Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Menus 5 and Basic Help Menu 4 for Inform 7, and Robot Retrievers

After I learned that my Menus 4 extension had an accidental extra colon in it which prevented it working straight away in Inform 7 6M62 (6M62 got more rigorous about stuff like that) I took the opportunity to get to work on the next version.

I've just released Menus version 5, which requires Inform 6M62 and is now the public library version. In response to suggestions by Alice Grove, it sports a couple of small but fundamental changes that make it more user-friendly and flexible.

Before I get to those, do you want to see what you can do with this extension? Or, are you one of those weirdos who enjoys interacting with game elements for games that don't actually exist? If you thought 'yes!' to either of these questions, then play the extension's example project Robot Retrievers of the Year 3000 online at my website. It's all help and no game:

And now to describe the changes wrought in Menus version 5:

  • The primary change is that the top level menu table no longer has to use the hardcoded name 'the table of help contents'. You can call it anything you want and point the extension to it by setting the mn_master_table variable. This adds naming flexibility and also location flexibility; some people like to build the primary table in their source, some like to edit the extension itself. (To make a pre-Menus 5 Menus project work with the new system, only a single line needs to be added to your code – the instructions are in the extension docs.)
  • The other significant change is that the vanilla extension now compiles straight out of the box. If you just 'Include Menus by Wade Clarke', your project compiles even if you haven't built or edited any menus yet. Previously you had to create at least the top level menu or compilation would be blocked, which was inconvenient and potentially confusing.

To go with Menus 5, I've also released Basic Help Menu version 4. The content's the same as before, just compatibility-tweaked up to the 6M62/Menus 5 pairing.

Get one or both extensions from the public library:
  • If you're using Mac OS X, the extensions are available from the public library section in the Inform 7 application. With your internet turned on, click the Extensions tab at the lower right of your window, then the Public Library tab in the top right corner. The extensions are in section 11.2 - 'Out of World Actions and Effects' - 'Helping and Hinting'.)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

1-Carolyn Vaneseltine interview 2-Open Apple podcast & drive noises 3-Apple Time Warp podcast 4-Inform 7 doings

This is one of those Cadbury Roses blog posts with an assortment of topics.

1. Carolyn Vaneseltine interview

I listened to and enjoyed the new interview with IF author and Sibyl Moon blogger Carolyn Vaneseltine on Ken Gagne's Polygamer podcast. The conversation 'ranged across Twine, Inform, and Choice of Games, how to develop games without knowing how to program, the difference between “game design” and “game development”, and the upcoming Global Game Jam (Jan 29–31...)'.

The Game Jam talk caused me to think back on my two experiences of Global Game Jam to date, in 2011 and 2012.

If you're someone who's interested in going to Global Game Jam and would like to know (even) more about what it might be like, or you're someone who likes stories about hothouse game development, or you're someone who likes stories about hothouse game development written by ME in particular, you might enjoy these two accounts of my times at Global Game Jam:

2011 Global Game Jam, Sydney, Powerhouse Museum

2012 Global Game Jam, Sydney, Rosehill Gardens Racecourse

2. Open Apple podcast & drive noises

As a dyed in the wool Apple II head, I listen to the Open Apple podcast every month. It's about Apple II stuff, and the majority of it is about Apple II stuff that's happening today, because people are still producing software and hardware for Apple IIs. Those vacant hardware card slots Steve Wozniak built into the computer just keep paying off.

My 1990 Apple IIGS computer was completely re-energised last month when I bought a CFFA 3000 card for it. This card goes in one of the slots and adds a USB / solid-state storage facility to this 8/16-bit computer. And you don't have to limit yourself to any one kind of storage. You can use any modern computer to copy any kind of disk image onto a USB – 5.25-inch floppy images, 3.5-inch floppy images, hard drive images, images using any operating system the computer can handle – and you can boot up any of these images from a menu. This card, apart from being an enormous convenience, lets you pretty much eliminate the biggest point of failure for these older computers from your system: the moving parts disk drives and the decaying magnetic floppy media that go in them.

A price to pay for cutting out the real disk drive is that you no longer get to hear what the drive is doing. The drive sounds on the Apple II are particularly audible and organic. You can tell what the I/O is doing by listening to the kinds of grinds and clicks the drive is making. Particular games make particular sequences of sounds while loading, or at particular points during play, that basically become part of the aesthetic of the game on this platform.

(As an aside, here's a link to Antoine Vignau's Youtube channel 'Cracking Senses', which aims to pass on Apple II software-cracking lore and techniques. In these videos, he boots up various copy-protected Apple II disks in a drive with the top off so that you can see which head movements go with which sounds. A lot of copy protection schemes are identifiable by their drive sound signature.)

The thing I most miss when playing adventure games that I originally played on the Apple II on newer platforms is the contribution of the disk drive sounds. Major accomplishments in the Sierra Online or Infocom games were often accompanied by a pause for some heavy loading from the drive, perhaps with eccentric chugging sounds.

In emulation, this part of the Apple II experience is kept alive by the Virtual II emulator. Virtual II contains samples of all the different head and spin movements made by the 5.25-inch drive, and it strings them together in response to the movement of a virtual head to output the same sounds a real drive would make when interacting with a particular disk.

3. Apple Time Warp podcast

Another Apple II podcast I listen to is Apple Time Warp. I'd say that I listen to it regularly except that there have only been two episodes so far, and there were two years between them. But I have listened to both episodes.

This podcast is co-hosted by John Romero and features him talking to 80's Apple II game programmers about their games, tech tricks and memories of the software industry.

4. Inform 7 doings

In my Inform 7 doings, I produced the first example game for my WIP CYOA extension over Christmas. Predictably, it immediately revealed dozens of bugs and shortcomings in the system. So I've been attending to all those, and perhaps soon I will be able to move on to the easier examples.

After those are done I intend to make a full project using the extension. In matters of minor irony, this project will require almost none of the bells and whistles the extension makes available. But that's sort of forgetting that the meat and potatoes features of the extension are significant ones. The project will be friendly to all of desktop, website, iOS and screen reader play out of the box.