Zarfplan: December (looking back from 2013)

I say "looking back from 2013" because it's not December any more; yes, this post is late. I can offer a (small) excuse: I knew I was going to announce a (small) game on Jan 1, and I wanted to delay the post to include it.

This turned out to be a good move, because quite a few other IF items popped up around the end of the year.

First, the new game! Bigger Than You Think is not a traditional IF game; it's choice-based. Although it's not quite a traditional CYOA game either. You are presented with keywords, and you can either type them or click on them. I don't think that a click-or-type interface is really different from simple hyperlink CYOA -- nearly everyone winds up clicking, because it's easier. But the choices aren't handled in quite the normal CYOA form. I won't spoil it further; it's a short game, go take a look.

I created this piece for the annual Yuletide fanfic exchange. It's fanfic in a rather impressionist style, mind you, because the source work is a comic: Click and Drag, the really big xkcd comic from a few months ago. How does that work? Go find out.

(Inform hackers may be interested in the source code, which I have also released. It's not pretty source code, I'm afraid. I did a lot of I6 hacking to set up the hyperlink interface. Then I didn't take the time to split it out into a clean I7 extension.)

On the other side of the fence, Hadean Lands now has a map, as expected. (Not quite as of New Year's Eve; I was working on it Tuesday and Wednesday as well.) The game objects are scattered around the map, and I am mostly satisfied with how they're placed.

Puzzle barriers are not yet in place, however. December turned into the usual holiday lunacy, and I didn't get that far with making the map work. All the doors are currently unlocked. This is great for walking around and getting the feel of the place -- finally! -- but not so great for puzzle-structure progress.

Then, today, I ran into one of those snags that makes one say "dammit". (Or such other word as appropriate to upbringing, disinhibition, and/or proximity to frangible glassware.)

See, in this game you can make things. Say, a gonk potion. But then maybe you try to make another gonk potion. I have only implemented one gonk-potion object, so this is a problem. Right now I have a bunch of comments in my code saying "TODO: check if you already have one", and the reason they're still TODO comments is that I don't really like any of the solutions.

In some cases, you can't make more than one gonk potion because there's only one batch of gonk ingredients. Great -- but that leaves all the other cases. (Indeed, some puzzles revolve around finding a second batch of gonk-foo.)

I could have the game flat-out refuse. "You already have a perfectly good gonk potion!" Well, sure, but it's pretty embarrassing to refuse when the player has just gone through this elaborate gonk ritual and is tipping in the last ingredient. Besides, what if the player really wants two gonk potions? The plot is set up so that you don't ever really need two of the same thing at the same time... but the player doesn't know that.

I could add a second gonk-potion object -- but then what if the player makes three? Besides, the Inform parser isn't terrific at handling multiple identical objects. It can do it, but I'd rather not subject the player to that in an already-object-heavy game. For added fun, as I mentioned last month, the game supports "CREATE GONK POTION" even when the thing is nowhere in sight. If there were two of them waiting off-stage... "Which do you want to create, the gonk potion or the gonk potion?"

There are ways around this, but what this game does not need is another layer of abstraction strapped on. So I need to come up with something clever. And I need to come up with it soon, because today I looked at my notes and realized the plot does need two gonk potions to exist at the same time. In one specific case. Dammit.

I would say "That's the plan for January!" but January is also going to be holiday lunacy, it looks like. (Also, it's already 6% over.) I've got a couple of non-game-related things I need to update this month, and then we run into the MIT Mystery Hunt -- the event of the year for any puzzle-person in the Boston area. (Or, really, the US.) I don't do the Hunt every year; I skipped it last year, for reasons of personal sanity. This year, I'm in. Can't apologize for that.

So, the HL plan for January is to make as much progress as I can on the map's puzzle structure. And think about the plurality problem. I will report back at the end of the month.

In other recent IF news...

Emily Short has released Counterfeit Monkey, a gigantic IF game with a word-puzzle theme. I have played just the first few minutes of it, so all I can tell you is this: you start the game with a full-alphabet letter-remover.

SPAG, the online magazine of interactive fiction, is back from hiatus with a new web site, a new editor, and a new issue. Dannii Willis (known to the community for Parchment and other IF services) has refocused the zine and pulled together a sterling set of interviews and articles.

Activision has re-released their Lost Treasures of Infocom collection for iOS. (Zork 1 is playable for free, the rest of the games are a $10 in-app purchase.) I could devote a good half-post to its good and bad points, but this isn't the place. Let's just say: lotta playable games, complete with maps, invisiclues, and scans of the docs and feelies.

I feel like I should do a retrospective of my work in 2012, but you've been reading the posts, right? I released two short new games, wrote a whole lot of code, updated several libraries, got my iOS IF framework up to speed, and shipped Pocket Storm. Made a lot of cookies and didn't exercise enough. There, retrospected.

In 2013, I need to... well. Keep working on Hadean Lands. That's easy.

I need to get Shade and Heliopause back off the shelf, and ship them as iOS apps. If I have a business plan as an indie developer (which you might reasonably doubt), it is to get a bunch of quirky apps out and see if any of them are successful. IF apps are on that list. So is the set of word puzzles I've been keeping in my pocket for the past year or so. And maybe another Boodler-based audio project. Or the nano-clockwork puzzle idea?

We shall see.

Happy already-begun year, everybody.

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2 Responses to Zarfplan: December (looking back from 2013)

  1. Zaratustra says:

    Inform's treatment of object duplicates reminds me of more orthodox religions. "What? No, that never happens in civilized society."

    Maybe have each potion come out with a different color? "red gonk potion" and "blue gonk potion", or possibly have them stored in different receptacles - "flask with gonk potion" and "bottle with gonk potion"

  2. Tom says:

    I have to say I am quite pleased that SPAG is back. I do believe that this looks so much better this time around as it was of course made out to be in the first place. Hopefully, it'll stick around now and not waver in its quality.

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