Monday, April 28, 2014

Yes, you should write that small diagnostic.

A lot of times when I'm writing a text adventure, I think of how to write a test command a bit late. Part of that is that I still feel like I'm cheating to zip around the game, because it really is fun to poke holes in things, even my own. I recommend it to others, to have a "god mode" in your own game. Stuff you won't let the players do, or that you may only let trusted testers do.

The big problem is that I say, well, it'll only have so much impact. Part of the problem is me not planning ahead, but I've also found I was able to tweak a script or a player command to test other things as well. And even finding one bug it'd be a pain to track down again worked. It's nice that Inform allows a test command that lets you know there's a path through the game, but it's even nicer to be able to jump ahead or say "If this weren't broken..."

Because 90+% of the time, the small utilities I think up tend to grow or be cannibalized by other bigger ones, or they wind up being something I use without reservation.

It's just a lot of fun. And programmer testing often ISN'T. If you have powerful things to try, that bug that's driving you up the wall is less intimidating. And your testers and, down the line, your players will thank you for it. Spoilery examples for my IFComp 2012 game, Shuffling Around, follow.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Offensive Rebounds in Basketball

I'm a big sports fan. Not as big as I used to be. There's a lot of overexposure, ticket prices are up, etc. But on the bright side, people give real and cogent analysis, and we understand better what's valuable and what isn't, and how and why.

Offensive rebounds (OR) in basketball are, for those who don't follow, when a player manages to gain control of a teammate's missed shot. So if you like soccer, call it a tap-in. ORs weren't given much official credit, though coaches would often say, the wrong one at the wrong moment will kill a team tired from defending. Whether they have to defend for another 24/35 seconds, or the person that gets one is so close to the basket he can score easily, it's a big boost to a team on offense. Coaches go on and on about how ORs are about desire and preparedness. They weren't a big deal for a while, and if you remember Dennis Rodman, he was invaluable to his teams in getting these. He knew how to position himself or scramble for a miss, and while people remember his more visible head games, they were usually camoflague for the more practical stuff. (Lots) more below the fold.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Missing a Train, and Game Design

So here's my first non-review post. It may or may not be interesting.

I've been guilty of not cluing stuff well enough. And I've felt bad about that and tried to rectify it. I feel, to some extent, the responsibility of finding things lies with the player. They need to do a reasonably careful reading, and they should be rewarded for reading carefully to find a hidden clue. All the same, you shouldn't make them sweat it.

I've been on the other side of it and been able to brush this off and, in fact, I'm pretty forgiving if I notice that an author forgot to clue something, but other work they did makes it clear they did so generally. But an experience I had missing a train gave this a more emotional angle. I don't want this to be a shaggy dog story or lengthy complaint but rather an example of how mistakes get in the way of performing simple actions and how things can be exacerbated or dealt with.

Monday, April 21, 2014

6 down, 0 or 4 to go

I don't want to do much for a while. I've tested the remaining 4 games, and I think I'd like to hold off til the end so I don't bias people either way. But I don't feel comfortable reviewing games I'm somewhat emotionally attached to, and I'm not sure it's even within contest rules.

About the only thing I can add is a technical note: this post by Wade Clarke should help you to download the newest shiniest ALAN interpreter so The Wyldkynd Project works best. I think people are all a bit wary of non-Inform parser entries (as of 4/21 noon Central, Wyldkynd and Weekend have no IFDB ratings, but all other games in the ST2014 comp do,) and in this case, there are hoops to jump through. I know ALAN has been updated to be more stable, and hopefully this will people be able to base their experience of the game on the best update of out there.

So I may just be writing stuff up randomly for a bit--my experience testing, getting testers, and formulating ideas. Maybe it'll be interesting, and maybe it'll help people. Maybe it'll just be ignored. Thanks for reading so far.

The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost, by Briar Rose

The title in this effort worried me--the potential for full-on didactic screeds is high. Fortunately, there's not a lot of overt judgement in this game, where you are a Greek boy sold into slavery to the Romans, by your father, no less.

There are about 20 decision points in the game, and while most revolve around gaining (or losing) approval of the people you meet, some allow you to gain or lose strength and speed, which affects the result of the arena fight at the end. You get different endings based on how many of your band of six teens (or younger?) survive, although, yeah, you can die, yourself.

Emily Short already pointed out how different all three CYS games are in subject matter. Unfortunately none of them really *sang* though they all feel competent and all showed me something different. I suspect they'll do decently, and they made me curious about CYS. It's good to see a community like that I never knew about. It's good people are cranking out meaningful works. If these works are representative of the community as a whole, I'd say the next step is to have people give tougher criticisms of WIPs so there aren't big barren patches of bland exposition & so the games flow better. Because as of now it looks like Twine is quicker and more lightweight and has stronger authors, but CYS may well have a lower barrier to entry, and I was impressed by the forum activity.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Game of Life and Death, by Kiel Farren

Life is not a game. Death is not a game.

/drops some sort of double-negatives booyah

Enough tedious riffing. With a title like this, I was surprised nobody'd used it before, so that's kind of neat. The story matter also surprised me--this is by far the least serious of the three ChooseYourStory games. It also is the only one to make use of graphics and an inventory, but unfortunately, it has a lot of faults. I'm not sure if this is due to the author or due to the medium. But enough got in my way that even with a walkthrough, I wound up with the semi-decent ending and missed stuff I should have had several times.

