Search Results for: meanwhile

Meanwhile for Apple TV!

Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book by Jason Shiga is now available for the 4th-gen Apple TV.

That's pretty much the whole announcement. You can buy it. If you've already bought the iOS version of Meanwhile, you can download it for Apple TV for free. (Go to the App Store app in the TV interface; select "Purchased"; scroll down and select "Not on this Apple TV".)

Oh, and the iOS version has been updated to fully support the iPad Pro. Somebody with an iPad Pro, try it and tell me how awesome it is.

On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist’s wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?

MEANWHILE is not an ordinary comic. YOU make the choices that determine how the story unfolds. MEANWHILE splits off into thousands of different adventures. Most will end in DOOM and DISASTER. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.

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Meanwhile for Apple TV coming soon

I am happy to report that Meanwhile: An Interactive Comic Book has passed its review for the Apple TV store. It will be available on February 29th. Because Leap Days are nifty.

Jason and I are excited about this launch. If you're not familiar with Meanwhile -- and, really, you should be -- it's Jason Shiga's mad-science fairy tale about a kid in a laboratory of crazy inventions. You've got a time machine, a mind-reading helmet, and a doomsday device. What more could you want?

Meanwhile started out as a book, and I adapted it for iOS a few years back. Now I've ported the app for the Apple TV -- or rather, I've re-engineered it. Going from a touchscreen to the Siri remote forced me to completely rethink how the app focuses and displays the panels of the comic. It's come out beautifully, if I may say so.

(And, as always, Meanwhile is completely playable using VoiceOver for people with visual disabilities.)

Meanwhile will be a joint purchase. If you've bought the iOS version, you'll be able to download the Apple TV app for free as soon as it's released. And vice versa.

As far as I can tell, there aren't any interactive graphic novels on the Apple TV store yet. (Do people still say "hypercomics"?) So this is our window. Maybe we can start a trend. Pass the word around.

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What Zarf is up to, winter edition

I survived my month of a thousand conferences. Three conferences, which feels like a thousand when you put them in a four-week span. IndieCade was great! WordPlay was great! I also went to Practice, which was great! Then I was tired.

Between all of that and some assorted client work, I have had zero time to put into The Flashpaper War. Oops. So the "coming later this year" notice that I posted in May turns out to be a lie. Sorry! (This is why I didn't Kickstart it, right?)

I've updated the Flashpaper teaser page to say "Coming in 2016". I really intend to hold to that. Not least because Flashpaper was my "make some money on IF in 2015" idea. Money is awesome. I'm very keen on having some new IF for sale in 2016.

I'm still excited about Flashpaper as a game concept, too. Now that I've taken a three-month vacation from working on it, I can see that the underlying concept needs to be hit with the iteration stick a few more times. It got good responses at FIG, but it's not as catchy as I'd like. Flashpaper is unlike most IF that's out there, so it has to build its own market in order to be a hit.

In the spirit of setting expectations, I will say: Flashpaper is not parser IF. It will be an iOS game, or at least an iOS-first game. It was conceived as a touchscreen game from the beginning and that's how it will work best.

(Android may follow eventually if it seems worth the effort of porting. Yes, I say that about all my iOS projects. Nothing yet has been enough of a success to be worth learning Android programming. I live in hope.)

As for other projects: I still want to do Meanwhile for AppleTV. I took a quick stab at porting the iOS version over, but the scrolling didn't work right and then I had to put it aside for client work. I'll get back to it over the winter break.

I am also -- and don't take this as a promise but come on this is awesome -- looking at entering the Imaginary Games Jam. Registration deadline is a week from today.

And I need to sew elbow patches on my hideous plaid jacket. That jacket has been in circulation since 1987-ish. Getting a bit worn around the seams.

So those are my winter plans. Plus the usual round of keeping an eye on Inform bugs, thinking about IF libraries, hanging out, and generally messing around. The next Boston IF meetup is Thursday, by the way.

