Programming

Andrew Plotkin's New Game on Kickstarter

Plotkin

Despite the failure of TextFyre to get over the $5,000 hump on their Kickstarter project a few weeks ago, Andrew Plotkin (better known as Zarf in IF circles) has gone ahead with an even more ambitious project to raise $8,000 by December 6 to fund the development of a new iPhone interactive fiction game and related underlying web and mobile technology.

The game is called Hadean Lands and will be released commercially for iPhone only for $5.  But sponsors will also be able to get a version for Windows, Mac, Linux  (It's written in Inform, after all)  as well as other cool swag. 

So how's the fundraiser working out?  Unbelievably well for Andrew and for IF fans.  Within 24 hours, Plotkin exceeded the goal coming in at over $10,000!   And now it's chugging along on its way to twice that.

Join me and 300 others to support this worthwhile project. Plotkin is one of the most prolific authors in the IF community creating more than a dozen award-winning games and essential technology like the Glulx compiler for Inform and several Mac IF interpreters.  So the more money raised here, the more time Plotkin will spend on IF projects.   

So why has Plotkin's fundraiser project done so well whenTextFyre's didn't?  I'll leave that discussion for another day...


Emily Short: Writing IF

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Emily Short is one of the driving forces behind modern Interactive Fiction (IF) creating many ground-breaking games and several dozen(!) Inform 7 extensions. There is no doubt in my mind that she played a role second only to Graham Nelson in establishing Inform 7 an accessible and powerful tool for thousands of IF authors. Not surprisingly, Short has a wonderful web site with a treasure trove of insightful articles on creating and playing IF.  

Here's an excerpt from "Idea to Implementation" where she discusses different approaches to writing IF and gives some recommendations on the good, the bad and the ugly of just firing up Inform7 and programming free-form.

Implement first! Design later!: You open up your IF tool of choice and you just go. Implement a room or two, some stuff to go in it, maybe a character. Write whatever comes into your head, then seek out the connections that come out of it.

In my experience, it’s really hard to finish this kind of game. I’ve started lots this way, especially when I was new to IF writing, and that was all useful experience because it familiarized me with my tools and was a kind of play. But sooner or later you hit a wall where you realize that your doodlings aren’t going anywhere and you have no particular end in mind; or you do, but there’s not a coherent plot, the backstory doesn’t work consistently, the pacing is off...

Fully design on paper, then implement: You sit down in a coffee shop with a notebook and you write down everything you need to know for your game. Maps and puzzle diagrams, if it’s that kind of game; plot plan and lists of scenes, if it’s that kind of game. Character bibles, historical timelines, setting research, if it’s that kind of game. (It may be all of these at once.) Then you code, checking things off on your plan as you go until they’re all done.

This is pretty much how I did Savoir-Faire. The setting came out of some freeform brainstorming sessions with Inform, and I did prototype the magic system first; but then I sat down and made a list of puzzles, arranged them into a big chart, and implemented the chart. This was hugely satisfying as a process because it produced a sense of forward movement. I knew I was making progress and I had a pretty good idea of when I was going to be done. I tweaked the design as I worked, a little — there were a few puzzles I decided were too arbitrary and threw out, and in response to tester feedback I extended the early game to contain some easier puzzles because it was generally thought to be too hard to get into.

There's much more to the article than these two approaches; in fact she describes other approaches that may be a better fit for many would-be IF authors.  There are useful links to other articles on IF development.  There are also longer articles on geographic layout of games, creating conversations and more.  Many of Short's games are available with source code on IFDB and on the Inform 7 web site.


TextFyre Mobile Platform

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David Cornelson of TextFyre (publisher of Shadow in the Cathedral, Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter) and longtime IF author has embarked on an ambitious plan to create a new virtual machine, FyreVM.  This new VM will run Glulx (e.g. Inform7) games on a dozen different devices including all the standbys (Windows, Mac, Linux, Web) and  also new mobile platforms such as Android, WinPhone 7, Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry.  The goal of FireVM is to take advantage of specific user interface capabilities on each platform, whether it's the touch screen of the iPad or the 5 way button on the Kindle.

To help with this project, TextFyre has started  a fundraising effort on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $5,000.  To make it interesting, Cornelson is offering several incentives for sponsors:

  •  $10  -- A copy of Shadow of the Cathedral game and poster
  •  $20  -- A copy of all TextFyre's current products
  •  $50  -- A copy of all TextFyre's current products plus two in the works
  • $100  -- Your IF game will be commercially published by TextFyre
  • $500  -- A Kindle loaded with TextFyre games and a t-shirt
  • $1000 --An iPad or Android tablet with TextFyre games and a t-shirt

The Kickstarter funding ends Saturday October 16. I hope you'll join me, Brian Moriarty, Dennis Jerz, Aaron Reed, Andrew Plotkin and others  in making a donation.  Personally, I don't know whether IF can be a commercially viable medium, but it's great to encourage the development of tools and platforms.  Note also that Cornelson is publishing TextFyre under an open source license.

I've sent some questions about what it means to publish a game with TextFyre and I'll update this post as I learn more.


New Book on Inform 7

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Interactive Fiction author Aaron Reed has just published a comprehensive 400 page book aptly titled "Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7."  For those who have been looking for a more gentle guide to creating IF than the standard reference manuals, this book will be a welcome resource. The list price is $40 though it sells on Amazon for $ around 26.  But even at full price, it's a good deal and well worth the money.

Reed starts out with an introduction to the Inform 7 IDE and then leads into the development of a full-blown story. You begin by constructing rooms, linking them together, adding objects, properties, relations, then rules and actions. He also focuses the reader on understanding how the game will be played, dealing with synonyms, disambiguation and parser errors.  At every stage you have a playable game, though it may be quite simple.  Later on, Reed introduces conditional logic and non-player characters. Finally, Reed covers topics that will improve the overall playability including testing & debugging, scoring etc.  

Reed is no stranger to the IF community having written what may well be the largest game ever "Blue Lacuna" a full novel-sized story that was several years in the making. Reed has also published a new game "Sand-Dancer" (including source code) which is used as the basis of examples in his book.  You can play the game online or download it from IFDB.

I'm not quite a hundred pages into it, and so far the book is excellent.  Reed makes a point of introducing topics on a "need to know basis" so you can apply what you're learning as you go.  I'll follow up with a more detailed review in the coming weeks. 

If you're heading to Amazon you might also want to pick up Nick Montfort's scholarly tome Twisty Little Passages that describes the history and evolution of IF as a medium.

Update:
Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 is now available in electronic format for the Kindle Edition and other eBook reader devices.  On Amazon, the Kindle edition is $23.75, slightly less than the printed version and with instant delivery. 

And here's a link to a more detailed review by Andrew Plotkin at Gameshelf.


Introductory Articles

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I've written some introductory articles on Interactive Fiction (IF) available on this site.  These include articles on getting started with an IF Interpreter, playing IF, finding games and even programming your own IF games.  If you're not sure how to get started in playing Interactive Fiction, these should help set you off on the right foot.

You can find these articles on the left hand side of the site or using the links below.

If you have suggestions for other articles or links you'd like to see, please let me know by adding a comment below.

Enjoy!