Category Archives: Zarfplan

Zarfplan: June is getting there

Happy Canada Day (and pretend I said that in French). 82 out of 90 rooms complete.

I'm not really measuring progress in rooms any more. There were only a few days this month that I'd mark as "wrote some rooms". June was mostly spent on underlying mechanisms which are not located in specific rooms; they're spread through the game. I don't want to get spoilery at this late date, but I have implemented large swaths of code for:

  • dragons
  • human figures
  • shadows
  • doors that change state
  • progressive starting conditions
  • ritual environments
  • looking through magical lenses at all sorts of things
  • the alternative to sheets of paper
  • the problem of trying to create two doses of some potion when I've only implemented one
  • a cigarette lighter

The cigarette lighter was a late addition. Some rituals require you to set stuff on fire. There's a couple of fire sources in the game, and you can light a bit of wood and carry that around, so it's all workable. But carrying around flaming bits of wood turned out to be annoying. They burn out. You have to get more. It felt like an imposition. So yesterday morning I said "Why doesn't this chem lab have handy butane lighters, anyhow? Real labs do."

(I don't call it a "butane lighter", or a "cigarette lighter" either, but a pocket flame source is a pocket flame source. Perhaps you have fond memories of So Far.)

So I can't put the nail in the room-list this month, but I have checked off lots of the game's remaining tasks. I am still fairly confident that I will have a complete, testable game at the end of July. That could slip partway into August, because every task list has a "last 90%" that trails off into infinity. But the game is filling out fast, and it feels like I finished half of the remaining job last month.

I am excited. And nervous.

Again, there's a chunk of work to do after the "complete game" milestone. I'll need to polish the iOS interface and build its eccentricities. (I'm thinking a tappable encyclopedia of rituals, which updates as you discover them. That will save a lot of "RECALL TARNISH RITUAL" commands. And then there's the tappable map, of course.) So August at least is scheduled for that stuff. But I will have beta-test reports coming in as I do the iOS work, so I can parallelize.

Other June news:

For the first anniversary of Seltani, I posted a little puzzle Age called Salvanas. (That link will take you straight into the game world, although you'll have to sign in to solve everything.) No story, just a collection of Myst-style puzzles -- only in text, of course. Statistics indicate that only seven people have completed it to date! Surely this can be improved.

I also got my butt in gear and posted the source code for nearly all of my Inform games. I've always had the source for Hunter, Shade, and Heliopause on my web site; I've now added Dreamhold, Spider and Web, So Far, and several others. (All are under a "for educational/academic interest" license rather than an open-source license.) If you're curious about Inform 7 source code -- or Inform 6, or actually Inform 5 for the oldest ones -- dive on in.

I've been taking a look at new distribution platforms. If you saw Shade on itch.io for pay-what-you-want, would you pay a dollar? I could set that up. There's also the Humble Store, although that's got an application process and their developer FAQ is a bit thin.

And finally, the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition is open! Gaze in awe at the brand-new web site, built and run by our blog-host Jmac. Sign-ups and prize donations are now being accepted.

See you at the end of July. With a little luck, I will be into the final stage of development by then.

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Last month: 45 out of 86 rooms complete. This month: 65 out of 89 rooms complete. I did twenty rooms in the past month. The total grew because I decided to split one room in half, and then added two tiny closets.

This covers most of "chapter 1" of the game. In exploring this far, the player can reach 66 rooms and nearly all of the rituals of the game. (It's the tool-collection stage of the story.) Figuring out how the tools fit together is "chapter 2", and that's how you reach the last 23 rooms -- the tricky ones.

It's not all about reaching rooms. There's a lot of... unlocking cabinets? Okay, cabinets aren't much different from rooms. No, the fun of the game (I hope) is in trying to reach certain locations with certain items. It's fairly easy to enter room X if you use up resource R, but to bring resource R into room X is harder. That sort of thing is "chapter 3".

So the game will involve a lot of backtracking. (Yes, I've implemented a "go to room X" command.) This is why I can't just say "I will implement 24 more rooms and be finished." I will probably implement 20-ish rooms in June, but there are several crucial rituals which occur in existing rooms, and I've been saving those for the end. July is for those.

I still expect to move into testing at the end of July.

Then I have to draw a map, polish the iOS interpreter, and work on other presentation issues. But hopefully I can do that in parallel with testing.

Other news...

