Category Archives: Zarfplan
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.)
Since my Kickstarter project is done -- not done done, I still have postcards and so on, but done enough for soup -- I should write the "support this other Kickstarter!" post.
I've already talked about Elegy for Dead World, which came to a triumphant conclusion a couple weeks back, and Extrasolar, which sadly did not. But there are lots of crowdfunders still open this season. Kickstarters, Patreons, Indiegogos... Indiegogoes? Indiegogols? Anyway, here are a bunch which at least brush up against the interactive fiction world.
Whew. The game is up, and all of the gifts and promo codes have been sent out. If you didn't receive something you should have received, contact me.
(This was an epic tale involving late-night gnashing of teeth, a lot of confusing problems, and three distinct phone calls to my bank. Rockland Trust, cheers to them, they were very nice and made everything work. Once it was, you know, banker's hours.)
The web site (http://hadeanlands.com/) now has the purchase links for the iOS App Store, Itch.IO, and Humble.
(Note that the game doesn't appear on the Humble Store site itself. I'm using the Humble Widget to sell the download off my own site.)
Also note this excellent write-up of the game by Emily Short. She was a beta-tester, so it is not an unbiased review, but she gets why the game is built the way it is.
The next phase is the physical rewards. (CDs, postcards, posters, etc.) But before I start focussing on those, I am going to take a bit of a victory tour. I will be speaking about Hadean Lands at the WordPlay festival in Toronto (November 8th). I will also be attending (though not speaking at) the Practice conference at NYU.
Now, I just have to get the leaderboard page updated, and go to bed. Going to bed: important.
App Store approval came through on the 25th. Everything is now queued up to launch the game on the 30th. Again, that web site: http://hadeanlands.com/
Let me reiterate the launch process, now that I know (nearly) all the details.
At one minute after midnight (Eastern time), I will update the web site to show Hadean Lands on sale.
Next, I will send out a batch of email containing Humble and Itch.IO keys. The email will be marked "From: email@example.com", so keep an eye on your spam filters. Emails should all go out by 2 AM Eastern time.
The iOS app, again, is tricky. I have to employ several different mechanisms and the help of some generous volunteers. (Generous with their time, I mean. I'm covering all the costs.) So the iOS apps will go out in several batches at various times. I hope that they'll all be credited to your accounts by the evening of the 30th.
I wanted to make this perfectly simultaneous, but perfection was not available. I apologize.
The details: if your iTunes account is based in Great Britain, Canada, Germany, or Finland, you will receive the iOS app gifted from one of my volunteers. (Thanks to Juhana Leinonen, Christoph Ender, Brian Lavelle, and Tucker McKinnon for helping!) If you are in another non-US country, you will receive a code in email from firstname.lastname@example.org; redeem it in iTunes. If you are in the US, you will receive the app gifted from me; the exact time depends on arrangements with my bank.
If you have trouble getting the app, or if you fail to get email that you think you should receive, contact email@example.com and I'll fix it.
Finally: I will be running... not a contest, exactly. But I'd like to track who solves Hadean Lands first, or at least who makes the most progress in the first week.
I've set up a "Leaderboard" page on the web site. ("Leaderboard" is a silly word for a puzzle adventure game, but it's what everybody recognizes.) If you want to show up on it, tweet to the hashtag #HadeanLands when you complete a ritual for the first time or visit an interesting room for the first time. I'll keep an eye on the hashtag and update the page with your progress.
(I'm updating the page by hand, so don't expect instant results. As I said, I'll only be doing it for the first week or so. There is no prize for this other than the glory of your Twitter-handle in lights.)
(And, obviously, the leaderboard page will have some spoilers! It won't give away puzzle solutions, but it will reveal the names of rituals and actions that you might not have discovered yet.)
That's all I've got. Final preparations tomorrow, and then at midnight -- the magic begins.
Good luck to everybody. Including me.
On November 1, 2010, I opened a Kickstarter project for an iOS text adventure.
Last night I submitted the Hadean Lands iOS app for App Store approval. (And also uploaded it to the Itch.IO and Humble distribution platforms.)
As I said, this will be a simultaneous release on all platforms. So we're now at Apple's mercy -- not an unfamiliar feeling for modern game developers. According to the charts, the iOS approval process is currently running about eleven days. (I'm used to five or six days, but I figure they're swamped with app updates for iOS8 and the newest phones.)
I am targetting October 30 as the launch day. That means you'll be playing the game on the fourth anniversary of the Kickstarter launch. Tidy! If it looks like approval is going to run longer, I'll let you all know.