This entry seemed to have the most potential of all three, but it fell flat.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Through Time, by MC Book

With only three games I didn't test left, I was faced with a choice of three Choose Your Story games.

Anyway. Through Time is, unsurprisingly, a time travel story. Everyone should write one, whether or not we publish it, because the paradoxes are interesting. And while reading too many leaves us feel like we've seen it all, there's always a possible twist or two. Even if we're analytical enough to see it coming, a good story can make us want to change it.

Side note: you've probably read Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder (if you forgot the title, it's the one you think it is) which is sort of the #1 changing-the-past story as it's quick and to the point. If you haven't read it, get an anthology of his early stuff. SoT is very economical about dealing with time travel issues. Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife is a good example of the long-form where, even if you can guess part of what happens, there are a couple time-threads but nothing gets confused.

But books/movies can only do so much. They ask "what if" but don't let you ask the next "what if." I mean, you can do that on your own, but you can't see what the author would've meant. At least, not easily.

This adventure makes good use of that, with four different people to learn about, and, yes, ways to goof up. And in this medium you can (except if you REALLY mess up in that Douglas Adams game) take things back without destroying the space-time continuum. If you succeed once, you have a chance at the Big Enchilada ending. So there's definite incentive to see about other characters.

I found the game to be good and workmanlike, if not spectacular. The PDF flowchart walkthrough was well-annotated. I'd have liked more detail in the writing style, but I know the writer is interested in fixing things. The only problem? It deletes save states to update, so known stylistic errors won't be fixed for a month. I hope the author finds time to add touches that will make this work more immersive or maybe do the same for their next work. They've certainly put in a lot of work and time at the Chooseyourstory forums, and they responded immediately and positively to a nitpick I found in their PDF walkthrough. It's good to see that and to see Spring Thing allowing that. People deserve mulligans when we probably know what they meant--it's not like they have paid, dedicated editors for this. And as a judge I don't feel like I get easter-egg points for finding a mistake when I know what someone meant. I've been on the other side.

Because Through Time has its faults, but for me, it worked.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weekend at Ruby's, by Liam Butler

This is a Quest game about finding the phone number of a girl you met at a party.

It's a party in a big house, and that means lots of locations to search for said lost number. I have to admit that games about parties automatically start with me a bit biased, because I've put up with my share of parties upstairs and downstairs while trying to read. Nevertheless, the game does have some nice maps to help you get around and a relatively robust, if sticky, hint system.

I didn't complete the game, but it's obviously got a lot of care put into it. It's just the sort that doesn't have specific knowledge of how to write a game, which is more subjective than Writing Good Code.

And while it isn't just about being the life of the party (which would be vulgar) it does give the feeling of a Cool Bro trying to help you to be as cool as you can. And unfortunately the initial task of tracking down a girl's phone number gets pushed to the back by too much improbable stuff. I've long since given up any pretense of wanting to be a partying sort of guy, or even going to one, or of even feeling obliged to find Big-Party movies or sitcoms remotely entertaining. I'm not morally opposed to drug literature--I found Reefer Madness hilarious, and Martin Amis's Success and Money are two of my favorite books--but maybe those have turned me off to more earnest works even more.

I like a good unreliable pugnacious narrator--I just don't like him sounding like Dane Cook or Tucker Max. (Or like someone trying to sound like them.) And general subversion is a-ok with me, too. I've always found the process of getting and making fake ID's more interesting than actually using them. I just think that the audience for Spring Thing is not the audience for a game like this & it doesn't have much beyond the big party house to justify a deeper look if/when the player gets bogged down.

With issues below combined with Quest's slowness even playing off-line, I got fatigued. I think the author and programmer made a mistake not including a straight walkthrough, and if the competition rules allow, I would submit one. I hope they're able to fix the bigger bugs (as of 4/17,) too. I suspect the bugs are easy to fix but tough to find. That these bugs pop up despite obvious programming effort  may be a weakness of Quest in general (I don't know if it allows testing commands) or of people not having experience testing it and thus not knowing how to keep them under control efficiently.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bear Creek by Wes Modes

Bear Creek is by a new author, but if you check his website, he's not new to Creating Things --> has a list of what he's done, and it's impressive.

From the tester list, it looks like he's worked with Aaron Reed, and it's good to see a new author trying out Inform 7. It's also planned to be one in a sequence of stories, though it doesn't feel incomplete, and it stops at a good point. It's pretty linear, but there's enough to do anywhere that you never feel forced along.

It's one of those games that feel differently from anything I'd write, yet I enjoy looking at it without imagining the Well-Roundedness Police looking over my shoulder and nodding their approval. This indicates the game has a high level of immersion, and once I got out of playing mode, I said, I'd like to do this sort of thing in any future game I might write. But I think you will like it whether or not you have intentions of writing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Adventures of a Hexagon, by Tyler Zahnke

Adventures of a Hexagon is a brief HTML game with maybe 20 choices. It features a polygon who jumps out of his geometry book. I have to admit I'd like to write an Inform game that is truly 2-d. I generally disable up and down without a good reason, but there's a lot of possibility to riff on mathematical stuff. For instance, I read a book once wondering how a square's digestive track would look, in response to Flatland.

By the way, Flatland really is a classic book, and it's a quick read. I think you'll like it even if you don't like math.

On googling the author, I'm impressed he has sat down to create as much as he has at his age despite his obstacles. It's a reminder to me not to let silly things get in my way.