Search Results for: the warbler's nest

Holiday gifts of Inform source

I shared the source of The Warbler’s Nest to GitHub last weekend, a project that took a couple of hours by one measure and nine months by another. I started getting the codebase ready for sharing last spring, shortly after giving an invited presentation about the game at MIT. I considered the event as good a capstone as any on the game’s active presence in my mind, and releasing the source struck me as appropriate epilogue. As it turned out, this preparation would end up perhaps the last personal project I picked up before a family crisis would occupy much of my attention until wintertime.[1] And when, things calmer, I happened across this MetaFilter thread asking about Inform source examples shortly after I received an email from a Warbler player pointing out an embarrassing typo in the story, I thought: Oh, right. And so GitHub.

Mere hours after announcing all this on Twitter and such, I would laugh out loud from the solid upstaging my little effort would receive next to a truly delightful surprise: Daniel Ravipinto announced a special 10-year-anniversary re-release of Slouching Towards Bedlam, an IFComp-winning masterpiece released by Star C. Foster and himself in 2003. Daniel recast the game into Inform 7 (which didn’t publicly exist ten years ago) as an exercise, and this in turn allowed him to easily publish a web page linking to both the downloadable game file and its source text. I sincerely recommend taking this opportunity to try the game if you haven’t already; I quite look forward to playing it through again, myself.

Casting around a bit, I find that Inform 7 source examples are not quite as scarce as I may have thought. Inform includes a facility for releasing nicely HTML-formatted source text alongside one’s game, and just because I somehow hadn’t noticed it before doesn’t mean nobody else did either. Two publicly available recipients of this treatment come to my mind immediately: Aaron Reed’s Sand-Dancer exhibits intentional beauty and readability at the source level, since it serves as the game slowly built between the covers of his Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 (which we’ve written about before). On another extreme, Emily Short made available the source for Counterfeit Monkey, which proves as eye-wateringly vast as the game itself. I note that one of the headings on that index page bears the title “Volume 5 - The Repository of All Things Possible”, and it does not exactly exaggerate. (Naturally, while this source is also quite readable, you really should play the game before browsing through its laid-bare secrets.[2])

I cannot fail to point out that Zarf quietly posted the source to several of his games some time ago, as well, including both his more recent work and classics like Shade. (Search for the word source in-page after opening that link.)

Lastly, on the topic of GitHub, Dannii Willis created the Friends of Inform 7 group, which contains lots of language extensions from various authors, as well as the open-source repository of Victor Gijsbers’ utterly gonzo Kerkerkruip, a procedural, stats-heavy, permadeathy dungeon crawl in the roguelike tradition, implemented entirely as prose-driven IF.

I have no doubts that many other examples of shared full-game Inform source lurk in the grue-infested darkness. If you know of a non-trivial Inform-based work with source available, do feel free to link to it here with a comment.

Update: As Juhana notes in the comments, “games with source available are neatly tagged at IFDB”. Wow, that’s quite a few games, too. Well, this is why I write these things.

[1]: And yes, dear reader, that would explain why I’ve written so little on this blog this past year, though I’ve no complaint about once again leaving it over to Zarf’s project-EKG in my absence. I have reason to believe that 2014 will be different, but time will tell…

[2]: Earlier this year, I wrote implementation-focused reviews of Counterfeit Monkey and a few other XYZZY Award nominees.

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Warbler's Nest MIT presentation rescheduled to April 22

Barring further cataclysmic weather phenomena, my snow-postponed Warbler’s Nest presentation shall now happen at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2013, in MIT’s room 14E-310. As before, and like all events in the Purple Blurb series, it shall be free and open to the public. Please come join us as we traverse the game together on the big screen, with a discussion period to follow.

A word on context: Purple Blurb is a series of smart and diverse digital writing presentations originally organized by long-time Boston-area IF supporter Nick Montfort, and I encourage Boston-area readers to check out the other events on the Blurb’s schedule this spring. All cost nothing to attend and are full of further electronic-text-mashup goodness, a rich field of which interactive fiction is merely one facet.

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Warbler presentation postponed

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!

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A public presentation of "The Warbler's Nest", Feb 11 at MIT

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!

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Interview about IF in Giant Bomb

Patrick Klepek of the gaming-news site Giant Bomb interviewed me last month about modern interactive fiction in general and The Warbler’s Nest in particular; the resulting feature story is now online. The article ends with an exhortation to play through PR-IF’s curated starter-games list, which is nice to see as well.

