Sunday, 27 October 2019

Leadlight Gamma now on (Halloween) sale at itch.io

As previously promoted by me, and as described in the subject line of this post, Leadlight Gamma is now on sale at half price on itch.io for itch's Halloween-related festivities. Sale ends November 6th at 4AM.

Don't be caught dithering at 3:55 AM on November 6th in whatever time zone they're referring to!

Leadlight Gamma screenshot from Gargoyle

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Leadlight Gamma Halloween 2019 sale

When macOS Catalina was released, something spooky happened.

The Mac version of the IF game I'm selling on itch.io did not break. No maintenance was required in order to keep it working on Macs running Catalina. None at all.

If you find this story eerie, consider that it's only half as eerie as the survival horror-CRPG-text adventure game I'm spruiking, Leadlight Gamma (itch.io page link) (works on Macs, PCs, iOS via Frotz for iOS, and anything that can play gblorbs EXCEPT Android interpreters) which will be on sale for half price during the itch.io-defined Halloween period October 24 to November 5th-ish.

That half price will be USD 3.33 (THIS IS THE ACTUAL SALE LINK).

Here are a couple of things about Leadlight Gamma I haven't mentioned too often:

* If you clear the game, you get the so-called-helps, which make it easier to find missing points.

* If you clear the game with a perfect score, you unlock the tour mode, which brandishes images from some novel sources to illustrate its points. For instance, this image,



and this one,


And don't forget about the features I have often mentioned: graphic automap, soundtrack, easter egg that's a playable game, customisable in-game display, etc etc.

Friday, 27 September 2019

IFComp 2019 music prize info

This post will be linked to from the IFComp 2019 site to offer a few more details than can fit on their screen.

I'm offering a music commission as a prize. So if you pick this prize, I'll compose and produce something for you, or derive something from unreleased recordings I have, for your chosen purpose. The piece can be for commercial use or other.

I specialise in instrumental and electronic music, but can do or wrangle almost anything, so long as you don't want vocals.

Length is a limitation, but up for reasonable negotiable in context. For instance, some electronic or ambient music can be made quite long in the same time it would take to produce a shorter piece in some other kinds or genres.

If you pick this prize, you have to call it in within a year.

* My long-term music project is Aeriae: https://aeriae.com/

* Here are some other pieces I've made. A few were mentioned in my preceding post about parser games and music: https://wadeclarke.bandcamp.com/

Parser IF and music

I don't think parser-based interactive fiction and music are easily mixed. I say that both as a player and as a musician who has made music for parser games, my own and others'. I'm not saying they can never work together, but that they can easily not work together. I decided to gather my thoughts on this topic while preparing to offer a commissioned music prize for IFComp 2019, details of which in my next post.

Probably the first point of parser-music difficulty is that playing parser IF is psychologically analagous to reading. Most people don't read novels with a looping soundtrack cued to the material they're reading in the background, or expecting audio punctuation of particular moments in the text. It can break concentration, or make concentration impossible.

Reading is also about generating the life and world of the material in your mind via the words. It's interpretational. If it's accompanied by music, the audio stream seems to arrive as something literal, and may not gel with what your mind would generate in response to the text if left to its own devices. There is of course a mental space in which to interpret music in its own right, but you tend not to be interpreting music in a cordoned-off area of your brain if it's accompanying a game, the same way you tend not to interpret a film soundtrack in a cordoned-off area of the brain while watching that film for the first time. So I think there are neuroscience issues involved.

Musical taste is also temperamental, and people's gut reaction to music is immediate. In the sole musical space, people can do mental work to go towards music, or try to figure it out, if it's not to their taste. Not everyone can or will do this anyway. So in the context of an IF game, I think this is an additional hurdle players would rather not jump after the others I've mentioned. If they don't think they like the music they're hearing, they'll probably switch it off right away so they can concentrate on the game.

As an author, you can forget about all this and just be an artist and lay down the music you want anyway, but this isn't really a dictatorial triumph if it turns out people turn it off at first opportunity.

The challenge, then, is to have music that works for your game, so people will interpret it positively as part of the experience.

Strategies might fall into two areas: cued and ambient. Neither is foolproof, but here are a few observations.

Cueing music is about attaching pieces of music to particular events in the game. These events can be elements of the game's presentation, or in the game itself.

The title screen comes up: that's an event. (Personally, that's my favourite event at which to place a musical cue, and I think the one ripest for success) You gain points or make progress. You die. You solve a major puzzle. You enter a new area.

I think cueing works well because it's discrete, preventing any particular piece of music or sound from outstaying its welcome, and psychologically it leverages the event itself to make the audio work. The music is perceived as part of the fabric of the event, not as a separate stream of information atop the main one dispensed by the game. Players in general are used to audio cues from other media.

Ambient music is more dangerous in IF, but authors never stop having secret (or non-secret) desires to make it work, and to include a soundtrack for a whole IF game. (Try Robb Sherwin's Cryptozookeeper for example, a correspondingly large download due to the audio content.) When I say ambient, I broadly mean that a piece of music is playing all the time during a period of the game, unconnected to specific game events occurring within that period. This is not the same as the chosen music being considered 'ambient' in genre, though it will generally be true that the less direct and more ambient the piece of music is, the less danger there is of it impeding player concentration.

