Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Music Room Inform source code (from Cragne Manor) now public

Chill: Black Morn manor board game. The map reminds me of Cragne Manor.

Andrew Plotkin maintains a nice webpage hosting Cragne Manor Inform source code files that have been shared publicly by their authors. The other day I sent him my 30k-word source for room M1F5, The Music Room, so it can now be downloaded from or viewed (in easy-to-read format) on the page. Obviously, the source is completely spoilery for the location. A few observations on it:

  • I opened ten other sources at random and I guess one thing I can say about mine is it appears to be the most commented of the sources. This will help if you want to try to follow it much, because the room transforms amongst eight different guises during play. The phrases "wadrick-pack-the-new-room" and "wadrick-unpack-the-old-room" teleport people and objects in and out as the player moves through the different sub-rooms.
  • There are thirteen rules in the source intercepting all the actions (I could find!) that a player can use to launch a vital object into a room at a vital moment in order to stay alive.
  • There's also a reasonable amount of code (in "Section - Wider world rules") diverting/suppressing every alternate path to conversation. Tons of paths had been added by a coordinators-supplied conversation extension that may be great in its own right, but which I recall they ultimately regretted adding, because it created so many potholes for authors. My problem was that with the extension in place, Inform constantly harped on the topic of the vomit object I'd created. If someone was allowed to type ASK in my room, the game would immediately print "(about the vomit)", and as funny as that was for a few minutes, it was more genuinely an annoyance. So I moved aggressively on the whole issue.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter planning notes available

During my 2022 Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter, I said on the intfiction.org forum that once the campaign was over, I would share my planning notes. I've now done that (they comprise a a ten-page PDF of about 4700 words) in a post on the forum along with some explanatory notes.

Sunday, 2 October 2022

IFComp 2022 review: Nose Bleed by Stanley W Baxton

Nose Bleed by Stanley W Baxton, is a clicking-choice-based story with graphic elaboration – ostensibly about social anxiety – that elicited a combination of visceral nausea and hysterical laughter from me; a pretty strong combination for a ten-minute (to play) game. I don't think the first game I've tried in any previous year's Interactive Fiction Competition has made me feel ill so quickly, so after a fashion, this was a good start.

I'd say that if nose bleeds, or blood coming out of your body in general, either in prose or as animated spatter on the screen, or from the cover image below, are likely to make you ill, then both this game and my review are likely to make you ill ill. You have been warned.

Nose Bleed cover image

The player-narrator of Nose Bleed works in an office. They're meant to be doing something with spreadsheets but they feel barely capable. The details of the work, or indeed of anything but the narrator's flustered mental space, and later, their spectacular nose bleeds, are omitted by the game. Their headspace and the negative self-talk going on in there are the main event. I am not a psychiatrist, but I have been incapacitatedly socially phobic (two-and-a-half decades ago – treated over years, ultimately left behind) and this looks to be the psychological terrain of this game. Also, the content warning says "social anxiety". In the protagonist's distorted mindset, they expect to be negatively evaluated by others all the time. The narration is a spiral of feeling incompetent, incapable, distressed, depressed, and wanting to flee situations.

When the PC's nose starts to bleed during the work day, it comes in like a metaphor for their anxiety. It starts, it can't be stopped, it seems uncontrollable, others can see it and evaluate them negatively as a result. The bleeding gets worse. The PC is invited to an event they can't get out of, and the blood  keeps-a-coming. Choices about what to do next are made by dragging words on the screen to nouns that light up. The actions tend to be basic ones that are either ineffectual (rub nose) or fobbed off upon selection by the protagonist's own self-defeating brain (apologise).

What makes Nose Bleed so nauseating is the way the blood is animated on screen. The paper-white backdrop is stained first by a single streak, then as spots that appear, and finally as an unstoppable animated splatter that follows the cursor about. Coupled with selectable prose options like "Lick" (the blood off your lip) the effect of all this was to begin to induce in my arms that strange weakness that precedes blood-related nausea for me. And then I began to laugh. The whole thing was reaching the intensity of a skit where a patient sits in a waiting room while geysering blood. Or of the most spectacular nose bleed I ever experienced second-hand as an adolescent, where I was in a car with two sisters, and one of them started jetting from the nose in time with the pumping from her heart. The streamers of blood would hit me whenever the car turned a corner. As much blood gets all over the prose in Nose Bleed. It piles up on the on-screen choices and nothing can stop it. The PC doesn't even try basic techniques I'm aware of like pinching the nose while tilting the head back, though they do come up with the head tilt alone.

Nose Bleed's finale has a kind of twisting escalation that reminded me of a David Cronenberg film or two. I'm not sure what meaning I ascribe to the very last event in the game, but I'll give it time to percolate. The game's overall design is excellent, moving quickly from banal office work and equally banal thoughts, via the start of a typical nose bleed, through the discomfort of being unable to stop the bleed, to an eventual wittily programmed and (to me, hilarious) graphical geyser. I kept thinking as I played, "Surely, it stops here," but I was repeatedly wrong.