While I do wince a little at yet another Adventure games are not dead after all! headline, I can’t help but think to myself: Well, it beats the alternative. And when it sits atop thoughtful articles whose comments sections quickly fill with self-styled gamers enthusiastically recommending IF works at one another, that gives me even less reason to complain.

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Zarfplan: Progress report about progress

If I want to call this the "June report", I'd better get it posted in the next couple of hours... That is, if you're in the US. Everyone else can blame the leap-second.

Last month, I was saying I had a complete picture of the puzzle structure. I can now add to that:

  • An update of PlotEx which can handle the puzzle structure. (I wasn't kidding about it needing optimization, woo boy.)
  • A map! (Not complete in detail -- I may split up some rooms and shift closets around -- but complete in structure.)
  • A rough list of where everything in the game belongs on the map. (Again, not yet fixed in terms of what goes in what closet.)
  • The basic Inform code for the ritual engine.
  • The first three rituals.
  • A unit-testing script for testing new rituals as I implement them.
  • A Secret Project.

The ritual engine has been the fun part. Of course I've already implemented a version of this, for the Hadean Lands teaser that I posted with the original Kickstarter project. But that was built to handle just one ritual (ignoring the starting "lamp" puzzle, which is a one-off set of actions). Generalizing it to support the giant branching ritual tree I've got in my notes -- that's what we call fun. But I've got three rituals in there now, and they all work, so I must have gotten it right.

To make sure I've gotten it right, I built a little unit-testing script. (One can eyeball code for three rituals, but in the course of the next umpty-um rituals, mistakes will be made. I can smell 'em coming.) It's just a bit of Python hooked up to an interpreter -- I wrote the whole thing this afternoon. But for every ritual, I can now write down a list of commands and the expected outcomes (following the engine's state machine). Plus, I can write down a list for every way to do a ritual wrong, and all of those expected outcomes. (Interesting, informative failures are key to interesting IF.)

(For I7 experts: yes, this is similar in nature to the I7 Skein facility. However, I've never had good luck with the skein -- whenever I try to use it, the IDE eats my data. So I wrote my own thing. Yes, it is a personal failing. But my script is nicely tuned for HL, and more compact, and it's also easier to check into Git, so there.)

And the secret project? I won't lie -- it's not IF-related. It was a wild idea that popped up early in the month, when WWDC was coming up and everybody was agog with rumors about an SDK for AppleTV apps. It was a good idea. More importantly, I could have finished it fast, submitted it, and been one of the first apps in its category in the new AppleTV App Store.

As a developer, I have to pay attention to those sorts of opportunities. I am obligated to finish HL, but I am also obligated to keep an eye out for other paths to success. So I spent a few days on the Secret Project, and no apologies.

Well, WWDC went by and those rumors -- turned out to be rumors. Tim Cook didn't say a word about AppleTV apps. No SDK, no AppleTV App Store. So the Secret Project is back on the shelf, and I've been back on HL.

I do intend to finish the Secret Project, for iPhone. It's still a good idea! But in the iOS App Store it will be about the hundredth app in its category, and there's no advantage to finishing it right now. That makes it lower priority than the IF work. Maybe by the end of the summer, I'll get it done.

I should also mention another Secret Project, on which I spent no time at all, because it wasn't mine. Jason McIntosh has just released an iOS version of The Warbler's Nest, his short award-winning IF work from 2010. Jason is the first IF author to pick up my IosFizmo framework. (The first one who isn't, you know, me.) If you haven't played The Warbler's Nest, and you have an iPhone/iPod/iPad, drop a buck on it. Jason's cat needs kibble.

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The Warbler's Nest: now available for iOS

I am pleased to announce the release of my interactive short story The Warbler’s Nest for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. You can find it in the App Store for 99 cents American (or your local equivalent thereof). The original, free web edition of the game remains playable, but this native app brings enough unique and lovely features specific to a touch-based and text-philic platform that I hope you’ll find it worth your dollar.

It comes to you by way of Zarf’s iOS Fizmo, the open-source framework he released to the world in May as a milestone of the Hadean Lands project. I ship this new edition of Warbler in a similar spirit to Zarf’s re-release of 2004’s The Dreamhold alongside iOS Fizmo. Much as that game served as a reference implementation of sorts for the new framework, I hope mine to act as an early test case of selling modern interactive fiction on contemporary, touch-driven platforms.

I hope you have the chance to play and enjoy the game in this new format. If you do, then I would be thrilled and humbled were you to leave a brief review in the App Store as well.

