-rooms" mechanic.)

I want to talk about one particular aspect: the storyline. In idle post-game chatter, I tweeted:

I can't say I think of these games as narrative objects at all. (--@zarfeblong)

That may sound nuts; how different is the Room series from the classically-narrative Myst series? Puzzles + journals = IF. But there must be a difference. When I said above "the storyline, such as it was", I wasn't kidding. I literally don't remember anything about the storyline of The Room and The Room 2 except that R2 seemed to wrap it up. And there was "the Null", but that's something that R3 reminded me of.

Continue reading The Room 3: design ruminations.
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Pocket Storm for the new Apple TV

I'm happy to announce that Pocket Storm for the Apple TV is now available in the new Apple TV App Store. Apple's new set-top box ships today, and you can get your favorite thunderstorm on it.

To find it, open the App Store app on the TV's main screen, select Search, and enter STORM. (Or POCKET, or ZARF -- the text search is actually pretty good.)

Better yet -- if you've purchased Pocket Storm for iOS, you can download the Apple TV app for free! And vice versa. It's a joint purchase, which means you can buy it once and then install it on any iOS or tvOS device you own.

As always, I am donating 10% of Pocket Storm revenues to Freesound.org, because of the awesome service they provide to indie game designers and other artists. In particular, they provide CC-licensed thunderstorm noises to me!

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We showed off Seltani at Indiecade! To lots of people. Lots and lots. Not everybody was interested -- it was, after all, a text game in a hall crowded with flashing lights and VR headsets -- but plenty of people thought it was worth a look. Some were Myst fans (or even Myst Online fans); some were old MUD users; some were familiar with Twine but had never seen a multiplayer Twine-like.

I gave out stacks of postcards with this map I did of the Seltani District (the game's initial hub area). It had the URL on the back, obviously. (Note to self: next time I reprint the postcard, boldface the URL.)

In a wiser and more organized world I would have a story to tell about Indiecade, but it's not, I don't, and I'm moderately exhausted in a hotel as I write this. So you get lists.

Continue reading Indiecade happened and it didn't kill me.
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Videogame Hugo: 2015 potentials

Last month I posted about the idea of a videogame category for the Hugo awards.

A few days later there was a discussion thread on File770 (a prominent SF fandom news blog). The discussion was a good snapshot of community response to the idea.

The biggest objection was that there aren't enough good games to make a category worthwhile. People cited 15 to 25 as a desirable minimum. (The Hugos have a two-stage voting process. So you want at least 25-ish plausible suggestions for "best game of the year", which then get narrowed down to five finalists, which then get narrowed down to one winner.)

The petition that sparked that discussion thread went nowhere. However, I think it's worthwhile to put up a concrete list. The subject will certainly come up again, and I want people to be able to point and say "Yes, look, there are that many games every year!"

I'm going to focus on indie and amateur interactive fiction titles, because that's my field. I've got nothing against big-budget SF games, but you can get a list of those off any game-industry news site. This is the wider field of games which might not be familiar to the non-gaming SF fan. Most, though not all, are short games -- two hours playtime down to ten minutes.

I'm not saying that all of these games are, in fact, Hugo-worthy. I haven't played most of them! I'm gathering highly-rated titles from a variety of sources, including IF competitions and game-jams of 2015. (Special thanks to Emily Short's mid-2015 roundup post.)

(I do not yet include games from IFComp 2015, the big IF competition of 2015. That's still in progress and will be for another month. When it ends, it will certainly add another handful of titles to this post. I'll update then.) (Also still in progress: the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction.)

Continue reading Videogame Hugo: 2015 potentials.
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"McFarlane Job" in Toronto next month

In the footsteps of Zarf’s news about Seltani, I can announce that The McFarlane Job, a free mobile game I created earlier this year for House of Cool, will be part of the WordPlay 2015 showcase. WordPlay’s rather a more modest affair than IndieCade, but I had a great time there last year, and I’m proud to have my work on display this time around.

Per the previous post in this blog, I plan on attending the festival on November 7, in Toronto, among all sorts of excellent creators and fans of contemporary text-driven games. The event is open to the public, so do come join us if you can!

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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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