Looking farther out, I'm gonna be at GDC in March. I'm not giving any talks or anything, just visiting. It's been four years since my last (first) GDC trip, and I've met way more cool game people since then, so it's probably time to go back.

I hope to have more exciting Zarf-does-stuff news soon...

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Holiday iOS app sales

It is Christmastime, the time of bundles... okay, every month is the time of bundles these days. Bundles have become continuous. We get it. We're joining in!

I have posted Zarf's IF Bundle on the iOS App Store. Basically, you buy Hadean Lands through this link, you get my Shade and Heliopause apps thrown in free. Why not? If you've already purchased HL for iOS, the "complete my bundle" link should let you download the other apps.

And while I'm at it: Meanwhile for iOS is now on sale for two bucks, through the end of the year. That's 60% off! Or like 87% off as compared to the hardback book!

(Let us not speak about the relative values placed on creators by the book and software industries these days. I'm trying to gin up some product excitement here.)

So go buy Meanwhile now, if you haven't. If you have, why not gift a copy to a friend? Or an enemy? Two weeks only! Imagine lying on the living-room floor, next to the tree or bull's-head or aluminum pole or whatever your December celebratory decoration is, scrolling around Jason's mad-science fairy tale and trying to remember where you left the branch that doesn't involve zapping the Earth clean of human life.

And then buy Hadean Lands too. The nickel beads demand it.

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BostonFIG followup

I was at the Boston Festival of Independent Games and it was pretty darn awesome.

(Photo credit to BostonIndies.)

I had Shade and Meanwhile sitting out on iPads, and people played both of them! It wasn't literally eight straight hours of IF demoing -- there were gaps -- but it's not like people ignored the IF in favor of the interactive comic, either. Several people played a significant fraction of Shade. One dedicated player ran through the whole thing. (With some nudges from me. The ending requires a certain degree of relaxed experimentation and persistence, which isn't easy to maintain in a crowded demo room.)

(Yes, I wrote down a bunch of synonyms and action phrasings that I forgot to implement back in 2000. I will add them to the game when the iOS version comes out. User testing!)

Naturally I had a stack of IF cards to hand out to Shade players. I also got to show off the XYZZY Award I won for it, way back. And the puzzle-key I designed for the MakerBot promo game. (In the photo, the puzzle-key is sitting on top of the XYZZY. Sorry, I would have arranged that better if I'd known. Also I'd have been looking at the camera.)

Meanwhile was also popular, of course. It demos very well -- hand it to someone, and they'll get the idea instantly.

(I also had Pocket Storm running on an iPod. You can see the headphones in the photo, but nobody picked them up. Oh well. The good news is, I now know that an iPod can run PS for eight hours without recharging, even with the screen set to stay lit.)

I did not get much chance to look around the rest of the show, because I was standing and demoing for eight hours. That laptop in front of me? Didn't open it once. I thought I would be able to work on some HL code during slack time in the show. Ha ha.

But I could see some very nifty first-person 3D exploration games running across the room, and hear the shrieks of Conway's Inferno. (All my puzzle friends noted Conway's Inferno as a clear puzzle hit; I agree. When the iOS version ships, buy it.) And I got a few minutes to chat with Jason Scott before he showed his movie. I hear Peter Molyneux dropped by, but if I saw him, I didn't know it.

I did not win one of the show awards, which were voted by the crowds. (Didn't expect to.) You can see Shade got a string of yellow dots -- votes for "best narrative" -- although, to be fair, I think a couple of people were voting for Meanwhile. I don't see the winner list posted, but I know that the Best Narrative trophy went to Resonance, so congrats to Wadjet Eye.

Conclusion: this festival was a big success. It was an excellent way for crazy small-time developers like me to show off games, talk to people, and generally demonstrate our existence. Many people tried my games; more people watched the documentaries. I pushed the PR-IF link on anybody who expressed an interest in IF, so I expect we'll have a packed meeting in October. (Not yet scheduled, sorry.)

