Monthly Archives: July 2012

Zarfplan: On through July

At the beginning of July, I had three rituals implemented in my game engine. I now have seventeen. Plus their unit tests (130 tests in total!) That's pretty much my July, as far as Hadean Lands goes.

I had hoped to finish all thirty-odd of the game's alchemical rituals. But it turns out that the ritual engine isn't as separable from the rest of the game as I'd thought. For example, some of the recipes include mixing chemicals -- pouring one substance into a beaker of another substance. Well, that means I need a chemical-mixing engine, distinct from the ritual engine. (The player might go pouring acid into water, or vice versa, in any situation.)

So I had to spend some time setting that up. And then some rituals create potions, so I need to implement potion-drinking; some rituals create lenses, so I need to implement a "peering through" action; and so on. All of this infrastructure is still base cases -- none of the potions do anything yet -- but IF infrastructure is always harder than the specific cases that will make use of it.

Given the rate of progress, I can confidently say I'll finish the alchemical ritual code in August. (The remaining bits of ritual infrastructure are: burning bits of wood, and an alchemical retort. The glassware kind, not a smart remark.)

In other news, I released a Dreamhold bug-fix update, and have made excellent progress on the secret project. Hopefully that'll show up in August as well.

More July news: we had an IF meetup at NoShowConf, a new game-dev conference here in Boston. In the course of that weekend, I unexpectedly wound up sitting in a panel discussion next to Jim Munroe (IF guy and filmmaker) and Randall Munroe (xkcd guy, no relation to previous). You can find a link to audio of that discussion in this blog post. The rest of NoShowConf is also streamable online. None of the presentations were specifically about IF, but various IF-known people were among the presenters. I intend to plan IF events at next year's NoShowConf, so stay tuned.

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Why I still play Spelunky

Piano lessonI strikes me as a bit counterintuitive that I would enjoy Derek Yu’s Spelunky as much as I do, while I remain estranged from Dark Souls. Aren’t both games super-cruel dungeon crawls, presenting maddeningly difficult challenges while swiftly and severely punishing the slightest error? Perhaps, but they do so with practically opposite attitudes towards the player, a difference suggested by — but much deeper than — the two games’ radically different aesthetics.

Continue reading Why I still play Spelunky.
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Myst movie drama

The Myst movie project has been silent for several months. We just got an update, which describes a bunch of turmoil and sadness within the project team:

In our initial informal meetings with every major studio in town and their top brass, it became clear that the BoT [Book of Ti'ana] was going to be VERY hard if not impossible to sell as a starting point for the movie franchise. There is a litany of reasons for this, which have been discussed in detail in previous msytmovie.com posts so I won't bore you with them.

As the necessity for a new creative direction became clear, it was harder for some to accept then others. Of course Adrian and Patrick spent years developing and working towards a very specific vision for the BoT, including writing a full length spec script based on the book. As the changes were discussed among our LA partners, Cyan, and MFG, it became clear that Adrian and Patrick's plan to move forward was not aligning with everyone else. I don't think this is the time or place to get into the details, but Cyan ultimately came to the decision that the best thing for the property was to have Adrian step down as MFG's lead producer, and have me step into those shoes. (If you remember Patrick stepped down as producer for personal reasons a couple years ago.) This was of course, very difficult for everyone involved, but most of all for Adrian. I want to make it clear here that Cyan made a very difficult but well-informed decision, based on what was best for the property. Everyone involved sans Adrian and Patrick were in full agreement with their decision.

(-- Isaac Testerman, July 20, forum post) (cached on my web site)

To be clear, this isn't a case of Cyan hiring their own people and throwing out the original producers the next day. Adrian Vanderbosch and Patrick McIntire started this ball rolling; they pitched it to Cyan; Cyan gave them the movie rights. Over the course of the next few years, they worked with various people, including Isaac Testerman. I don't know the exact organization, but from the outside, it was a team. (Collaborating closely with Rand Miller and the Cyan people.)

It appears that the team ran into a classic case of Irreconcilable Creative Differences. The simplistic explanation seems to be "Do we adapt the Book of Ti'ana into a movie, or do something else?" but I'm sure there was a lot more detail than that. At any rate, it was ultimately Cyan's decision, and Cyan made it:

After a couple months both parties were not able to reach agreeable terms and as Cyan's option (the legal document that allows you to control the rights) with MFG was expiring, they chose not to renew it with them. Delve Films then entered into negotiations with Cyan and purchased the option, obtaining the audio/visual rights to the Myst property going forward.

(-- same post)

("MFG", Mysteria Film Group, is the group that Patrick and Adrian started. Delve Films is Isaac's baby. So this translates to "Patrick and Adrian got cut out", if you want to put it crudely; but more in the sense of "that company has become paralyzed, so we'll drop it and start over with as many of the same people as we can.")