If all that animated blood is in danger of having an eclipsing effect, I could say that having all one's thoughts eclipsed by one panicky thing is like social phobia, after all. In Nose Bleed, the blood literally gets in between you and the interface.

Monday, 22 August 2022

Andromeda Acolytes at $9200 of $14k with 54 hours go go!

If you've yet to back and/or promote, we're obviously entering the crunch time, so please don't delay in backing and/or promoting as suits your life situation.

Tell people you're backing a sci-fi game on Kickstarter and it's nearly there. And you can tell them in person or on socials or forums or wherever!

Here's the main link again:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wadeclarke/andromeda-acolytes-a-state-of-the-art-sci-fi-text-adventure

I'll also link you to my latest backer update to let you know where my head's at. Note that if you're already receiving my direct Kickstarter updates and remember me quoting The Phantom Menace, you've read this update.

Here are two other IF Kickstarters I'm backing right now...

(I'd share some graphics but my graphics are screwy on Planet IF at the moment, so I'm leaving them out until I hear back about that)

Stereotypical

Did you know that Scott Adams (through his company Clopas LLC) is also Kickstarting a game at the moment? The Kickstarter for ios/Android game Stereotypical finishes soon after mine. I am backing the project and have faith in the pitched base game described on the page, though I don't think the campaign video is very good. There's also a community element involved in the creation of the game. Check it out yourself:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wadeclarke/andromeda-acolytes-a-state-of-the-art-sci-fi-text-adventure/posts/3588864

Grimfel

I'm also backing Adam Frank's Grimfel, a fantasy Interactive Fiction/Visual Novel hybrid "about your character's gruelling journey through the age of great desolation""(!). I really like the aesthetic he's developed for the game. It offers base content and then ongoing scenarios. If you like these kinds of stories, and in a dark and not-fey mode, check this one out!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/grimfel/grimfel-grimdark-fantasy-interactive-fiction-visual-novel/

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter passes $6500 – About the IF Competitions, Kickstarter prep and avoiding the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter has passed $6500!

I've been speaking to backers and getting some very nice feedback, too.

There are eight days to go to reach $14k as I type this. If you hadn't thought about backing me before, I obviously wish to stir that thought in your mind. What I'm making is ambitious, and you'll also be helping to raise the monetary water level for all IF. HERE'S THE PROJECT LINK.

What might also sway you:

Today, I'm going to tell you about the IF competitions I ran that preceded the Kickstarter, because they're actually the wildest part of this whole thing. And since they weren't actually directed primarily towards those already involved in IF, they're the part that most of this audience might know least about.

Kickstarter Prep and IF Competitions

... I started on the Kickstarter prep a year and a half ago. The biggest challenge in these things is trying to establish a community or critical mass before you begin, including a sizeable chunk of people who are initially strangers to you.

I built a Discord server and programmed it with teams, a community-building idea described by Mike Rose of No More Robots (games) in a 2019 GDC talk shared to me by Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games. Dan is the gent who got me to take my Kickstarter prep seriously. So in equal seriousness, I'm grateful to him, while in Joke Land, my constitution wants him to pay it restitution.

To the competitions. I decided to invent a version of what had been proposed in the GDC talk that would be appropriate for IF. Also, I wouldn't be stirring up a crowd for a game release as was being done in the GDC talk, I'd be stirring one up for a Kickstarter. And finally, I wanted whatever I did to not resemble the Stanford Prison Experiment, which one audience member at the talk jokingly compared its proposed methods to.

So at this point I was venturing into unexplored territory. I began by vetting IF games to find ones suitable for use in competition. This was hard because most don't use scoring, most have walkthroughs, and those that do use scoring are often too old school. I eventually chose

1. Captain Verdeterre's Plunder by Ryan Veeder – a newbie-friendly time-limited scoring game whose highest score had never been established

2. Napier's Cache by Vivienne Dunstan – No score involved, but it's a character and story driven game of the kind I am pitching myself, and I regard it as the best example of this kind of game that is easiest to play. And

3. Necron's Keep by Dan Welch – A totally unheralded D+D game that frankly I believed only I knew about, at least in the IF circles I frequent. Not newbie-friendly at all, and with bugs, but detailed and lots of fun, and a good last comp discriminator.

I then contrived with the authors and keepers of these games to temporarily hide their help materials from the internet. (Except in the case of Necron's Keep, whose author I've never been able to contact. Logistically, that was okay. I was plainly the world's foremost expert on the game at the time, apart from its author.)

I set up servers with these games on them, and autorecording of player transcripts on the servers. Discord didn't offer certain user ID functionality I needed, so I had to build a Discord bot for that and keep it running 24/7. My friend Andrew Schultz was the Python brains behind this. I created text-adventuring boot camp materials. I solicited and promoted the competitions around the internet, ran them over three weeks and awarded the prizes. This segued into a beta test of the game on Steam, which segued into the Kickstarter launch.