The show will happen again; it will be bigger next year. If you're a game maker in the New England area, and you're not big enough to set up a gigantic booth at PAX or GDC, you want to be at BostonFIG in 2013. I will be.

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Meanwhile update -- and a one-day sale

I've just released an update to Meanwhile. Is this exciting? I hope it is, because this release contains new high-definition artwork. Digitally remastered from Jason Shiga's original files!

(I've always wanted to say "digitally remastered". One has fewer and fewer opportunities these days.)

On iPhone 4 (or other retina-scale displays, such as the newer iPod touch) you will see a sharper, clearer Meanwhile. You can also zoom in farther than before, a full 2x, to see this art in all its detail.

Older devices (such as iPad 1 and 2) cannot display the sharper artwork at normal zoom. But you can still zoom in to 2x to see the high-resolution art.

To celebrate this, I am offering Meanwhile for a impulse-buy-delighting $0.99 -- for today only. Jason and I think that the app is its own best advertisement -- everyone who plays with it is immediately in love with the design. So, we want more people to play with it. Pass the word around to your friends.

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One year of this project, and the ways of puzzle explorability

Tomorrow will be the oneth anniversary of the Hadean Lands Kickstarter project. One year of this new lifestyle.

(Technically it's eleven months of this lifestyle, because I quit for Christmas. Also eleven months since I took possession of the donated money, due to processing delays and business schedules and thinking about taxes and all the other absurd things attendant on self-employment. I could also mark it as thirteen months and five days since I decided for sure to quit my industry job; thirteen months and four days since I reached my Kickstarter funding goal. But enough with the dreamy reminesce.)

Over the past month I have nailed down the outline for Hadean Lands. I know all the major puzzles that occur, and the order you hit them in. Or rather the possible orders, since there's a lot of variation. I'm using a traditional bushy-middle-act structure (many things to do but free order in which to do them -- think Myst). But there's a lot of puzzle interlocking going on too, beneath that high-level structure. Keeping track of this is why I wrote PlotEx, and you better believe it's been helpful. I can say for sure that the outline is consistent.

I haven't actually counted the major puzzles here, but I bet you want to know... okay, let's say 53. (The number is a little fuzzy, because you have to do certain things more than once, with variations. Yes, there will be shortcuts.)

The next milestone is sorting out the minor puzzles. These tasks aren't so much for challenge, but rather for pacing, and for setting up future puzzles. The locked grate in Adventure is the right analogy here. You get keys, you unlock the grate. It's not a big deal, but it spreads out the early exploration, gives a plot beat (underground now!) and gets the IF newcomer (we all were, then) used to the notion of using appropriate verbs.

Also, many of those major puzzles (30 of them) are alchemical rituals or procedures, which require ingredients. A one-ingredient ritual is no fun! I'll need a fair number of extra items just to fill out recipes and make the action sequences satisfying.

So for each ingredient X in a major puzzle, there will be a lot of "explore to find ingredient X", and a judicious proportion of "make ingredient X out of Y and Z". (Which means adding puzzles, or at least locations, for Y and Z. Don't worry, that recursion won't get more than one or two levels deep. They're minor puzzles after all.)

I could approach this by simply making up Y and Z items until all the slots on the chart are filled. But this would be boring. I mean for you, not just for me. (Okay, for me too.) One-use-per-item is a poor adventure game model.

Instead, I want all of the rituals to overlap. Y should be used in two different rituals; Z in three. Think back to my HL teaser: the untarnishing ritual starts with ginger oil, but you also have peppermint oil available. Shouldn't that lead into a different ritual? What if you start with ginger but use the binding word instead? These don't go anywhere in the teaser, but they will in the full game.

In essence, the space of ingredients and magic words forms a map -- and this abstract map should be explorable and interesting, just like the game's physical map. So this is what I've started working on now. Making up a lot of Y and Z items, but arranging them in a satisfying way. (While still obeying the major puzzle ordering constraints, of course.)