The new Inform 7 release arrived on May 7th. People leapt on it with gusto. It's very nice. I've decided I'm not going to shift HL development to it, though. It has no features that I need, and while it's faster in some ways, it's slower in others. Plus -- the time factor. I could easily blow a couple of months updating all my code and validating that it all works the way I expect in the new system. That would be a bad use of my time at this point. So I'll stick to the compiler I've been using.

I have been playing around with an in-game debugger for Inform 6 games. (Built into the Glulxe interpreter, actually.) This is not very useful for I7 games, because it only tells you about the fiddly I6 internals. But it's already helped diagnose a few fiddly bugs. See this source branch and this file if you're interested.

The one-year anniversary of Seltani is coming up soon. I can't let that slip by unobserved, so I'm cooking up a small set of puzzle Ages. Should be fun.

I went to Balticon! It was a fine (working) vacation. (I didn't implement any rooms while away, but I did implement two cabinets.) There was no Lost Pig, but I took part in a handful of panels about IF, narrative game design, and so on. All went well. (Okay, three of them went well. The one on mobile app development fell kind of flat. Next time, I'm sticking to narrative/game topics.)

Speaking of conventions, BostonFIG is coming up again in September. The Boston IF group plans to host IF events there, like we did last year, but we haven't gotten down to specifics yet.

I briefly considered demoing Hadean Lands at FIG. However, friendly voices (thank you jscott) pointed out that it would be tacky to demo the game in public before my backers have seen it. True! So I'm thinking about other game ideas I might whip together by September. The entry deadline is June 20th, so I'd have to whip rapidly, but it might happen...

See you in a month, with -- I hope -- the last room-count progress report.

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Seriously, it was 45 out today. Now it's rainy, but that's good news because it's a warm humid front coming in and we should get a May that feels like April, at least.

It's weird looking back at earlier updates. Last month I was pleased because the tutorial was finally done. In February I was pleased because I had finally started writing some rooms. Now the tutorial feels like it's ages past, and I have 45 rooms nailed down. That's 45 out of 86 total. We are past the halfway point, area-wise.

(Yes, I originally estimated 82 rooms, but a few more tiny ones have slipped in.)

So I did... (quick subtraction)... 23 rooms in April. Plus all the associated furniture and recipes and puzzle elements found in those rooms. Also I hammered in some optimizations that speed up large I7 games considerably (see here if you're interested), and added one of the two special viewing tools. And fixed a typo that's been staring me in the face for about a year and a half.

I have been informed that my last couple of update posts sounded disconsolate and defensive. (Not that you folks aren't supportive.) I really didn't mean them that way! This is the home stretch and I have been accelerating down it. I am aiming to do twenty rooms per month for May and June, and that will carry me to the end of HL's physical area. I'm excited.

The game will not be absolutely done at the end of the 86th room, because there is a final puzzle and some final scenes. (Associated with an existing room, but I will write them last because that's how I work.) Throw in some time for writing tests, and I can reasonably say that this thing will move into testing at the end of July. In fact this is so reasonable that I have now said it to you folks, out loud.

Wacky, huh?

The other news of the day was supposed to be the new Inform 7 release. This has slid a bit but should be out in a few days (see this post). I did a bit of final index-polishing last week, so you have that to look forward to.

Onward.

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Zarfplan: March update

I will keep this short, because I just noticed that I have to run to the Boston IF meetup soon, and I want to get this post out before then. (A late-night blog post would wind up dated "April 1", and do any of us need that additional cognitive stress? I think not.)

In the past month I have completed thirteen rooms, with all the objects, descriptions, recipes, and messages that appear therein. As usual, some of these rooms are fairly bare (corridors) and others are crowded with stuff.

I have also completed the tutorial -- which took nearly two weeks on its own. The tutorial is intended to hold your hand through the first room. That's basically the content of the teaser game. It requires more code than you might expect. It's done, though.

I have mapped out the "environmental spell component" that I mentioned last month, and started coding it up. That's not a huge task; it was just a corner of planning that I kept sweeping around, and now I've gotten to it.

Continue reading Zarfplan: March update.
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Zarfplan: February was kind of nuts

I suppose you want the room count, don't you. I will give it to you. When? Now, I should think. You look forward to it, do you? I think you do. ...Nine rooms, I got done this month. All clues, all descriptions, all scenery, all actions handled. I can play through those nine rooms and it is a solid, playable IF game.

This is most of what I call "chapter 0" in my notes. After another couple of puzzles, the player transitions to "chapter 1". That's where most of the game opens up, at least a little bit.

But how many rooms are there in this game? I hear you cry. Okay, that's a fair question. There are 82. So you might conclude that I am 11% done with this thing and have eight months of work remaining. And that's... not a completely terrible estimate.

