Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Cragne Manor – Anchorhead – Michael Hayes' Guided Tour

The mega-collaboration-twenty-year-anniversary-tribute-to-Michael-Gentry's-1998-H.P.-Lovecraft-inspired-adventure-game-Anchorhead, called Cragne Manor, was released to the public this week. This is a great thing/event, but it's already been described a few times in a row on Planet IF, which is where I assume most (or all) readers of this blog come from. Therefore I don't feel like repeating all the details here – though it would be my deity-given right to do so if I wanted. I'll instead refer you to Andrew Plotkin's blog post about the game, to which I contributed a location. (I contributed a location to the game, not his blog post.)

I instead want to take a step back to Anchorhead itself. A further step back is first necessary, where I give a potted history of my experience with text adventures.

If mainframes are the beginning, I was there soon after the beginning. I played the Sierra (On-Line Systems) graphics adventures, Scott Adams adventures, and a bunch of other new graphic adventure games on my dad's Apple II computer in the 1980s. On the Infocom front, I had a mania for Suspended, which we picked up cheap in a Dick Smith store one day, but only for the beginning of it, which I replayed over and over because I couldn't get any further.

Later Infocom adventures mostly came to me in pirated fashion, and what with their elaborate manuals and such that you don't get with cracked copies, I got nowhere. So even though I now feel I know a ton about Infocom games, I haven't played many of them deeply. Except for Suspended, and later Wishbringer. No Zork for me.

Commercial text adventures went out of style. I particularly disliked the offspring of King's Quest, and also wasn't too interested in the point-and-click school. This includes both icon-driven games and things like Myst.

For a long time, I did nothing on this front. I only came back to text adventures in 2010 when I made Leadlight, and that happened because of a long delayed childhood wish to make a horror Eamon adventure on the Apple II. Finding IFComp via Leadlight was how I got back into text adventures. I began to explore the games that had been made while I was elsewhere.

A big thing that had been made while I was elsewhere was Anchorhead. While Andrew Plotkin, someone who never went away from these games, mentions looking back on it fondly in his post (the one I linked to in the first paragraph) from the perspective of having been there at the time, that's certainly not how I got involved in Cragne Manor. For me, Anchorhead was a large concrete block of frustration I came at repeatedly over time. I've noticed I find a lot of the major puzzle-centric games from around that time too hard. I want some kind of helpful hint system for them, and in most cases – and in Anchorhead's case – there wasn't one within or without the game. A dump of commands to enter manages to be both clunky and spoilery. Plus, the game just made me feel that I could be doing anything. But what was I supposed to be doing? This feeling was experienced as a sort of unhelpful aimlessness.

I think there's definitely a mental school of like experiences with Anchorhead out there. I mean, there's a topic on intfiction right now called Anchorhead is too hard for me, which I assure you I had nothing to do with.

Before you start thinking I'm just going to go tediously slagging off Anchorhead for the duration of this post, let me jump to the part of the story where, this year, when Cragne Manor was at the announcement stage, I thought, 'OK, I'll give Anchorhead another shot.' I looked around for better help, and this time found it in the form of Michael Hayes' Guided Tour (link is on the right of the Anchorhead IFDB page) which seems to hail from 2015. This was a Hallelujah moment for me. The guide comes as a spreadsheet with the game divided into sections, and it has a verbose list of commands with extra comments and context to help you along. Using this guide, I played through the game. Now finding myself out on the other side of the puzzles that had blocked me all those other times, I also found I had enjoyed Anchorhead and acquired a great admiration for it. (Admittedly, tempered with my prior roadblock experience of it. It will always be tempered!)

I then went and bought the new illustrated edition from itch.io

I would say my difficult experience with Anchorhead was partly due to my DNA, and partly due to my expectations of IF games, which formed both well before and after the chunk of IF time when Anchorhead arrived on the scene, but not during it. As I've said, I find games from that middle period sometimes exhibit the twin qualities of being too difficult and short on help. They're also much rawer in user-friendliness than what I discovered when I got back into IF in 2010. I mean, I restarted with Aotearoa, one of the most user-friendly IF games ever.

So if you've ever had trouble with Anchorhead, I recommend Michael Hayes' guide (from the Anchorhead IFDB page.) Thanks Michael Hayes, and viva Anchorhead (tempered!)

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Leadlight Southern Hemisphere Halloween Sale

Did you know that 90% of the world's population lives in the northern hemisphere? The odds are that this includes you, dear reader.

As Halloween looms, why not explore the different seasonal reality of those living in the southern hemisphere by playing a game that is set there: Leadlight Gamma. Visit a private girls school in the mountains during Australia's snowless, August winter. Do it for prose-based horror CRPG purposes. It's 50% off the usual price for 8 days.

Click here to go the The Leadlight Southern Hemisphere Halloween Sale page

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

New Island of Secrets review on IFDB

I've posted a review of the 1984 Usborne type-in game/book Island of Secrets on IFDB. This was a game I tried to type in as a kid, then, when I ran it, I found I was unable to leave the first location. Obviously I'd made a typo somewhere critical amongst the nine pages of program listing. I couldn't face re-typing the whole thing, so I (unintentionally) waited thirty-something years before seriously revisiting the game.

Island of Secrets book cover

Usborne have made the PDF of the Island of Secrets book and many of their other superb computing titles from the same era freely available on their site.