The old project web site at mystmovie.com remains un-updated and may be moribund at this point. Followers and fans are blogging at mystmoviefans.wordpress.com.

So, at this point, we have some sort of Myst movie project, but not the one we thought we had. I have no more details than anybody else, so I won't try to predict what will happen next. The post alludes teasingly to "[bringing] in millions of new fans through multiple audio/visual and interactive platforms". Could be anything, then.


Update, July 24th:

Adrian Vanderbosch has updated the mystmovie.com blog with his side of the story.

It is, I think it is fair to say, an angry denial and denunciation of Isaac Testerman's story:

To put it bluntly, my departure from the "Myst" movie project was due to nothing short of a coup, orchestrated and executed by Isaac, with the support of the company heads of Cyan Worlds.

(-- Adrian Vanderbosch, July 23, blog post) (cached on my web site)

I will not try to summarize the post, nor would there be any point in me taking sides. It was already clear that the breakup of this effort was acrimonious. Isaac's post was short, politic, and general; Adrian's is long, emotional, and specific -- so there's no point-by-point disagreement. It's all a question of who did what in good or bad faith.

I will note the timeline, though: the "coup" (Adrian's term) or "[decision] to have Adrian step down" (Isaac's) occurred more than a year ago, in April 2011. Everything since then has been (failed) legal negotiation and people waiting for the clock to run out on MFG's film option.

My original comments stand: this is a bunch of turmoil and sadness. And whatever film project is in progress, it doesn't bear any resemblance to one we started hearing about several years ago. ("...we've had to go back to the drawing board", in Isaac's words.) We just don't have any meaningful details.


Update, July 25th: As was fairly predictable, the posts and threads I have linked to have been pulled down. I believe it is better to have a historic record, so I have cached these documents on my web site.

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"This is our normal. How do we get better?"

Amidst certain troubling things I’ve lately read, I found welcome succor in Erin Kissane’s article “How to Kill a Troll”. It responds to the deeply disturbing harrassment of feminist game-and-culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, and more specifically to the confusion and anger that overwhelms those engaging online hate head-on, only to spill over and stick to bystanders like me just trying to make sense of it.

I am so far from having an answer, but I have a suspicion that counterattacks are not working. It’s worthwhile to cover horrible things like the attacks on Sarkeesian and Penny Red and so many others because doing so can help uncommitted or passive readers understand and defend against this behavior. But as cathartic and entertaining as it might be, skewering trolls and attacking jerks is never going to change their minds. Putting people on the defensive only hardens their positions.

When it comes to actually changing minds, I think we’re stuck with love.

Recognizing the humanity of people who do awful things is one of the core challenges of being human. (We have enough trouble recognizing it even in people who are like us.) But it’s the only way out. Even when the worst trolls are beyond visible redemption, the way we handle them is visible to so many others who are still capable of feeling empathy or recognizing pain or changing their minds.

These chilling events have shone a light on a pervasive sickness within the enormous and important online culture around videogames, and I have read no article that more eloquently diagnoses this illness and begins to prescribe a medicine more subtle than mere shoveback. Please go read the whole thing.

Continue reading "This is our normal. How do we get better?".
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No Show Conf and IF stuff (with bonus movie)

Ns logo smallThe very first No Show Conference is happening this coming weekend on the MIT campus. Organzied by local videogame producer Courtney Stanton, it’s angled at game-making professionals working in any medium. As I write this, there’s only a couple of dozen tickets left, so if you’ve access to Boston and this is your sort of thing, you may wish to get on that.

While it’s not on its official schedule, No Show shall play host to this year’s Interactive Fiction Summit, late of PAX East. The People’s Republic decided to give PAX a pass this year, in favor of a smaller and more developer-focused conference, and lo, one has appeared. As suggested by the fact that I write this post just a few days before the event, the Summit doesn’t quite have the definition it enjoyed during the PAX years; really, it’s just a call for IF authors and fans to come on by and find one another.

That said, No Show does itself take a IF-philic stance — the structure of the conference’s demo hall is inspired by the IF Demo Fair that Emily Short organized during last year’s PAX East. Furthermore, No Show speakers include IF authors Clara Fernández-Vara, Dierdra Kiai, and Jim Munroe, presenting on a variety of topics around games and culture. (I suspect that Dierdra’s alt-universe satirical examination of “Men in Games” will end up an especially popular talk.)

As a special treat, Jim Munroe will screen his new film Ghosts with Shit Jobs on Saturday evening, bracketing it with a panel discussion featuring our own Andrew Plotkin and local webcomic superstar Randal Munroe. That screening is part of MIT’s summer film series, not No Show, so it’s free and open to the public.

So, yes, that’s where I’ll be all weekend.

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