I don't mean that it's my estimate. Or that it's accurate. Rather, I guess, that the possible errors fall in both directions. So I can't say it's definitely too long or too short.

Continue reading Zarfplan: February was kind of nuts.
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Zarfplan: Welcome to the new age

(I have that song stuck in my head, sorry about that.)

It is the end of January; it's been six weeks since my last update. Merry 2014! The holidays are over and I ate a lot of cookies. You've probably forgotten what my voice sounds like. Welcome back. Or welcome me back, I'm not sure which way it runs.

January was a weird month for Hadean Lands development. I said it would be "story bits". What does that mean?

Way back when I was sketching out this storyline, I outlined a set of characters who would appear throughout the game. I sketched out their roles, and how they would relate to each other and to you. One appears at the very end of the teaser, if you recall back that far:

You can see a figure caught behind the fracture. You peer closer in the gloom... That's Lieutenant Anderes, apparently frozen mid-step. What's she doing down here? And why is she carrying a crumpled alchemical recipe?

Continue reading Zarfplan: Welcome to the new age.
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Zarfplan: Mid-December

Yes, it's early. No, it's not the Ides of December yet. That's tomorrow. Good thought, though.

I said that I wanted to place the final rooms and cabinets. That's now complete. With all the locks, navigation, and goal-traversal that they required.

I also decided to implement a lot of bits of paper. You'll recall that over the past two months, I chose locations for all the "magic words and recipes" to be found in the game. (Physical objects were basically all nailed down by November.) This information would appear on sheets of paper that you'd collect as the game went on. The first such sheet appears in the HL teaser.

So I decided, what the hey, I'll implement all of those objects. Not their text -- I mostly haven't gotten to scenery descriptions yet. But I wanted to create the objects, place them in the game, and assign their effects: what rituals and formulae do you learn from reading each one? This is all scutwork; I have all this information in my notes, I just have to crank through them. It'll maybe take me one day. And then that'll be done.

Continue reading Zarfplan: Mid-December.
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Zarfplan: November

I am happy to report that all the items are placed. Every line in my recipe chart has a "found in" notation! ...I'm telling this out of order.

The first half of the month, I caught up on the implementation that I planned last month. That is, I created the ten new rooms (plus some cabinets) that all of October's placements required. And the navigation between them. And the locks on their doors, where appropriate. And the goal-tracking to open the locks.

In the second half of November, I decided all the placements for the latter half of the game. (Two "chapters", but as I said, the chapter numbers do not reflect either game pacing or numbers of objects.) The map grew another couple of rooms, and several more locked cabinets, but I have not yet implemented these.

You might think that the first half of the month was difficult coding work, and the second half was lazily scribbling in locations on a chart. Ha. No. Code is easy. Decisions are difficult.

Every decision is wading into a hazy cloud of "this will probably be okay" and throwing away 99% of it. Most of the possibilities that I discard are fine. Some look fine, but will trip me up later. I have to make sure that the one I keep doesn't trip me up. And then I have to make sure that I like the pacing -- where it shows up in the player's run-through. Or rather, the range in which it might show up. Too soon? Too much confusion early on? Might the player run into the hard-but-correct solution to a puzzle before the easy-red-herring solution? That would be embarrassing.

And then I do it again, and again. I've been doing it all day. My brain hurts.

(Yeah, I'm writing this on the evening of Dec 1st. Procrastination struck after Thanksgiving. I caught up.)

So, okay. I have (nearly) hit a serious milestone, and I am declaring a (sort of) vacation month. My brain needs to stop hurting for a while.

In December I will implement those last rooms and cabinets, so that I can say I've actually placed everything in the game. But I'm not going to work on HL otherwise. I will do holiday things. I will bake a lot of cookies. I may play the latest Bioshock.

I have a sneaky idea for another iOS text game, which I might try to crank out by the end of the year...

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Zarfplan: October -- goodbye sunlight

Not goodbye forever, or even for the rest of the year. But it's Halloween; it's been damp and grey all day; and I just returned from the annual Somerville Anti-Morris Dance. Feels like putting the sun to bed.

I spent the first half of October dealing with the remaining major puzzles -- the ones outside the starship. Naturally, this was more work than I expected (it's always more work than you expected) but I got it hammered out.

Then, on to the map! This was more than just adding rooms -- it's about positioning objects and clues.

I've long had a list of important puzzle elements, and a sense of where they appear in the storyline: these in chapter one, those in chapter two, that one behind locked door X, and so on. But most of them weren't actually present on the map. So for the past week, I've been going through the storyline, chapter by chapter, and marking down locations for absolutely everything.