I especially recommend Write Your Own Adventure Programs For Your Microcomputer. That book got my parser adventure game-making ball rolling when I was a teen, resulting in:


Then I wrote a few Eamon adventures, then I didn't make any more text adventure games until IFComp 2010.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Time Warp extension rejigged, CC licence added

Thanks to a suggestion by Robert Patten, I've put a proper Creative Commons licence in my Time Warp Inform extension's documentation. This way, anyone who wants to add it to their project knows where they stand. I'm using the most accommodating licence that exists, the Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence:

"Summarily this licence allows users to distribute, remix and build upon a work, and create Derivative Works – even for commercial use – provided they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties)." (full details in the extension docs)

I also polished the extension itself, and the demo project, so I'm calling them both version 2.

Time Warp runs in Glulx projects and Z8 projects, and has been tested in all Informs from 6G60 to 6M62 (which is the current one as I type this). The code is simple so I expect it to not break easily, to be easy to fix if it does in future, and also that it might work in older versions of Inform 7, though I offer no guarantees.

If you don't know what I'm talking about because you missed my Time Warp plug post, click here to go to it. Basically, Time Warp could be an easter egg in your game! And it requires almost zilch effort to add it in. The demo project shows you how and the extension itself explains how. Click here to try or download Time Warp / the demo project / the extension.

Time Warp's thrilling title screen. There are still more intrigues here than in the court of the Medicis.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

itch.io's Summer Sale is on. Leadlight Gamma sale is on.

Leadlight Gamma desktop screenshot (click to enlarge)

itch.io's June 19 – June 26 Summer Sale is on now. If you're ready to try to apprehend a variety of games that make Steam's offerings look like the ultimate in white bread, take a gander at what's on itch's front page, then click the View All Games on Sale link. There are 708 as I type this. (Honestly, because there's no list view, and you have to scroll and scroll and scroll, it's not the best presentation. Come to think of it, I should make a suggestion to itch about this.)

Of course, as per my previous post, I'm here to remind you that the Leadlight Gamma + Bandcamp Soundtrack deal is part of itch's sale. You get the game plus the Bandcamp soundtrack for US$1.67, until the end of this week.

Leadlight Gamma ios screenshot (click to enlarge)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Plug 3 of 2: Leadlight Gamma + Bandcamp Soundtrack sale pending on itch.io, June 20-27

itch.io's summer sales loom, and thus so does my Leadlight Gamma + Bandcamp Soundtrack sale. (You can bookmark that link for when the sale period starts.)

Here is the deal. Between June 20 and June 27 (of 2018) on itch.io:

* You get 75% off text-adventure-survival horror-CRPG Leadlight Gamma
* You get a free coupon for the soundtrack on Bandcamp

So you get both items for US$1.67, which is a $10 saving or 85% off. (Regular minimum cost of the game (US$6.66) plus the Bandcamp soundtrack (US$5) = $11.66).

Leadlight Gamma is a substantial piece of Inform tech featuring a zoomable automap, an artwork gallery, a free-running soundtrack in an out-of-world player, and two layers of unlockables: one for when you first clear the game, and one for when you clear it with a perfect score. If you're playing on a PC, the game offers a thorough accessibility mode catering to screen-reading software. The game runs on MacOS – PCs (Windows, Linux) – iPads and iPhones (iOS) via iFrotz

Read / see much more about Leadlight Gamma (and the original Leadlight) on the game's homepage and its itch.io page


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Plug 2 of 2 - Time Warp

Back in 2014, I put an easter egg inside Leadlight Gamma (By the way, don't buy that game right now, it'll be on sale in about a week). The easter egg consisted of a second game: Time Warp, a CYOA I programmed on the Apple II when I was eleven or twelve. I included it verbatim, complete with spelling mistakes and in its original all caps presentation:

Time Warp's thrilling title screen. There are more intrigues here than in the court of the Medicis.

Time Warp is a self-contained Inform 7 extension. That means you can hook it into it any other Inform game with almost no effort, and without affecting the code of that game. Going into Time Warp, staying there for any duration of play, and then leaving it, takes a single Inform turn. Or no turns if you know how to suppress the advance of time using the Variable Time Control extension or its ilk.

As far as I know, Time Warp is the only technically non-intrusive whole-game-in-one-extension out there so far.

Therefore my very serious proposal is this: If it suits you to do so, why not put Time Warp in YOUR next Inform 7 game?

Whether Time Warp turns out to be an actual feature of your game, appearing on a playable computer, console, arcade cabinet or tablet of the glowing future, or whether you bury access to it in some ridiculous nook or cranny, or whether you make its appearance conditional on the use of an especially unpopular command phrase – it's a whole game! And you could do much worse.

Let's face it, easter-egging XYZZY is pretty old hat these days, and you can't put Zork in your game without breaking a bunch of copyright laws. Plus it's probably really hard to put Zork inside your own game, just from a technical standpoint.

Personally I think it'd be great if Time Warp could become the Wilhelm Scream of Inform games.

If I can't convince you to brandish Time Warp, how about you make your own easter egg game, bottle it in an extension, and increase the inventory of this particular app space to two? That would be neat. In the meantime, consider Time Warp. After all, it considers you.

Where are the links to Time Warp, you ask? In the spirit of easter eggdom, I've made it so that to get to the Time Warp page from this one, you have to find the easter egg entity in this post and click on it.