And that's this month in Hadean Lands.

(I should probably restate this, although it's not news: the estimated completion date on HL is "I don't know yet." This will continue to be true for quite some time. When I've gotten five of those 53 puzzles implemented, then I'll have a basis for estimating my progress rate.)

On the freelance side of my life, Fealty for iOS continues forward. It's playable single-player, but still all placeholder artwork, and the Game Center integration only half-works.

I am also doing a small commissioned IF work (!), which will appear on-or-around the beginning of January. Crazy, eh?

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Meanwhile for iOS is available

Last week, I wrote:

In other news -- or rather, the news I started with: Meanwhile has been sent off to App Store review. If nothing goes wrong, it will be available Tuesday, November 8th...

Nothing went wrong, and so Meanwhile is available, right now, in your local iOS App Store.

Full press release is below the cut.

And Hadean Lands? It's on my "make progress every day" list now. I should have the puzzle structure completely outlined by the end of this week. That's a small step, but comforting to me.

Zarfhome Software is pleased to announce the release of "Meanwhile for iOS". Jason Shiga's acclaimed interactive comic is now a truly interactive app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist's wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?

Jason Shiga's graphic novel redefined the "choose your own adventure" format by combining artwork, story, and pathways into a looping, branching narrative structure -- a story in which your choices are surrounded by the cloud of possibilities you didn't choose. Now he has redesigned "Meanwhile" for the infinite canvas that iOS provides. The entire story is woven together on a single, enormous page. You can follow the pathways, or zoom out to view the entire structure at will.

"Meanwhile" is set in a mad scientist's laboratory, but it is grounded in probability and the Many-Worlds theory of quantum mechanics. To decipher the full story, a reader will need a grasp of logic and an eye to the playful possibilities of changing history. (Or, indeed, an ear! "Meanwhile" is fully playable through VoiceOver, making it one of the few graphic novels accessible to the visually impaired.)

Zarfhome Software is Andrew Plotkin's new studio for interactive fiction, narrative experiment, and things you haven't seen before. Zarfhome was launched last year with an astonishingly successful Kickstarter effort, and is now pursuing several projects, including "Hadean Lands".

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Halloween and progress report

A week ago I tweeted: "With Meanwhile stable, my Next Damn Project Slot is open as of Monday. And that means Hadean Lands (aka the Previous Damn Project)."

Perhaps you read that with a detached, urbanely ironic skepticism. Or not. Maybe Twitter can't tolerate that much irony. Who knows. Anyhow, last Monday, I opened up my HL design notes file. I brushed the dust and dinosaur vertebrae off it and read through. Here's what I quickly realized:

  • There are way too many ideas in this file. My notion of what should go into this game was, let's say, overambitious.
  • However, the ideas that are coalesced into puzzles and plot are fine. (Except for that thing about airlocks. That isn't going to fly.)
  • Thus, I must throw out 80% of the unattached ideas, and use the rest to fill in the gaps in what I've got. And then I'll have a design.
  • True, there are a lot of gaps. But there are plenty of ideas to fill them.
  • Geez, this is a complicated puzzle structure. No wonder I bogged down before, trying to fill in the gaps.
  • To the bat-cave!

Er, that last should read: I need a complexity management tool! So I quickly wrote one: PlotEx, a Python script for exploring puzzle plot constraints.

This is not an IF creation tool, specifically. It just lets you express your puzzle constraints in a simple way: what needs to happen before what, what requires what tools, and so on. Then it computes all the consequences of the scenario; it shows you what states can and cannot be reached. You can try variations like "what if the player never solves that puzzle?" or "what if the player has an extra invisibility potion?" Basically, it tells you whether your game is solvable, or whether parts of it are solvable too soon.