Continue reading Zarfplan: October -- goodbye sunlight.
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Zarfplan: The eidolons of September

Gasp. Late, but triumphant. It's October 2, but I've just finished the last major puzzle item... if, okay, I fudge a little on "major".

All the horrible details with lead weights have been resolved. A puzzle with elemental fire which I completely forgot about until this week: implemented. And I've beaten out nearly all the quirks of map navigation which I was worried about. (There were a lot of quirks. Really it's the majority of what I've done this month.) (Because I was procrastinating on the lead weights, that's why. Every time I looked at the lead weights, I'd say "Hey, how about I polish off another map route instead?" And I'd do that! It's the good kind of procrastination.)

So yeah, all the major puzzles, except the "outside the starship" ones which, okay, I haven't gotten to yet.

You can count that as a miss, but it was a lot of map quirks. Anyhow, I get to declare a new milestone. End of October: outside-ship puzzles, and add all the little detail rooms. That is, all the locations which are currently globbed on my map as "player reaches here chapter 2". There's no puzzle involved in reaching these locations, which is why I've glossed over them until now; they're for realism (what does an alchemical starship require?) and pacing (is the player's rate of exploration smooth? Are objects too bunched up?) Not really hard work; but annoying work, because I have to make decisions and think about the high-level game structure. It's a big structure.

Other IF notes for the month:

The annual IFComp has begun! 36 short text games. That's way more than last year. The growth is primarily in the choice-based sector; the Twine community has more links to us old-school IF folks these days, and apparently they are paying more attention to IFComp. Anyhow, anybody can vote, so try some games.

A nifty article appeared on teaching English composition with IF; specifically, with my game The Dreamhold.

And finally, I'll be showing off Seltani at a demo night of the Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment. That sounds daunting, but I'm not part of the conference per se; it'll just be a bunch of game developers and academic folks hanging out, demoing projects, and talking about them.

That, I guess, is all the news for September. See you Halloween-ish.

(No, "eidolons" has no significance in this post except that it sounds good.)

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Zarfplan: August report

The holiday weekend is over, so it's September by anybody's definition. Where are we?

I got one of the lead-weight puzzles hammered into shape. (Not a pun, it's not a hammering puzzle.) I implemented the alchemical effects that deal with the lead weight -- and some other lead objects lying around, of course, because you gotta acknowledge consistency. I put in some common verbs ("free", "release", "unfasten") which I've been meaning to do for months. I dealt with several irritating map-navigation cases.

Not done: the other major lead-weight puzzle; the puzzle elements outside the starship; more map quirks. Since that's roughly equivalent in scope to what I did this month -- and half of what I described as "remaining major puzzle items" last month -- I'm happy to say that September should cover them.

Once again this is a short update, but you get a September milestone out of it, at least.

My non-HL milestone for the month was presenting Seltani at a Myst fan convention (at the beginning of August) and then to the rest of the Internet. You can read the introductory talk on my web site, if you haven't already. Try it out! Ages are being added nigh-daily, at this point.

I haven't been working on Seltani intensively -- that was May and June -- but I've been bumping the features and bug fixes forward, with the help of the first wave of dedicated users. (Thanks, users!) I will continue to push on it in combination with all my other crazy projects, because I believe in it.

And I will see you all at the end of the month.

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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.

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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.

Continue reading Zarfplan: Seltani, or what I did in June.
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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.

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Zarfplan: April progress

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.

Continue reading Zarfplan: April progress.
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The taxes got done, anyhow.

If we are counting puzzle barriers, I finished... five this month. I'm counting one door twice, because walking out of that room is a different puzzle than walking into the room. Actually walking into the room is one puzzle with two solutions, but that's getting too fiddly to worry about, so let's call it five.

I consider that under par. But number two involved quite a lot of environmental coding -- yet another effect that can be applied to nearly any object in the game. (I don't mean it does something interesting to every object in the game. Trying to stay focussed here! But I still had to write a rulebook and deal with the most obvious special cases.)

I also spent some time cleaning up the verb set, and polishing parser error messages. You may recall in the teaser -- well, you probably don't recall, but I was pretty proud of this: if you type "SEARCH WORKBENCH CAREFULLY", the game replies:

I understood the command "search workbench" (that is, search the workbench); but not the word "carefully" at the end.

The Inform default error is not that specific. I had to do some hacking to get the words to quote correctly. This month I redid the hack and applied it to the current build. (It didn't transfer over exactly, because the teaser was written with an older release of Inform 7.) So, that kind of parser polishing.

