Category Archives: Zarfplan
(Cases that are "curious" are as overdone as things "considered harmful". This one is just a nuisance, but I still have to solve it.)
When I started planning HL for iOS, I figured that I'd charge $5. It wasn't a casual-tiny price, it wasn't full-on-desktop-game. (2010 was early in iOS history but we could already see what "race to the bottom" meant.) I wrote up the Kickstarter page and offered $3 as the basic backer pre-order level -- "a $5 value!" So that was pretty well locked in.
During development I decided to release the game for Mac and Windows as well, but I kept the $5 price point. I'm not sure I had any hard logic for this beyond "I don't want to think about it." With a dash of "nobody will complain if it's the same price everywhere." I've had a couple of limited-term sales, but HL has basically been $5 since it launched.
Now I'm (slowly) approaching a Steam release. Scary! And worth revisiting my old assumptions. Should I raise the price?
(I'm not lowering the price, don't be silly.)
The good example on everyone's mind this week is Stephen's Sausage Roll, which launched with a $30 price-tag and an equally brazen attitude of "I'm worth it". Or, more, precisely: "Do you want this particular kind of puzzle? Are you going to jump up and down on it until your knees catch fire? If so, I'm worth $30 to you. Everybody else, just walk on by."
Also, as my friend Chris noted: "if this was a $5 game i'd just put it down and say 'whatever, too hard' [...] but being invested means i have to play it." Buying a game is buying into the game. We all know this, but the difference between $5 and $30 really throws it into the spotlight.
So maybe this all describes Hadean Lands too? Parser IF is niche appeal in a nutshell. Maybe I should kick it up to $7 or $10 on Steam. Or more?
I asked around my IF friends, and several of them said sure, they'd pay $10. Of course, they all own the game already, so it's not exactly a useful sample!
Many factors collide here.
- What price? Dare I go beyond $10?
- Do I also raise the iOS price?
- Do I also raise the Mac/Win price? (On Itch.IO and the Humble Store.)
- I'm adding the journal and map features (which exist on iOS but have never been seen on Mac/Win). I could say it's an "enhanced version" because of that.
- I'm also fixing some minor but long-standing bugs. It's probably asinine to call it "enhanced" on that account, though.
- I really don't have time in my schedule to extend the game in any way (beyond the journal and map UI).
- When it comes down to it, will Steam users come after me in a torch-bearing mob for raising the price of an already-released game? Or is "new to Steam" good enough?
(But one major point of the "I'm worth it" strategy is to signal to the torch-bearing mob to go elsewhere, because they wouldn't be interested in the game to begin with! SSR has a delightfully high rating on Steam, because it's only purchased by people who want it.)
Here's a work-in-progress shot of Hadean Lands on MacOS. I'm using an extended version of Lectrote, with HL's map and journal windows added in. (The iOS release of HL has always had these, but not the Mac/Win releases. Until now!)
Yes, two different windows are titled "Map of the Marcher". I'll fix that.
(Background: Lectrote is a new interpreter for Glulx IF games -- meaning most recent Inform 7 games. It runs on Mac/Win/Linux, and it supports all Glulx features except audio. I still have a "beta" label on it, but it's been stable for people so I think it's about ready to 1.0-ify.)
Once this is ready, I'll soft-launch it as an update for existing HL users (people who bought the desktop version through Itch or Humble, plus Kickstarter backers). I'll also post the process of turning your Glulx game into a Lectrote app like this.
In other news, I was interviewed on another podcast! Guy Hasson of Blind Panels talks to me about pretty much the entire history of IF. Plus other stuff I've done.
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.
I've been steadily updating Lectrote, my new cross-platform(*) IF interpreter. In the past month it's gotten icons, a preferences dialog with font and color options, and -- most exciting from my point of view -- autosave.
(* Cross-platform meaning that Lectrote runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The interpreter only runs Glulx games, not Z-machine or TADS or any other format.)
Autosave means that if you close the game window (or quit the interpreter) and then open it again, you will find your game where you left off. You don't have to use the
RESTORE commands unless you want to keep multiple save points.
As I wrote last month, autosave is a bit of a nuisance. I spent February getting it all polished up and tested. And then the tests revealed some obscure low-level bugs in the iOS implementation of autosave. Turns out my iOS Hadean Lands app was failing to store one VM table, and therefore running about 50% slower than it should have. Whoops. Good thing I wrote tests, right?
Lectrote on the desktop seems to be adequately speedy for most games, including Hadean Lands. So that's the last big technical barrier to creating a really nice HL app for Mac/Win/Linux...
I don't mean to imply that a Steam release is coming this week. It will still take some time to adapt Lectrote to a single-game interface. Naturally I will document this process! I want to make things as smooth as possible for any author who wants to release an Inform game as a Mac/Win/Linux app.