Ambient music runs into all the dangers I mentioned earlier. If people don't like it and it's going to keep playing, it'll be off. If it at all interferes with their concentration, it'll be off. If it doesn't gel with their view of the gameworld, it'll be off. If it loops too frequently or is heard for too long due to the time required for a particular stretch of the game to be completed, it'll be off.

Of course, there can be contextual allowances and exceptions. If a game is short, or bombastic, or somehow has a looping soundtrack aesthetic, ambient music has a greater chance of success.

If I think of the games I've put music into, I've had a different experience with each, most of which I'll recount here.

Six - Of my own IF games, I think the audio probably worked best in this one. The music and FX are cued to events, but never run very long. There's also enough of them that they're able to impose an aesthetic in the long run. And there's one part of the game that uses the audio for gameplay.

Leadlight Gamma - I included an ambient (approach, not genre) soundtrack in this game which could be controlled from a built-in virtual mp3 player of sorts. I didn't think hard about how it would or wouldn't be used, so in retrospect, I view it as kind of an experiment. Some players found the virtual music player unintuitive, and the soundtrack probably wasn't long enough for something that could be left running and looping. I think the music itself probably ended up a little weirder or bleaker than I'd anticipated, too. The final problem was that the music wasn't handled properly by all IF interpreters, and doesn't run online. Actually, my Leadlight Gamma soundtrack experience put me off making a similar IF music effort again unless the technical situations change.

Andromeda Apocalypse - I created a theme track called Black Giant for Marco Innocenti's IFComp game. It hit a couple of logistic hurdles. One was that it was missing from the initial upload of the game to the 2012 comp. For people who tried this game later, I think the music only plays if you win. Having not heard any music before that point, did you (winners of that game) have the volume on and up at your moment of victory? If so, were you also in the mood for unexpected music at the time? I really like this track as a match for the subject matter, but I don't know how many people heard it, or did listen when it struck. This leads to another lesson about IF music: players have to be introduced to it and/or ready for it in order to receive it.

Kerkerkruip - I created a multi-phased main theme for this rogue-like with an approach inspired by music from the original Diablo. The author's ideal would have been to have a lot more ambient music in the game, but I only had time for this piece. I think the track works well with the game's opening title loop.

Andromeda 1983 - Marco Innocenti made a retro 8-bit graphics version of his sci-fi game Andromeda Awakening, and called it Andromeda 1983. Correspondingly, I made a 1983-style track using the Commodore 64's sound palette. The track was designed to loop, and moves through several relevant moods, so given the affordances of the retro style, I think it worked well.

My next IF game will have only one piece of music, and that will be for the title page.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Final Girl, inaccessible stuff from the past, porting old reviews to IFDB

There was a topic on intfiction.org recently where someone was asking if it was possible to play Hanon Ondricek's StoryNexus horror game from IFComp 2013, Final Girl, amongst other games. The short answer for Final Girl is: no.

Someone else commented they felt lucky to have played the game at the time. I realised I also felt that way, and I enjoyed my memory of this thing that I can't guarantee I will have access to again, though there are rumblings of a remounting from the author.

This in turn led me to look at the IFDB page for Final Girl, from which my original blogged review of the game was linked. However, in a fashion similar to what had happened to the game, tech change or rot had occurred, so the link didn't work.

This was more easily repairable than Final Girl itself – I just updated the link. But it made me realise all my other links from that vintage have probably broken in the same fashion. Then, at risk of repeating the phrase 'This in turn led me to...' ... this in turn led me to think that, in a fashion similar to previous sweeps of review transference to IFDB that I've done, I should do a new sweep of review transference from old blogs to IFDB.

Looking at reviews I hadn't ported yet, I could see in each case there was usually some apparent reason I hadn't done it. Some had to do with spoilery-ness (which usually has to be couched in tags on IFDB) or contemporary-ness (they'd make less sense outside of IFComp) or over technical-ness for IFDB, at least in my own opinion (my review of Ollie Ollie Oxen Free was mostly a long critique on the implementation, and I don't know if the game has been updated from the comp version I played).

Just the passing of time has dealt with some of the issues above, whether for real or just in my mind, so I've started porting another selection of unported reviews to IFDB.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

1. The Leadlight Gamma lo-fi summerwinter sale 2. Other news

It's summer sale time at itch.io, a period that lasts until around July 1 or 2, depending on where you live.

My school-set horror adventure Leadlight Gamma will be 50% off during this time, meaning the price is down to US$3.33. Here's the sale link: https://itch.io/s/19285/leadlight-gamma-lo-fi-summerwinter-sale

That's half the regular price of US$6.66, an amount and pricing strategy anyone who's ever bought a black metal album on Bandcamp will recognise.


In other news, I am working on a new Inform game, but it's not for IFComp and probably won't be ready for a long time.

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!)