The weather has been awfully nice around here. Not the ridiculous 95-degree weather, not the equally ridiculous wave of 50-degree drench that followed it -- but strong sunlight and rainclouds, silhouetted against each other in layers. The full Spiral celestial archipelago, for those of you who remember Michael Scott Rohan.
Sorry, slightly euphoric.
HL got cranked firmly along this month, so you can go home and reassure the cats that June was just a temporary aberration. Number of puzzles implemented... I think the correct count is five, although things are getting complicated and it felt like more work than that.
The situation I dealt with (just to give you the idea) is "getting outside the starship". This is a minor complex of puzzles in its own right, with two different external areas, three access points, two magic items, different possibilities at different stages of the game -- you get the idea. As I said a couple of months back, I am implementing everything twice and the specter of untested plot combinations looms over me like, like a specter. Spectrally. It's somewhat exhausting.
But now you can get outside the starship, in all possible ways and by all possible means. Unless I decide to implement that sixth red-herring option. That'll be extra work.
Otherwise -- taking breaks from the airlocks -- I made some progress on the iOS board game that I've also been putting off. And I pushed the Seltani project a ways forward, although I managed to keep my hands off it for the latter half of the month. (I do well juggling two big projects at once. Three, not so well.)
What remains on the puzzle list is... hm. Surprisingly few major items. Several ways to mess around with lead weights. Some hijinks outside the starship which I will not detail. A lot of irritating map-navigation cases. (You acquire shortcuts as the game goes on, which complicates the automatic "go to X" code.)
I won't claim I'm getting near the end of mechanical implementation, because there's an inevitable shedload of minor game reactions and interactions too minor to be called puzzles. (Unless I'm in a mood for academic discourse. But that's not this post.) But I can hope to have those major items done in August. That would be good news.
So, short update for the month, but encouraging, I hope.
Reminder: Sept 14-15 is IF meetup weekend here in Boston.
When we talk about MMO games and their problems, the first question is "Who's running the server?" We take for granted that an MMO is a machine with a trusted server and a bunch of not-very-trusted clients. (I myself have been working on a multiplayer MUD-like game, and while it is open-source, there's still a trusted server that players log into.)
This assumption is fundamental, but it's bunk. Let me explain.
Up front, here: what I did in June was not work on Hadean Lands. The secret project ate my soul and my life.
This will happen sometimes. I spent a bunch of 2011 working on Meanwhile and other early iOS projects. In 2012 and 2013 I have made steady progress on HL but not daily steady progress, and this is because I am balancing the usual large number of things. In June I got obsessed and the balance went sideways. In July I will drag it back.
(I could make myself look better by pointing out that this idea clobbered me in February, and I managed to put off starting it until May. Okay, that doesn't make me look good, exactly...)
Shall I leave the post with that? No, that would be tacky. If I'm going to foist you off with this "secret project" excuse, I should pull back the curtain and give you a look. Behold -- (shwoooosshh) Project Seltani.
For two years running, Sam Kabo Ashwell has done a heroic job organizing per-category reviews of the previous year’s XYZZY Award-nominated works of interactive fiction, written by authors of prior award-winning games. This year it took the form of a blog, with one writer’s take on a single award category’s nominees rolling out every day over the course of several weeks. Sam posted the final summary on Monday, linking to all the past posts by reviewer and category.
I managed to write four reviews, all covering the 2012 nominees for Best Implementation. I found an interesting challenge in not reviewing the games as whole works, as I normally would, but instead examining them in light of their epitomizing — according to the greater IF community — how a well-implemented text game ought to play. In at least one case this directive let me to write a rather crabby review of a game that I actually quite enjoyed playing, as I found myself rather disagreeing with the community about that particular game’s strongest aspects. I’ll leave it to you to read more about that, if you wish.
I thought the project worked quite splendidly, both as a reviewer and especially as a reader and player, and I look forward to reading more next year. But well before then, I look forward to returning to read many of these reviews, whose mere presence has moved me to queue up and belatedly play a bunch of these 2012 games first. I very much expect I’m not alone here, and that thought does please me.
