Through things I said recently in a podcast, and in extremely vague form on the front of my Heiress Software homepage, I communicated that the next Inform 7 IF game I would do would be 'the murder one'.
I expected and expect this to be very difficult to do, for concept and design reasons. That's on top of my having had few specific story ideas for it yet.
The thing at the moment is that I need my creativity to be bolstering my motivations in life in general, not vexing me. Persisting with the planning stage of something really difficult ('the murder game') has been vexing me. So I've decided to switch to a project I'm confident will start to give me some gratification immediately. The third listed project on the Heiress webpage, namely 'A sci-fi game set in the Andromeda universe'.
If you don't know about the Andromeda games, they're a series of parser-driven sci-fi adventures started by Marco Innocenti with Andromeda Awakening, which he entered in IFComp 2011. His sequel, Andromeda Apocalypse, won the 2012 IFComp. Then Marco held two Andromeda Legacy competitions in which he invited other IF authors to make games set in the same universe. I co-judged both competitions.
The first comp produced Joey Jones's Andromeda Dreaming (the winner) and Paul Lee's Tree and Star. Both games expanded on the Andromeda mythologies in interesting ways.
The second comp produced Jim Warrenfeltz's Andromeda Ascending (the winner) and Joey Jones's Andromeda Genesis (not on IFDB now, but probably will be real soon thanks to my badgering).
I'm replaying all the games at the moment. I need to revisit Ascending in particular to remember how it fit in. I found Genesis to be disappointing when Jones's Dreaming was so good.
Collectively, the Andromeda games show that the concept of different authors producing IF parser games set in one universe is both viable and doable. The games fit together far better than anyone involved expected – not that there was even a rule saying they had to – and what's interesting is that the connections were produced entirely by the individual authors. There was almost no oversight or top-down coordination. The authors just kept generating material that fit into the sockets of mythology established by the original game, and by Marco's 'cheat sheet'.
I suppose there are actually a lot of examples of this kind of thing going on in fiction at large. What immediately comes to mind is Star Wars's expanded universe. All of those offshoot novels and comics that had to submit to some rules set above them. Maybe what helps the phenomenon work in any venue is when the people involved are attracted to the original material enough that they want to stick to its rules. The more you follow some of the rules, the more you may feel like you're a part of the entity you admire.
Andromeda is not Star Wars. This is unfortunate in the sense that I would like to be involved in a franchise that would rake in millions of dollars. But Andromeda Awakening has something in common with Star Wars in that it established a universe mysterious, charming and open enough to attract admirers interested in expanding it. The results so far have shown an impressive coherence of aesthetic, and been impressive in general. And I want to join in and add my bit.
As this will be a full-sized game, I'll have the luxury of my bit being large-ish. I've had some good conceptual ideas and specific story ideas so far, and I continue to cogitate on them and write them down (type them in) as they come.
Technically, I'm concerned about progress on various Inform fronts based on the example of the past few years. (I list these gripes and apologise for them about once a year on intfiction.org. This year they are additionally informed by my experience of selling Leadlight Gamma.) My concerns will probably cause me to skew towards having fewer bells and whistles in the game than I'd like. There are lots of Inform play venues with no sound, no graphics, no colours or none of the above. There's no up-to-date Mac interpreter. No Mac interpreter advances for four years. No screen reader support on Macs.
I found it headachey trying to get Leadlight Gamma to deal with all these hurdles as best it could in a commercial context. A wise man (David Kinder) once said to me, 'Don't write around interpreter bugs.' That inspired me to strike forward as much as I could, but when I found I was going to have to tell players to be mindful of problems A and B and C and D to compensate for all the exceptions in the game delivery system, I slid backwards, because I don't want to tell players that stuff in the case of a commercial game. People don't want to pay for a game and then kick off their experience with it by reading through a list of potential problems and omissions it may exhibit.
Ultimately I balanced the game features so I could retain some moderately advanced tech (the dynamic map works everywhere) and only have to warn players about a few possible problems. Doing all the accessibility work on Leadlight Gamma and then not being able to share it with Mac users remains a particularly teeth-gritty point.
Regarding the content of my Andromeda game, I won't say more than what I've already said. I'm not much for talking about a thing I'm working on. That's what interacting with the thing once it's finished is for. I know that's not what the kids want these days. They want ceaseless updates and promo stills and character information and stretch goals and not-too-spoilery-spoilers and personality videos and ARGH!!!...
I might cave in later. Otherwise, at least on the front of this game, I'll see you when it's done. Which will not be for a fair while, obviously.
Sunday, 30 August 2015
Friday, 17 April 2015
Last week I released Leadlight Gamma, a new Glulx incarnation of my 2010 Apple II-coded interactive fiction-survival horror-CRPG hybrid, Leadlight (here's Leadlight on IFDB). You can buy Leadlight Gamma for MacOS, Windows, Linux or iOS at itch.io for US$4. The game file is cross platform compatible and I offer various configurations of installer or interpreter+game bundles on the itch.io site:
15-year-old Belinda Nettle is studying at Linville Girls High School in Australia's Blue Mountains. After falling asleep in the library one afternoon, she wakes from her mundane existence into a nightmare. Her classmates are transformed, nameless terrors seek her out across the schoolgrounds, and traps and tricks threaten her life at every turn.
Can you help Belinda survive this terror-filled night and solve its mysteries? And will there be a new day?The game also has a standalone site at http://leadlightgamma.heiresssoftware.com/
At the core of Leadlight Gamma is a faithful port of the original game, now enhanced for modern platforms with graphic automap, tutorial mode, unlockable extra content, behind-the-scenes tour mode and easter eggs, original soundtrack, artwork gallery and an accessibility mode for vision-impaired players.
Unfortunately the accessibility mode isn't a go on Macs yet because the only Mac interpreter that can run LLG is Gargoyle, and Gargoyle doesn't work with screen readers. I plan to talk about this and the various other technical challenges to accessibility programming I've been running into and learning about in another post in the near future.
You might wonder what motivates someone to spend a long time remaking one of their games instead of moving onto the next one. I can summarise what happened like this:
A few years ago I was tossing about ideas for a sequel to the original Leadlight. It would have been all modern. No two-word parser, no Apple IIs in sight – just a brand new game. While these ideas weren't coalescing, I opened Inform up one evening and copy-pasted the description of Leadlight's first room into it to see how it looked. Before long I'd pasted some more rooms in, and I was experiencing a degree of pleasure and narcissism in being able to walk around in this world again in a new context. I got hooked on building the whole thing anew after overcoming the first engineering challenge I encountered (though I don't remember exactly what it was, now). I also realised the port would bring the game to more players, and just make it easier to get at.
So I've ended up doing a 180 on the idea I previously expressed that I had no interest in porting the game to Inform. I'd thought the 'building a ship in a bottle' feel of the original 8-bit project (for me) might be rendered invisible or pointless-feeling by taking it to a platform which could, relatively speaking, do anything. I didn't realise it would end up being another interesting permutation of the same experience. It was like building a scale model of the ship in the bottle, partly by squinting through the glass at the original ship, and partly by studying the microscopically scaled plans used to build the original ship.