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February 2011

Upgrade to Inform7 6G60

Screen shot 2011-02-21 at 10.11.56 AM

Just in time for the New Year, the good chaps working on Inform7 issued an upgrade to version 6G60 with much improved mapping.  I'm always wary of compiler upgrades on any programming project; you sometimes find that language or libraries have changed ever-so-slightly and what should have been an easy recompile now becomes several hours of unanticipated work.  And then there's the likelihood that the IDE menus and dialogs have been "improved" to be better, but in reality are just different.  

In this case, this upgrade literally took 5 minutes --including the download time.  Everything worked exactly as it should and I resumed working on my project with no changes.  No changes, except for the improvements in the mapping and a good many bug fixes.  Congrats to the Inform7 team for such a smooth upgrade process!  

As a result of the improved mapping, I was able to find and fix a couple of problems that were lying in waiting.  While the mapping is not perfect, it is substantially better than it was previously.  (You can click on the graphic above to see a larger version of the game map.)

For those who are curious, the latest Alpha version of my game The Z-Machine Matter now clocks in at 49,362 words, 166 pages, 145 things, 37 rooms, 50 hints, 20 clues, 11 extensions, 5 NPCs and 1 dead body.  I've blown through the limits of the Z8 file format, so the game now requires a Glulx interpreter to run.  This is about 3x larger than the game was back in early December when I did my initial Alpha testing.  (And I hope, much improved, based on suggestions from testers!)

I reckon the game is somewhere around 25% complete at this stage, but it's hard to know.  I still have a couple more NPCs as well as more rooms, objects and clues to implement.  That said, I'm eager to get more input from Alpha testers in advance of IntroComp.


Game Theory Video on Story Telling

Wired recently published an article that highlights Scott Steinberg's video series Game Theory and their recent focus on storytelling in video games and interactive fiction.  It's a great video and includes interviews with Richard Garriott (Ultima), Bob Bates (Sherlock, Arthur, TimeQuest), Steve Meretzky (Planetfall, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight) and others.  

As the Wired article notes:

The short documentary covers the plots behind a wide range of games, from Zork to BioShock, and also features interviews with writers behind titles like Assassin’s Creed II and Mirror’s Edge. The video explores topics like the conflict between character motives and player desires, the influence of cinema on gaming, and the obstacles that today’s writers must leap while crafting game stories.

“I don’t think we’ve yet mastered the techniques of true interactive storytelling,” Garriott says in the video, pointing to his own Ultima IV as one of the first narrative-focused games. “I mean that not just in dialog [or] cut-scenes, but [really] in how you emotionally become engaged with what’s going on.”

The GameTheory videos and web site are definitely worth checking out!


The IntroComp Dilemma

At this point, I'm guessing I'm about 25% through the implementation of my game "The Z-Machine Matter."  I've tested it out with about 10 people and it appears to have been well received.  I have the game mapped out, but there's a lot of work still to be done in implementing the outline, characters and plot twists that I've written.  Alas, my time to work on the game is very limited and I expect progress is going to be slow.

In order to keep things going, I am considering entering an unfinished version in IntroComp in June.  I should be able to make more progress in the coming months and then finish the game in the months after IntroComp.  Or at least that's my goal.  

One minor sticking point with IntroComp: most IF competitions don't let you enter a game that has been previously entered into IntroComp.  Although to be fair, this is really more of an issue with the other major competitions, SpringThing and IFComp rather than IntroComp per se.

As stated in the IntroComp FAQ:

WHEN I FINISH WRITING MY GAME, CAN I SUBMIT IT TO IFCOMP? 
No go, my friend. It would run afoul of the spirit of IFComp's "no prior release" rule. You may be allowed to enter it in other minicomps, though - ask your local minicomp dealer. 

In other words, you can enter the introductory scene or scenes of your game into IntroComp as a way to gauge interest and get feedback, but in so doing, you're effectively ruled out of the major comps.

While I have great respect for the organizers of these competitions, their reasoning seems pretty bizarre.  SpringThing has considered making their competition open to games that were previously entered in IntroComp, but IFComp doesn't seem open to this idea at all.  The thinking is that by being strict about not letting any previously released games into IFComp that this will encourage more people to write games.  I don't see how that makes any sense.  It seems to me encouraging IntroComp authors to finish their games by letting them enter IFComp would better accomplish the stated goal.  

But I'm just a newbie in the IF world and I don't think my input or views on this were particularly welcome. Or maybe I wasn't clear enough in my presentation to the IFComp organizers.  But it looks like I'll have to decide whether I should enter IntroComp and give up the ability to enter the completed game elsewhere or not. 

What do you think?  Does the "no prior release" rule of IFComp make sense?  Should there be an exception to allow authors of IntroComp games to enter their completed works?  Should I bother with IntroComp?  Let me know what you think.  I still think the full-blown comps are great and will continue to donate prizes, help fund kickstarter projects in the IF Community etc. But I still can't get my head around this.


Z-Machine Matter Box Art

Z-machine-matter-front-hirez

I haven't had much time for programming lately, but a while back, I put together some Infocom-inspired box art for the Z-Machine Matter.  I thought it came out pretty good and could sit nicely alongside Deadline, The Witness or Suspect.  You can click on the image above to see it full size.  I tried to use an image and fonts that were reminiscent of classic Infocom packaging.  I've also updated the aged and peeling system requirements sticker.

I'll have to figure out what kind of props I can make that would work well in PDF format, but I've got some ideas...