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The Warbler's Nest, and some IFComp thoughts

I am pleased to announce the release of my new game, The Warbler’s Nest. It’s a very short work of interactive fiction, a mood piece more than a puzzle-filled adventure. An experienced IF player might take 15 minutes to traverse it once, and around half an hour to explore more thoroughly. Less experienced players may wish to budget a little more time, and keep a friendly quick-reference card handy.

The game is sufficiently brief that I really can’t say anything else about it here, except to mention that you can play it in your browser, thanks to the happy modern-IF technologies I celebrated in my recent video. (And to remind you that works of pure text like this are about as safe-for-work as a videogame can possibly get, ahem.) Naturally, you can also download a copy to play on an interpreter, if that’s your thing, and a visit to the game’s homepage will satisfy any further curiosity you may have about the work.

With that done, I’d like to share some thoughts about the Interactive Fiction Competition. A less polished version of Warbler eked out a tie for ninth place (of 26 entrants) in the 16th annual IFComp, which wrapped up last month. This was a very strong year, so I’m pleased that the game even made it that high; I played and quite enjoyed most of the other contestant works. First prize went to Aotearoa, Matt Wigdahl’s masterfully constructed take on the “modern kid visits an island full of totally awesome dinosaurs” style of young-adult adventure story.

The annual community-wide metagame of creative and intelligent reviews of IFComp entrants seemed stronger than ever this year, as well. Among my favorite review collections of 2010 are those of Christopher Huang, Sarah Morayati, Brooks Reeves, and Emily Short.

And yet: even though I look forward to writing and releasing my own next work of interactive fiction, I do not plan on doing so as part of the IFComp.

My experiences as a contestant were quite mixed, mainly because of how the competition’s rules prohibit authors from modifying (or publicly discussing) their entry for the entire six-week-long judging period. I did not foresee the real pain I felt when the first reviews came in, soon after the comp began.

Every reviewer, whether or not they liked the game, ran without fail into the same handful of bugs and stylistic flaws that had managed to elude me and my initial playtesters, writing about them in their reviews. (The reasons they were invisible to us make for an interesting design lesson and story unto itself, and one I hope to write about in another post.) By the end of the first week, I’d catalogued all these problems, and planned fixes for each. But there’s the thing: the reviews kept coming, naming the same problems, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. With the comp rules binding my hands, I could do nothing but silently allow people to continue playing my flawed game for another entire month, even though I could fix it with a single file upload.

In all my work, both professional and creative, I’m used to — perhaps spoiled by — digital tools that let me work quickly and iteratively, attacking errors as soon as they’re identified. But in this case, I found myself fixedly and weirdly misrepresented by my past self’s flawed vision, when my present self had something better to offer but was unable to share. I found it a deeply uncomfortable exeprience.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I found all the feedback and criticism I received during those six weeks, both in public reviews and private communication, immensely valuable. I worked hard to synthesize it all into the game’s current release, and Warbler as it stands now is so much more polished and playable as a result of all this free labor from smart people. This is brilliant, and I can’t thank everyone enough.

But, for me, that damned rule did its best to outweigh my happiness about the good stuff. As the days after the October 1 starting gun stretched into weeks, the torture I initially felt at being unable to leap in with bugfixes and improvements boiled away into simple frustration, stress, and heartbreak. While I continued to promote the comp online, I found myself conversationally advising people not to play my game until December, when I planned on publishing and promoting the “real” version. (Unless they wanted to run the whole comp gantlet as a judge, of course, but that’s not really a feasible suggestion for new or casual IF players.)

You’ll note, however, that at no point in the article do I suggest that the rules themselves are flawed. They didn’t end up working out so well for me, but that’s OK because — thankfully — it’s not about me. The rules of the interactive fiction competition are not put into place to make Jason McIntosh happy. The rules are there to make sure that the comp functions as a stable engine that rotates once per year, burping out dozens of fantastic new IF games unto the world. And I argue that, by god, it’s done it again, meeting a high watermark entirely appropriate to a 2010 that’s seen more exciting news and advances in the art of IF than anyone last year could have predicted.

I am pleased and proud that I participated in the 16th IFComp, regardless of how well my work scored. But now that it’s over, I intend to promote Warbler as an independently produced videogame in its own right — and will skip directly to this step with all my future IF works. While the comp helped give me the confidence that my work is worth promoting, the salient point is that I do have that confidence now, and intend to make full use of it from now on, all under my own power.

And I will release bugfixes in a goddamn timely fashion!

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