(The iOS process is, er, not very smooth. This is mostly because Apple's process for the iOS App Store is baroque, to say the least. I'm not planning to put HL in the MacOS App Store, so it should be simpler.)
I'll also see if I can include the extra dynamically-updating windows from the iOS version of HL: the clickable map and the alchemy index. In theory, these aren't too hard to set up -- I can copy the logic and contents right over from the iOS app. In practice, theory sits on the curb and laughs at you when you say things like that. So we'll see.
But the end is in sight. Give me another couple of months.
Once I have a working HL app, I will release it as an update for the existing Mac/Win/Linux versions of the game. If you have downloaded HL from the Humble Store or Itch.IO (either as a purchaser or a Kickstarter backer), you will be able to download the new app and try it out. If no horrible bugs turn up, I'll start preparing the Steam release.
(Yes, it's been available on my web site all along. But sub-Q is cool! Also they pay for reprinting short IF! I like that sort of thing. So go replay it there, if you haven't tried it in a decade or so.)
SUtW is an interesting side note of its era. 1997 was still solidly the era of "IF means puzzle-based parser games", although IFComp was rapidly loosening up the definitions. My idea wasn't exactly choice-based IF -- I was still committed to freely-typed input -- but I wanted to get away from standard verb-noun commands. And, of course, I wanted to try escaping the notion of puzzles.
I wound up with a sort of freely branching, non-goal-oriented narrative; what we might call a "time cave" today. I wasn't able to sustain much of it. But I liked what I got.
(I'd have a hard time telling you exactly how big the structure is! Some of the source code got eaten by a hard drive crash -- remember when MacOS didn't have memory protection? It wouldn't be hard to disassemble the Z-code and reconstruct the source, but I've never had the urge.)
Thanks to Tory for this opportunity, and also for pulling together the cover art. SUtW predates the era of IF cover art, so I didn't have any ready to go.
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.
Today I posted the beta of Lectrote, a new IF interpreter application for Mac, Windows, and Linux. This is both more and less exciting than it sounds!
When I was looking to release Hadean Lands as an app, I found that none of these were really what I wanted. Zoom is unmaintained and buggy; WinGlulxe is weird about scrolling; Gargoyle has problems on hi-res displays. (I'm summarizing, it was a long messy story.)
Quixe had the UI that I wanted -- no surprise; it's the one I wrote the UI for! -- but it wasn't really meant to be used as an app. It exists as a web page, or a component of a web page. Also, it's slow. So I put it aside and went with Gargoyle.
However, the long messy story didn't end there! A few weeks ago I was gazing over the endless cycle of dev-tools and noticed Electron. Electron lets you wrap up a Node.js tool as a standalone app for Mac, Win, and Linux. And Node.js is, well, I don't really know what it is but it's a web thing. Seems ideal, right? Stuff Quixe's web page into Electron and we're done.
It wasn't quite that easy. Node.js has full filesystem access (unlike a web page), so I had to extend Quixe's load/save system to deal with ordinary files. (So you can exchange save files between Lectrote and other interpreters.) But that was still pretty easy. I stuck the IF postcard in a menu, too.
And now you can try it.
So what does this have to do with getting Hadean Lands onto Steam? Well, it's a very simple tweak to drop a Glulx game file into Lectrote. Then you've got a Mac/Win/Linux app that plays a single game. And it looks nice and the text layout is pretty and you can adjust the font size without editing a text file.
I haven't done that yet. I'll have to adjust the menus -- knock out all the support for opening multiple games.
More important, I'll have to add autosave. Right now, if you're playing a game and you close the window, your game is gone. Hope you typed
SAVE! That's okay for an interpreter (used by IF habitués), but it's not ideal. It's really not acceptable for a Steam standalone game release.
Autosave for Glulx games is a bit of a nuisance, but I got it working on iOS. I will get it to work with Quixe. It will just take a few more weeks.
...oh, and then there's the speed. I mentioned that Quixe is slow, right? It's faster than it was but it might not be fast enough for Hadean Lands. If you own HL for Mac/Win/Linux, try it! In particular, try loading a mid-game save file and typing a command which requires many stages, like
GO TO BAROSY.
(If you don't own HL, may I remind you that it's on sale for the next two days? I probably don't have to. But I do it anyway.)
Anyway, I may try plugging a different Glulx VM into Lectrote to speed it up. I can probably run RemGlk/Glulxe as a subprocess of the Node.js server... We'll see.
For now, Lectrote is a multi-platform interpreter app which has the UI I want, and that's a good start.
Beat the average price to get some bonuses:
- High resolution map: This is the artwork that I used for the Hadean Lands backer reward poster. It is larger than the version included with the general HL release, and includes a few additional details.