In the meantime, you can take a gander at the Hadean Lands web site, which is now up and running. The map is the game's big "feelie". Old Infocom fans will get a kick out of the IF sample transcript -- no spoilers for the game itself, just an example of how alchemical IF plays out.
So what will happen on (I hope) Oct 30?
- You will see the game appear in the iOS App Store. (Don't buy it yet!)
- You will see Itch/Humble widgets on the HL web page.
- If you asked for an Itch/Humble download key, you will get email (from me) containing that key.
- If you asked for an iOS app, you will get email (from Apple) notifying you that the app has been credited to your iTunes account.
The last bit is the tricky one. I will be gifting the app directly to all US-based backers. But Apple doesn't allow gifting between countries. So if you're outside the US (or your iTunes account is), I'll have to do some dancing.
Here's what I figure: for the major countries (UK, Canada, Australia, a few others) I will pick somebody I know and PayPal them a bunch of money. That person can then do the gifting. If you're the only person from your country, I'm afraid I'm going to have to contact you directly and PayPal you US $5 -- then you can just buy the app.
(I will be contacting you directly to talk about PayPal matters.)
I realize this is a hassle, and it may take extra time for non-US backers to get their iOS app. I'm sorry; I don't know a better way to do this. (Other than opening bank accounts in a dozen different countries, which I can't manage.) I was hoping that a solution would turn up before the game was finished... Fortunately, none of this hassle applies to the Itch/Humble downloads, so those will all go out on time.
I still have not started to plan the physical rewards. One thing at a time.
I have been turning the crank hard and I am tired. Admittedly, there've been a lot of FTL breaks. They get some of the blame for me being tired.
As you recall, a beta version went out to testers on September 8th. Since then, I have gotten loads of transcripts... five megabytes of transcripts! With 16000 commands! All of which I've read through!
Yes, I'm posting these statistics just to impress you with my diligence. A lot of that transcript-reading was "skim through parser errors and player notes." Nonethless, a lot of useful feedback.
The backer surveys have gone out. I have heard back from 610 backers, about 85% of you. Thanks!
If you are among the disappointing 15%, please check your Kickstarter account for the survey, or send me email. I don't need your email address right away, but I do need the stuff about your iTunes account (Apple ID), Humble Store account, or Itch.IO account.
Also the question about "how do you want to be listed in the credits". It will be difficult for me to make corrections to the credits list after the game ships. For various technical reasons, when you update an IF game file, you break all the old saved games. So I will be doing that cautiously in the iOS version at least.
So, here's where I am with the game.
Last night at 8 pm I tagged a branch, compiled a release build, ran the end-to-end test script, and pinged the testers about where to download it. Hadean Lands is now in beta.
(If you chose the "access to the closed beta-testing phase" backer reward, and you haven't gotten email from me, please contact me for testing info. Assuming you still want to test, I mean.)
This momentous day is a good time for some announcements!
Hadean Lands will be available both as an iOS app and as a portable (Glulx) game file. The Glulx version will be playable on Mac, Windows, Linux, and anything else that the (open-source) interpreter can be ported to. I expect to sell the Glulx version through the Humble Widget and through the Itch.IO game download service. The sticker price will be $5 no matter where you buy it from.
All backers will get the Glulx version as a free download. Yes, every person who backed me. Even if you contributed just a dollar; even if you asked for your money back; everybody. This wasn't part of the original Kickstarter plan, but you deserve something extra for waiting this long.
I am going to ship the game first, and physical rewards later. People signed up for postcards and posters and CDs and calligraphy and all that good stuff. It will all happen! But I am not going to worry about any of it until you have playable copies of the game.
(Footnote to the above: I do not plan to be on the Humble Store or in any bundle. I'm just going to use the Humble tool for selling downloadable content. I might wind up on the Humble Store at some point in the future.)
What's the timeline? Later this week I will send out the dreaded Kickstarter backer questionnaires -- one for everybody, one for people who get physical rewards. These will cover shipping addresses, App Store account names, whether you want your Glulx download from Humble or Itch.IO, and so on.
Beyond that, I have several tasks still in front of me, including cover art, a map, a web site, and integrating the game into my iOS framework. Plus the time it will take Apple to approve the app. I'm allocating a month. That's not a hard deadline, but as a rough target, think "early October" as our ship date.
This means that HL is likely to ship in the middle of IFComp voting. This is a right nuisance but we'll have to manage. I can't promise to get HL out before IFComp starts, and it would be stupid to delay it until after IFComp is over.
