Category Archives: Zarfplan
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: firstname.lastname@example.org", 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 email@example.com; 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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?
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.
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...
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.
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.)