Picking up the thread from my last post...
Versu is an engine for choice-based, conversation-focussed narrative fiction. It is currently available as an iPad app; support for more platforms is planned. Authoring tools are also planned, I believe. What you get right now is a free download with a tutorial, a short adaptation of a scene from Pride and Prejudice, and a longer ("30-45 minute") Gothic-ish story. For $5, you can buy an additional story about a polite family dinner party that turns to... well, I shouldn't spoil it, should I?
Versu is the project that Emily Short and Richard Evans have been working on for the past several years. Their team was acquired by Linden Labs, so this is coming out as a Linden project. (In later discussion, I am told that Linden just released an unrelated interactive-environment-authoring tool called Dio. Thus the perils of companies acquiring smaller companies; integration is a bitch.)
Quite by coincidence, all the IF news of the month has piled up into a 48-hour narrative train wreck. No, that's a morbid metaphor. A 48-hour Volkswagen full of news clowns? I don't think it's getting any better. Skip the metaphor.
Coming in this post: My impressions of Emily Short's Versu! My impressions of Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest! My impression of Stephen Fry! (Not really that last.) First, some news about me.
Due to the weather that buried Boston over the weekend, we’re postponing my presentation about The Warbler’s Nest at MIT, originally scheduled for Monday. I’ll post again when I know the new date.
Sorry about that. Stay warm, y’all!
First news: Shade is up for iOS! I started this port back in the fall, as a demo for the Boston Festival of Indie Games, but it dropped off my radar. This month I shoveled the snow off of it... not that we've had much snow up here... and got it out the door.
Then I got swamped by the Mystery Hunt. This was supposed to be a weekend event. It wound up running into Monday morning. The usual rules of long weekends apply: every extra day feels like the event has doubled in length... exhausting. And I wasn't even one of the people staying overnight. (Any of the nights.)
Anyhow, my team didn't win Hunt. We did respectably, though, and had a good time -- despite the gruelingness of it all. (Not everybody did, but that's another whole long argument. Tune in next year to see how it went.)
After that: Hadean Lands! And other projects. But not ones I can talk about yet. So I'll talk about HL.
The Mystery Hunt is over, after a record-breaking 73 hours. I was pretty much out of solving juice by Saturday afternoon. Sunday night, I tried to help out with an invisible-ink puzzle, and wound up setting the puzzle on fire.
Okay, not on fire as such. It was lightly browned, but the invisible ink wasn't any browner. So much for that. Anyhow, that was my Hunt weekend. Congratulations to the winners, Team [text not available due to copyright restrictions]! Let's talk about something else. Myst news!
First: release of a new Riven for iPad app. You could already play the iPhone Riven port, but this has higher-quality graphics. (Also, as you might guess, a larger download size and another couple of dollars on the price tag.) I took screenshots, in case you feel like comparing:
(Original Riven for iOS on the left, displayed 2x to fill the iPad screen. New Riven for iPad on the right.)
If you want a more modern Riven experience, check out the new tech demo of Starry Expanse. (Mac/Win builds available.) Starry Expanse is a fan-built reimplementation of Riven using Unity. It's still very much in process -- this demo covers just a small segment of one island -- but it gives you the sense of what a true 3D RealRiven could be like. It's got a day-night cycle (highly accelerated for effect), cloud and water effects, and a circling bird. You can ride the elevator up, and even open the spinning dome (vs lbh trg gur gvzvat evtug; pyvpx gur ivrjre ohggba jura gur tbyq flzoby fcvaf cnfg).
Finally, Cyan has posted their Making of Riven video (Facebook video link, GameTrailers video link). This was included on the fancy-extra DVD release of Riven -- I don't think I ever saw it. (Still haven't, actually, as I write this.)
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.)
I am initiating this seasonal tradition here at the Gameshelf -- which may turn out to be a singleton tradition, that's always a danger, like New Year's resolutions, but we'll give it a shot, right?
Frequently I play a game and think "Hey, that was a well-designed game." It's not so often that I play a game and think "Wow, that one design element really stands out -- and I've never seen it before! Clever." So I wanted to pick out a few of my favorites from this year.
I'm not talking about featured gimmicks here. I'm talking about ideas that other games might reasonably think about adopting. Yes, Portal has a core game mechanic, it's very clever. If you use it, you're writing Portal 2. (Or Darksiders, but let's not get into that here.) There have been a spate of these core-puzzle-mechanic games -- Quantum Conundrum and Unfinished Swan were two fine examples I played in 2012. But I want to talk about the mechanics that quietly make your game better.
Behold, my choices for 2012. No doubt I'll think of another favorite tomorrow morning.
Sad to report that television pioneer Gerry Anderson passed away today. I’d like to briefly recognize an interesting and surprising connection between one of his works — perhaps one lesser-known outside of Europe — and the modern videogame landscape.
The startlingly outlandish 1970 TV series UFO, co-created by Anderson with wife Sylvia Anderson and Reg Hill, described an oddly low-intensity invasion of Earth by small teams of silent extraterrestrials. Their motives were unknown, but their methods were unmistakably hostile; they had a particular penchant for kidnapping earthlings and borrowing their internal organs. Neither slavering Xenomorphs nor chatty Klaatus, the puzzle the enigmatic aliens posed in their highly objectionable but weirdly small-scale incursions provided the show’s unique hook. The show’s protagonists worked for an international defense force tasked not just with tracking and confronting the UFO-riding, laser-wielding aliens through a network of specialized satellites and aircraft, but attempting to work out the invaders’ motivations and secrets in their futuristic science lab.
Why, yes, this does sound rather a bit like the plot of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game which has recently captured my attention and imagination. Julian Gollop, lead designer of UFO: Enemy Unknown, the 1994 computer game upon which XCOM is based, has said in interviews that the TV show played a key role in inspiring the design (to say nothing of the title) of his game. Even through at least two layers of abstraction and twice as many decades of intervening influence, one can still trace the unlikely lineage between this best-case blockbuster videogame and this quirky lo-fi TV show.
Isn’t cross-media pollination wonderful?
Here’s the show’s brassy and compelling opening sequence. This could almost be an alternate teaser trailer for XCOM, as-is.
I encountered this conversation a couple of months ago while idly thumbing through my list of saved Twitter searches, of which “warbler’s nest” is one. The first poster is Mark Sample, a humanities professor at George Mason University.
Introducing students to interactive fiction today with Jason McIntosh’s The Warbler’s Nest. bit.ly/WjjooK— Mark Sample (@samplereality) October 3, 2012
@samplereality So here’s a question: Why teach IF? Isn’t it a tech w/o a readership (beyond academics and other IF authors)?— Garrison LeMasters (@glemasters) October 3, 2012
I am delighted to announce that my interactive fiction work The Warbler’s Nest will lead the Spring 2013 Purple Blurb events at MIT. Purple Blurb is Nick Montfort’s long-running series of guest lectures and presentations from a wide variety of digital-writing creators. Past talks have included play and discussion of IF I greatly admire, and I’m honored to have Warbler follow them.
We’re currently working out exactly how the presentation will work, but it will definitely involve a spectator-friendly playthrough and reading of the game, followed by a discussion period.
The presentation will happen on Feb. 11 at 5:30pm in MIT’s room 14E-310. Like all Purple Blurb events, it will be free and open to the public. If you’re around Boston in February, please visit!