I've written a whole big article about PlotEx, plus documentation, so I won't go into further detail here. Bonus example: the plot logic of Enchanter rendered in PlotEx. Take a look if you think it might be useful to you.

Has it been useful to me? Heck yes. I have now filled in many gaps, and I have a much better idea of what elements I can put where without breaking HL. Furthermore, I can keep testing this; I can write unit tests for the game logic, effectively.

Of course, you might say I would have made more progress if I hadn't written up a whole big article plus documentation. Maybe. But this is how us geeks work.

More soon.

In other news -- or rather, the news I started with: Meanwhile has been sent off to App Store review. If nothing goes wrong, it will be available Tuesday, November 8th (slightly earlier in Eastern climes!)

Happy Hallows, or whatever you do. (I watched the Anti-Morris.)

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The part where I tell you about Meanwhile

Two months ago (gad!) I said:

After I ship Hideout, I will be concentrating on [Secret Project] M37, because it too is just about finished. (And the paperwork is just about settled...) Even though M37 isn't IF either, I promise you will be excited and you will understand why I made time for it this past spring.

My Secret Hideout shipped last month, and the secret project remained secret. Because sometimes it really does take a month for the last contract details and then another month to get all the paper signed. So it flows. But now it is October, and I can finally say...

Meanwhile for iOS will be released this fall. It is a collaboration between Jason Shiga (the author of Meanwhile) and myself. And it will be awesome.

(Footnote: these are production screenshots. There will be some changes before release, particularly in the buttons.)

Okay, I can't promise you will be excited. I'm sure some of you are saying, "What the heck, this is a comic book. You are not a comic book guy. You are an IF guy."

I can only reply: I picked up Meanwhile at PAX East in 2010. (My blogging cohort Jmac posted about it at the time.) I immediately fell in love with it -- a thoughtful, beautifully-designed take on the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure genre. When I got my iPad, I immediately said "That. I have to do that. In people's hands. Interactively. It will happen."

But these are generalities. What is Meanwhile?

On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist’s wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?

This is of course a great story hook. But look deeper.

The basic idea of a branching narrative is context-free -- if two branches come back together, the book can't remember how you got there. Some CYOAs ask you to keep track of items or stats, but it's a hack and a nuisance. Basically, the CYOA model is poor at stories where you focus on a problem, explore it, and try many approaches. CYOA stories really want to, well, branch out and take you to new situations. (See Sam Ashwell's ongoing posts about classic CYOA books.)

(IF, of course, is for precisely this -- you explore a problem and try many solutions, most of which will fail.)

Now look in particular at Meanwhile, at what Shiga has done with the CYOA concept. Each story element is about context. The helmet lets you loop back through a character's memories and see what's happened from a different point of view. The time machine lets you loop back through events and change them. And the doomsday machine -- well, something has to kick off the plot.

So you have this problem -- the destruction of all humanity -- and multiple ways to approach it. It wedges experimentation into a CYOA model. Since it's ultimately an intellectual problem, story branches can merge together; your history is what you've learned, not what you've done.

This is already cooler than 90% of the CYOA books I've seen. But because it's a branching comic, Shiga has a whole range of artistic tools that the old books never considered. Two story branches can be laid out in parallel on the page. You can't jump tracks, but you are aware of one path as you follow the other. Panels can be juxtaposed and contrasted. You can see storylines as you flip pages. Again: context. Even on your first run through the story -- which will almost certainly end badly -- you get a notion of your goals, your options, and the chances that you missed.

All of that works on the printed page. What does it gain from the dynamic, interactive form? Fluidity, I'd say. You aren't bogged down with the mechanics of page-flipping and line-tracing. You can zip forwards at a natural reading speed, and then back up easily, without the accumulation of finger-bookmarks that CYOA books invite.

Also, you can zoom all the way out.

So that's why I had to do Meanwhile for iOS.

Beyond the enthusiastic handwaving, I should probably answer some obvious questions about this.