- Hadean Lands source code samples: A few representative samples from the Inform 7 source code of the game.
- Critical Hit: An unfinished prototype of a game I started in 2009. This has never been released on the Internet, although I included it on the HL backer reward CD.
IndieGameStand is offering Hadean Lands for Mac, Windows, and Linux. These are exactly the same versions that are available on the Humble Store and Itch.IO.
Note: the iOS version is not pay-what-you-want; it's a flat $2. And it does not include the IGS bonuses listed above. The two sales are separate; sorry, I have no way to link them together. But you can buy both if you want, right?
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...
I'm happy to announce that Pocket Storm for the Apple TV is now available in the new Apple TV App Store. Apple's new set-top box ships today, and you can get your favorite thunderstorm on it.
To find it, open the App Store app on the TV's main screen, select Search, and enter STORM. (Or POCKET, or ZARF -- the text search is actually pretty good.)
Better yet -- if you've purchased Pocket Storm for iOS, you can download the Apple TV app for free! And vice versa. It's a joint purchase, which means you can buy it once and then install it on any iOS or tvOS device you own.
As always, I am donating 10% of Pocket Storm revenues to Freesound.org, because of the awesome service they provide to indie game designers and other artists. In particular, they provide CC-licensed thunderstorm noises to me!
We showed off Seltani at Indiecade! To lots of people. Lots and lots. Not everybody was interested -- it was, after all, a text game in a hall crowded with flashing lights and VR headsets -- but plenty of people thought it was worth a look. Some were Myst fans (or even Myst Online fans); some were old MUD users; some were familiar with Twine but had never seen a multiplayer Twine-like.
I gave out stacks of postcards with this map I did of the Seltani District (the game's initial hub area). It had the URL on the back, obviously. (Note to self: next time I reprint the postcard, boldface the URL.)
In a wiser and more organized world I would have a story to tell about Indiecade, but it's not, I don't, and I'm moderately exhausted in a hotel as I write this. So you get lists.
Yes, I've been running quiet for the past couple of months. I've been working away on various projects. But soon I will enter a season of furious public activity! While also still working away, because the projects aren't done yet.
First, as I recently posted, I will be at IndieCade to show off Seltani. That's Oct 23-25 in Los Angeles. Extra thanks to Carl Muckenhoupt (Baf of the fondly-remembered Baf's Guide) who will be helping me demo Seltani that weekend.
There's also an IF meetup on Saturday night at the IndieCade Night Games festival. I'll be attending that too.
The WordPlay festival of narrative games and IF is back in Toronto on Nov 7th. I'll be there, along with other stalwarts of the IF scene including Emily Short, Sam Barlow, Christine Love, and (our blog-host) Jason McIntosh.
(Is "stalwarts" an okay thing to call people? I don't always know.)
Let me also mention the Boston IF meetups (at MIT) on Oct 12 and Nov 11. Emily Short will be visiting for the November meeting.
(Among many other recent indie wave-makers such as Her Story, Kerbal Space Program, Plug & Play, and Prune.)
This means I will be in Los Angeles for the IndieCade festival. (October 23 to 25.) I will be showing off Seltani. Showing off a MUD in the middle of a modern games festival! I don't even know what that means!
(Well, I've demoed Seltani in public before, so I have an idea what it means. But never on this scale.)
I am proud, humbled, and not a little freaked out. Further details to follow.
A few days ago my idle twitter-browsing was upended:
Huh. I just checked the Greenlight page for @zarfeblong's Hadean Lands... I somehow missed the news that Valve had started the GL process (@andetkaihetera)
Really? I, um, missed the news too. But a quick glance at the HL Greenlight page showed:
This game has been Greenlit by the Community!
The community has shown their interest in this game. Valve has reached out to this developer to start moving things toward release on Steam.
I was off at Balticon, so I couldn't dig into the matter right then. (Which is why everybody else announced the news before me.) But now I'm back and more or less caught up on life. So here's what I know.
If Valve reached out to me, I missed it. The Greenlight page says "Updated: May 12 @ 7:24pm", and the voting stats stop on May 11. So I guess the game was officially greenlit two weeks ago and nobody noticed until this weekend? O the embarrassment.
The site now offers me a link to "become a Steamworks partner". So I have begun that process. I have filled out a great many forms' worth of tax and banking info, the usual excitement. (And the usual confusion about whether I should use Zarfhome LLC's EIN or my personal SSN, a question which I will never, ever get right on the first try.)
Bureaucracy aside, what does this mean for Hadean Lands? I wish I could just push a button and launch the thing onto Steam. But no -- not that simple.
This is the same version that's been available all along. (No, I have not done a bug-fix release. I know, it's getting to be time...)
The Humble Store is fixed-price, not pay-what-you-want. The win is that 10% of proceeds go to charity.