One of the tasks of my list is "the expectations-setting blog post". I was half-joking when I wrote it, but I think this is a good time to talk about how Hadean Lands has come out.
The month is not over, but I am heading to DragonCon for a week. So you get your report early. Conveniently this allows me to report "not quite done yet" without too much slippage past my mid-August deadline. And without smacking into the more realistic end-of-August deadline.
It's not quite done yet! But at least the update posts are getting closer together, right?
At this point the entire puzzle-line of the game is playable. That is, you can start at the beginning and solve every puzzle. (Without using cheat or debug commands.) This doesn't end the game; it leaves you in a state marked "endgame", although "denoument" would be a better term. It's the wrapping-up sequence which leads to the ending text. There are no puzzles here, but it's an interactive sequence. At least, probably interactive.
I've intentionally left the denoument flexible -- or, if you like, "undesigned" -- because I didn't think I could construct it without the whole of the game in my subconscious. It's the last whiff of my "implement the first scene first, then the next scene, and so on until the end" plan. I stick to that rule for short games. It would have been impossible for HL, but I am writing the last scene last.
So that's the last task, mostly. Plus I have a few bits of background color to fill in, and the extremely annoying travel bug that I mentioned last time. And there are still 59 "TODO" marks in the source code; I should look through them and (mostly) delete them silently.
I will do some of this work at DragonCon. (What? Travel is good thinking time. I can't convent for a week straight. There'll be a lot of time alone in a hotel room, or wandering around a strange city.)
At the farthest limit, I will have it all wrapped up in the first week of September. I will then pass the complete playable draft around to the beta testers, and start looking at the iOS work.
I will also write another update post at that point. So -- you'll hear from me in less than two weeks. At that point I'll be able to talk more about the process of Shipping The Damn Thing. Strange and scary as that prospect may sound.
A month ago I wrote: "I am still fairly confident that I will have a complete, testable game at the end of July." I halfway made it. I have a testable game! ...but it's not complete.
On July 17th I sent mail to the backers who chose the "access to the closed beta-testing phase" reward. (And also to select friends, because what's the point of being in a local IF meetup group if you can't hit them up for some beta-testing.)
At that point I had a version of HL which was playable roughly halfway through. That is, the game was maybe 90% written, but I stuck a barrier at a particular point and said "Play-test up to here. Everything up to this point is 100% complete. Past that, eh, there are a lot of holes."
So for the past two weeks, a few intrepid players have been trying out "chapter one". And sending me transcripts. Useful transcripts! At the same time, I have been pushing forward on the latter part of the game. Filling in holes. Dotting i's, crossing t's.
It's not 100% yet. This game has more i's and t's than an interstitial Italianate witticism about intermittent tintinnabulation at the Interutilitiarian Hittite Institute at Ytterby. However:
All the rooms are done. I couldn't let you folks wait on rooms for another month. As of July 23, the room-counter widget says "93 of 92 rooms are described." ...Yes, off-by-one error there, sorry. The game has a couple of dummy and debugging rooms and I screwed up the accounting. There are 92 actual rooms, and they are all properly described and furnished.
I have almost completed "chapter two". This is where the game scenery starts to change, so it involved some messy things-moving-around code. The code works; I'm missing a few descriptions.
I have done another optimizing pass and sped up a bunch of display code. I've followed up on a bunch of suggestions that came from my testers. I've added a very clever "GO BACK" command which takes you back to the last room you were in. (So you can type "GO TO KITCHEN", grab something, and then "GO BACK".)
Three major rituals in "chapter three". One extremely annoying travel bug. A bunch of descriptions pertaining to things that change in that part of the game. Solidification of the ending scene, which I have hitherto only lightly sketched out because you can't write a decent ending without a game to build it on.
There are 109 "TODO" marks in the source code as of this evening. Don't take this as very meaningful; I've never shipped an IF game that didn't have a handful of "TODO" marks left in it.
When I sent out the test emails I promised that a complete test version would be ready in "mid-August". I still hold to that, although "mid" is intentionally vague. I would really like to get a final test going by the last week of August, because that's when I take off for DragonCon.
There we are. If I don't get completely blindsided by something, the next update post will report the completion of Inform programming for HL. There will still be iOS work to do, plus whatever bugs the testers turn up.
(Other words I considered for the "crossing t's" gag above: tripartite, zwitterion, tritium, irritability, invitation, totalitarian, instinctive, titular.)
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:
- human figures
- 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.