That was pretty much Hadean Lands in March.

Continue reading Zarfplan: March is a five-letter word.
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Zarfplan: February is short

It feels short, anyway. By more of a factor than exists in reality. Stupid February.

A lot happened this month, but you read my post two weeks ago. The most interesting of course is that Heliopause is now up on the iOS App Store. But I will also repeat my plug for Versu, Emily Short's dialogue-AI project at Linden Labs. (Also on iOS, but coming for other platforms, um, not sure when.)

Also there was this extremely nifty interview with me posted at Gamasutra.

New stuff: earlier this month, I finally connected the goal-seeking part of Hadean Lands up with the map and the map puzzles. It was a very strange feeling: I started the game, typed "DOWN", and the game instantly solved the entire teaser for me. (You will recall in the old HL teaser that the primary puzzle is opening a trap-door. So now the game picks up the necessary ingredients, performs the ritual, applies it to the trap-door, opens it, and goes down.)

Of course this is in a debug environment. I actually had to type "ZAP-OMNI" first, which is the debug command to set every ritual as "known and practiced". In the final version, you'll have to, y'know, solve the puzzle yourself. The point is that the mechanism all works.

(You may also recall that teaser starts out in darkness, and the first puzzle is turning on the lights. I think I'm going to drop that stage. It doesn't really fit into the magical structure that I've developed. Also, the darkness didn't quite follow standard Inform darkness rules, so I had to write an unwieldy amount of code to make it all work right. Also, waking up in the dark? It's been done.)

(I tried to link to an online-playable version of Hitchhiker's there, but the one at the BBC has broken and the one at douglasadams.com is a Java applet. I hope you've all deactivated Java in your browers, it's hitting like two security holes a month recently. Anyway. Sad times for HHGG.)

So, beyond the sheer nervous shock of seeing several months of code actually sit up and work for the first time, HL is moving along okay. I have now implemented, let me count, ten goal barriers. Not all of these are really puzzles -- even an unlocked door counts as a goal barrier, because I have to create an "open the door" goal. Of course, that's a very simple goal to implement -- no requirements, no failures, one step. I got the unlocked ones out of the way weeks ago.

What I am finding is that I can't just implement a locked door or a puzzle with zero description. (Back in December, I thought this would be my plan.) To automate a puzzle's mechanics, I need to implement the puzzle's mechanics; but for this I need to implement the manual solution, with verbs and everything; and for that I need to actually write out the response messages. And the failure response messages for trying the wrong thing. And the descriptions of everything, so that I know the response messages make sense.

So I only have ten puzzles, or "puzzles", out of (very roughly) thirty-five on the map. But they're much nicer than I thought anything in the game environment would be at this stage. Locked doors, stuck doors, locked things-which-are-not-doors. And when I get to the end of the map, I will actually have completed a large chunk of the hard part of this thing.

...Which is not to say I will have anything playable. There will still be all the room descriptions, plus the story elements which are not puzzle-based, not to mention a long hard polishing pass to make all of this out-of-order text flow together. But moving along: yes it is.

Coming up in March: more of the map. Also, doing my taxes. Also, I hope, the release of a secret part-of-a-project which I have not yet revealed, because it is secret. (IF-related! But not a game, nor even programming; it's documentation work.)

See you.

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Zarfplan: January of a new year

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.

Continue reading Zarfplan: January of a new year.
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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.)

Continue reading Zarfplan: December (looking back from 2013).
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Zarfplan: And that was November

Plan for the month: get all the shortcutting code finished, before the end of the month. Result: it's 11:59 pm on November 30th. Drat! But it is finished. Pretty much finished.

Sometimes code is painful. Sometimes code don't want to be written. That is to say, sometimes you just don't wanna write it. I am no more immune to this than the next hacker. Maybe the next hacker has a better strategy, but I try to get some progress made every day, and not think about the looming mass of progress I haven't made. Eventually the looming mass shrinks, and that's what's happened this month.

Why was this painful? Just an annoying collection of cases, all of which have to be handled differently, with guards against infinite loops and other such game-creating failures. See, there are shortcuts for going places, finding objects, and creating objects. Sometimes finding an object means creating it; sometimes it means going to where it is. And then there's the distinction between checking if a goal is possible, and actually carrying out the goal. None of this is conceptually difficult, but I have to get the code structure right, which means some false starts and then rewriting once I have a clearer idea of all the requirements.

Continue reading Zarfplan: And that was November.
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