However, the number of users who'd showed up in the Discord was factors below what I wanted, needed or expected. I had to nix the map-making and poetry-writing competitions around Napier's Cache, and reach back out to IF veterans to compete in the case of Necron's Keep, as I hadn't been able to build up a new player base that was in shape to tackle that game. This last detail shows I overestimated how far I could bring people in three weeks. As disappointing as all this was, other good things came out of it that were of a non-numerical nature. Acquaintances were becoming more like friends. Some IF folk spontaneously offered knowledge, advice or help. The Necron's Keep competition was a lot of fun and brought an unheralded game to people's attention. And my promotions created a general awareness of what I was doing in gaming circles relevant to this project.

All I've described above is completely outside the Kickstarter itself. That's a whole other set of work. Integrating and dealing with Steam, too, is a whole other set of work. When my Steam beta test broke on launch, Steam took 36 hours to reply – 75% of the time the test was initially planned to run. Dealing with Apple is also work. I am now an Apple developer, too. I have to keep my certifications up to date and notarise my app each time I rebuild it for Steam.

The strangers-to-community-build is the big element of the pre-campaign I could have tried again from other angles. I (or anyone) could have spent an infinite amount of time at this phase until I'd worked it out. Solving this for a mature, pure prose IF game remains a puzzle. But what I'd already tried was such a massive amount of work, and had cost me so much time, I didn't want to spend more time. I wanted life to go forward, so I began the Kickstarter.

In terms of how I've promoted the campaign from day to day and the manner in which it's grown correspondingly, I'm really pleased with my work. If the campaign doesn't reach the target I set, I think it will really just be because I didn't build a high enough pre-backership, that critical mass I keep referring to. I took some extraordinary actions to try to develop it but they didn't pan out. Nevertheless, here I am!

So don't delay, back Andromeda Acolytes today.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter a week in: Approaching $5000

I've raised more a third of the game's pledge target in a third of the time. $4800+ towards a pure text adventure in 2022 is a very good look, and I've had strangers compliment me on the ground campaign.

Bendy-downy graph trends say that the pledge completion percentage should be ahead of the time passed percentage at this point if you're to ultimately succeed. So while success isn't an impossibility, it's the less likely outcome. I won't talk about this kind of stuff at length now. I'll just say that I have learned a tremendous amount about promotion and Kickstarters over the lead-up and the doing, and I plan to share my experiences, and my 30000 word+ to-do list covering the last year and longer, when this is all over.

My exhortation to you all: Be or Stay excited and help me get a text adventure over the line!

In my most recent backer updates, I shared two very different pieces of original music I had up my sleeve for the title page, the first classical organ, the second all electronic, and some in-game prose about the character who composed the first piece.

I've also created a Spread The Word page (Aaron Reed's Kickstarter was the template) with practical advice, plus all the beautiful banners and screenshots you might want to see/share/use.

I've been blasting the main artwork around the place so often, for this post I thought I'd use the teaser artwork:

Andromeda Acolytes Teaser cover


Thursday, 4 August 2022

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter is live!

My exciting news is that today I launched my Kickstarter for my sci-fi text adventure Andromeda Acolytes:

Andromeda Acolytes banner

Here's the page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wadeclarke/andromeda-acolytes-a-state-of-the-art-sci-fi-text-adventure

I'm running the Kickstarter campaign for three weeks. I think the resulting game will be a novel and exciting one, bringing longer form character POV to a parser-driven adventure while keeping the sci-fi, puzzling and mystery elements that define the Andromeda games initiated by Marco Innocenti in 2011's Andromeda Awakening.

If this is something you'd like to see realised – or you suspect you'd like to see it realised but perhaps need a bit more seduction via the information-richness of my Kickstarter page – please visit that page. I hope you'll back me! And don't forget to spruik the link to anyone and anything you think might be interested.

In this blog and in Planet-IFfy circles, it's a relief that I don't have to sell the idea of a text game or interactive fiction in the first place. I thought I might instead say something about the first chapter of the game, which I've released as a playable demo:

https://wadeclarke.com/ifdemos/andacdemo/

I had minor nerves that this chapter might not be showy enough for the Kickstarter. The early chapters introduce different PCs, one per chapter, and in each case the chapter begins during what is a normal day in the life of that PC on the planet Monarch. If you're familiar with the scale of recent parser games, you might already note that it's not usual for a parser game to introduce PCs at such length.

Also, I'd say the first PC, Korhva, is the least demonstrative and most reserved of the cast. This makes her a little more challenging to write, and maybe harder to get a handle on.

Nevertheless, the first chapter is the starting place for the story, so I never really considered using anything else. It's also technically strong. I started this work in 2019, so the first chapter's had more testing than any other.

If you back the game or spread the word or help me in any way, I offer you my sincerest thanks.