The book is organized in pages, but this app uses a giant square layout. Did I rearrange it?

No, Jason Shiga did. I originally prototyped this as a page-turning app, following the book layout. When I pitched it to Jason, he said he loved the idea, but did I think maybe it might work better as a single giant scrolling page? Like in this photo?

I said, heck yes.

Is the artwork and story identical to the book?

Almost identical. A couple of panels have been updated.

All the secret stuff is there. But the secret codes are different. If that's what you're asking. Heh.

Why "Secret Project M37"?

The book has 37 full-page spreads of artwork. I originally prototyped this as a page-turning app, see... no, I've already told that story.

Does it work on the smaller iPhone screen?

Sure does. You can see less of the surroundings, so there's less context -- it's not as cool. But the experience comes through.

(Again, screenshot does not final button design.)

The web site says "Voiceover enabled". Is this really a comic book readable by the visually impaired?

Sure is. If you turn on the iOS text-to-voice mode, it will read out each panel as you reach it, and then read the choices for the next panel. You can navigate the whole thing with standard Voiceover gestures.

(Fortunately, this is a very talky comic, so I didn't have to describe a lot of action!)

Could this interface work for other comics?

Maybe. Are there any other comics out there like Meanwhile?

This interface took a lot of tuning to get right. I didn't just slap yellow squares onto Meanwhile. (There's a blog post in that design story, eventually.) So the code is very specific to this book. But I am interested in other interactive storytelling projects, and maybe this code will be adapted to something else someday.

How long will it be before Meanwhile ships?

As I've said, the delays in this project have an up side: the thing is practically finished now. There will be final design decisions, and beta-testing, and of course Apple takes a week to approve apps. But I anticipate getting this thing into the go-pipeline in early November.

And Hadean Lands?

I realize it's frustrating that my last word on the subject was in August, and was "no change until the current project is done". And then I've been silent about the current project.

But the silence is over, the project is almost over, and it will be IF time again soon.

What does that mean? Well, several things. The past year has made clear to me that I need to have several project-trains moving at the same time; and (to jump metaphorical tracks out of the frying pan) I need fingers in several pies at once.

I started out 2011 thinking that Hadean Lands had to be my big money-making breakout. That was, in truth, kind of a paralyzing notion. But it was also kind of illusory. Here I am; I've finished one project, nearly finished another, and I also have some iPad contract work lined up. (Not story-related; it's a board game port.) None of these projects now has to be The One That Succeeds And Pays My Rent Forever. But they all could be. (Okay, not My Secret Hideout, probably.)

Thus, I retreat from a promise: I will not be working on IF full-time for the rest of this year, or next year. I apologize for that. But I will be working on IF again, and that includes Hadean Lands.

The iOS interpreter engine is in better shape than the HL game design. So it is likely that I will ship some of my old IF as iOS apps before HL goes out the door. I'll start with The Dreamhold, probably -- as a free app. (I'm not going to charge money for a game that's been free since 2004. Plus, it's already included in iPhone Frotz. Plus, one goal is to stress-test the iOS interpreter code. Gonna get a lot more coverage with free apps than with cashy ones.)

So, you'll see me release other work -- and other IF work -- before Hadean Lands is done. I regret that but I don't apologize; that's the way my life is going to work, if it works at all.

What I can tell you is this: by the time Meanwhile ships, Hadean Lands will be my "work on this every day" project. That doesn't mean it will be my first priority on any given day, but there will be steady progress. Sometimes I get wrapped up on a project and crunch on it for weeks; Meanwhile was like that. But the steady progress works whether I'm obsessed or not.

(What's my current "work on this every day" project? I do have one. Shall I say, River-and-Swamp design work? But it's not a high-priority project; it will probably be shelved next week, until either the board game or at least one IF project reaches fruition.)

In the long term, I hope to offer you an ever-growing tally of interesting projects across the game and narrative domain. And I hope that, in aggregate, they pay my rent.

All for now.

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