(Have you voted for Hadean Lands on Steam Greenlight?)
The XYZZY Awards for best interactive fiction of 2014 have just been announced. I'm happy to say that Hadean Lands won in four categories: Best Puzzles, Best Setting, Best Implementation, and Best Use of Innovation.
The overall Best IF Game of 2014 went to 80 Days, which absolutely deserved it. It was a tightly-contested award -- Hadean Lands was in the running, along with Kevin Gold's Choice of Robots, Porpentine's standout Twine work With Those We Love Alive, and IFComp winner Hunger Daemon by Sean M. Shore.
Winners in other categories included Lynnea Glasser's Creatures Such As We, Ade McT's Fifteen Minutes, michael lutz's the uncle who works for nintendo, and a symbolically satisfying tie between Twine and Inform 7 for Best Technological Development.
Here's the full list of winners and finalists. Congrats to everybody!
Since this is my brag post, I'll also note that I'm working on a new IF game! This will not be parser-based. I've got ideas about cool things to do with a touchscreen other than typing a lot.
No other hints right now. Stay tuned for more information.
A question about Hadean Lands from the tweet gallery: "Have you written anything about how you approached designing the alchemical system?"
Excellent question! The answer is "No, but I should, shouldn't I," yes okay. (Thanks @logodaedalus.)
My twitter-sized reply was "Sound cool while supporting the puzzles," but I can say more than that.
(Note: I will start this post by talking about HL in generalities. Later on I'll get into more spoilery detail about the game structure. It won't come down to specific puzzle solutions, but I'll put in a spoiler warning anyway.)
In case you're wondering, nobody hassled me about how long the rewards took. Apparently you folks really were in it for the game -- or to support me, which is even nicer.
However, I bet there are people out there who are working on Kickstarters. And they should be warned: it always takes longer than you think. To substantiate this, here's a timeline of Hadean Lands work that came after the game shipped.
Note that I did lot of reward design in December, but didn't order the stuff until early January. That's because I knew I would be out of town for the last week of December. I didn't want expensive parcels arriving when I was gone.
I've been bemoaning the slightly run-down state of IF interpreter software. (The confusing font preference system in Gargoyle is just one example.) The fact is that the big surge of open-source IF activity was the late 90s and early 00s. Since then, coders have been drifting out of the community, and the ones still around have gotten lazy. (I include myself in that indictment, for damn sure.)
As a community, we do not have a tradition of mentoring and fostering new contributors to IF projects. All of our projects were made by people (most often solo developers) who got excited and wrote a whole application or library.
I like to think that we've got a good software stack, which smooths the path a little. You can write an Inform extension or a Glk library port or a Glulx engine core or a Parchment web service, and it will fit into the ecosystem. But it still starts with a person showing up with enough energy to start, build, and finish an idea. If someone shows up who is curious but not committed, we nod companionably and wait to see what happens. The results, over time, are predictable: activity slows down and stops.
With that introduction, you'd expect me to go on and talk about mentoring. But I don't know anything about mentoring. I'm one of the control freaks! I'd rather work on my own projects than collaborate.
Anybody want to think about community-building? (Hopeful look around...)
(Of course a lot of my projects are specifications and tools that interoperate with other people's code. So I kick myself in the ass and make it happen. But my natural talents do not lie in management.)
In this post, I'm going to talk about my plans as a solo IF tool developer. Warning: I will also talk about money.
I thought this was the boring part of the release process. Hadean Lands has been out for a couple of months, I've done a couple of iOS updates, time to settle down and work through the Kickstarter rewards. Plan for more distribution platforms, like Steam and the Humble Store. Boring stuff.
Wrong! It's crazy excitement time.
First thing this week, two fantastic reviews appeared:
"The best video game I played last year is a science-fiction thriller about alchemy, and it has no graphics or sound effects." -- David Auerbach, Slate
"Hadean Lands is an endlessly clever experience." -- Sean Clancy, Pocket Tactics
Suddenly the sales rate is going nuts, Twitter activity is buzzing, and my head is spinning.
When a wave of publicity hits, that's when you want a Steam Greenlight page, right? (Greenlight is the voting system that Steam uses to gauge public interest in new indie games.) So I have spent the past day constructing one. Here it is:
This isn't a purchase; it just indicates to Steam that this is the kind of game you want them to offer. When enough "yes" votes accumulate, I get a slot on the Steam storefront. (No, I don't know how many votes is enough.)
(Speaking of Greenlight, I note that two other parser IF games went up this month: Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter (Mike Gentry and David Cornelson) and The Shadow in the Cathedral (Ian Finley and Jon Ingold). There's also Her Story, which is not a text game, but is by IF author Sam Barlow. And that must only scratch the surface; I haven't even tried to survey the Greenlight world.)