Yes, I'm late. Sorry -- it's still the weekend, isn't it?
Six puzzle barriers, and the map traversal code that goes along with them. As I said back in... when was I working on ritual shortcut code? November? Anyway, a lot of this game has turned out to be "Implement a thing! Now implement it again, in the more-convenient shortcut which is available once the player knows how to do it!"
Then, in some cases, you implement it a third and fourth time, for when the player discovers an alternate solution and starts using that.
I am moderately terrified of bugs -- any mismatch in the implementations is going to cause plot holes. In normal programming, you'd have a single implementation underneath and call it from two (or four) places, but sadly that approach doesn't make sense here. So I do acres of testing and sweat a lot.
(The latter only slightly because the temperature in Boston zoomed up to 90 this weekend. Cold front tomorrow, which should help, if the accompanying thunderstorms don't knock over my power.)
I'm afraid I don't have any other exciting news for May. I spent a lot of time on Secret Project STW-5, which is just the coolest thing in the world but not ready for any kind of public display yet. (It is IF of a sort, but not parser-based.) I am hopeful that I can start limited alpha-testing in the next couple of weeks, so I may have more to say about it next month.
As in years past, the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction is organizing a summer gathering of the IF folks of the world. If you are interested in hanging out and talking about IF, you are invited!
The weekend: September 14-15. The locale: Boston (the MIT area).
These are both great events, and I'd happily recommend coming into town to visit either one. Both on the same weekend... is logistically complicated, I confess. But it will only make the weekend more awesome!
Sometime in the latter midgame of Bioshock Infinite, I happened to notice that an archway I was about to scoot under was decorated with little bas-relief cherubs. Slowing down my usual breakneck pace through the map, I tilted my view up as I walked under the arch, and observed that, yes, the cherubs were fully three-dimensional, not simply a shadowed texture painted onto a flat surface. Someone at Irrational had taken the time to carefully model this sculpture and place it at this one spot in the game world.
What a shame, I thought.
Short update this time. Puzzle barriers implemented this month: seven. (Some, again, with multiple solutions.) Also another substantial chunk of the automatic move-around-the-map code. That has been going in slowly because it's so integrated with the puzzles -- going from one area to another usually requires a puzzle solution or two.
As I said in February, this is a weird development process, because I am implementing both the puzzles and the mechanism to bypass the puzzles. So it feels like there's no more game here then there was in January. I can start the thing up, type "ZAP-OMNI" (to mark all the puzzles as understood), then type "GO TO ANTECHAMBER" -- that's the second-hardest room to reach in the game. Zwoop. 41 lines of automated activity, and I'm in the Antechamber.
(This post is not about the definition of "game".)
Eleven years ago, I wrote a post entitled Characterizing Interactive Fiction. I wanted to put the pin in what I called "IF" and, more usefully, why I found that category to be interesting and distinct from other kinds of games.
My definition at that time -- here, I'll quote it:
A program which reveals a story (or related stories), created by an author (or authors), to a player (or players); such that the range of action available to the player is only partially known to him, and must be understood in terms of the story world; and such that the majority of important results of the player's actions are unique results, specifically created by the author to support that part of the story which the player is experiencing.
Notice that I don't say anything about a text parser, or even about text. This is because I was pointing at a structural similarity between (parser-based) text adventures and (first-person) graphical adventures.
I still find this a useful category. But it's not much of an observation these days, and designers have managed to incorporate those sorts of elements into lots of different kinds of games. (When I reworked the essay for the 2011 IF Theory Reader, I went with "a game that is controlled by textual input..." Mostly because the Myst-style adventure genre had more or less faded away.)
These days "interactive fiction" is a whole different argument. My 2002 essay relegated "those pesky CYOAs" to an end-note. That wasn't even controversial, because you could (at that time) still regard choice-based games as the genre of the simple branching plot tree -- Cave of Time on a computer. Those games that elaborated on the model did so in the direction of adding CRPG elements (potentially interesting, but not adventure-like) or by trying to become more like Zork (generally not interesting).