“Hello all” - my first post to intfiction!
A maze of twisty little paragraphs…
Like many of you, my first experience of interactive fiction was during the heady days of Infocom; although living in the UK with only a 32K BBC Micro meant my exposure was more towards Scott Adams and Melbourne House. If anyone has copies of “The Adventure Gamer” magazine from that era you should find at least one of my games in it. The prolific explosion of EBooks and CYOA recently turned my thoughts back to IF, and since then I have been silently stalking the current scene. It’s amazing to see how many things have changed in the last 20 years, but at the same time surprising to see how little it has changed.
I spent some time familiarising myself with some of the new UIs that have been utilised across a diverse selection including hypertext games, card-style games such as “London’s Falling” and CYOA implementations like “Frankenstein”. Whilst each were great in their own way, none seemed to draw me in to the game as well as a traditional parser-based system. However, as anyone who’s tried to play Colossal Cave on a 4-inch smart phone will know, typing on these is fine for 140 character tweets, but more than that and it’s nothing short of torture.
I believe that there is a significant, although not huge, potential market for IF on touch-screen devices. This belief stems from the fact that people in general are now used to reading books on these devices, whereas only a few years ago having a Kindle was a novelty. My consumer research, albeit somewhat limited so far, indicates that in general consumers like CYOA because the UI works better for them on touch devices, like the greater flexibility of IF-style games, but dislike (and are often confused) as to what to do when presented by a prompt. They also derided the age-old “guess the verb” or “guess the noun” conundrums, and whilst dictionary counts of modern IF is substantial, cited that the simple act of typing commends interrupted the game flow by forcing their attention away from the story-arc in to the mechanics of trying to compose an acceptable input.
Let there be light, on lamp…
A useful feature of Appcelerator is the ability to test your App in a web browser, so here is a screenshot to give you a flavour of what the game currently looks like (The “Back” button is a browser-debug-only feature to simulate Android’s back button);
Touch-buttons are used for items and actions; yellow for interaction and blue for movement. These are generated during the rendering process so that the descriptions update accordingly when, for example, one item is put inside another, etc. In this way the rendered output behaves just like INFORM, however, unlike INFORM only objects that can be interacted with in the current game state are highlighted. This speeds-up the game play and flow. For example, in the screenshot, a book is in the bookcase. The bookcase is a full-blown game object but it’s not displayed as a button because there’s no action the player can do with it in the current game-state (inserting items into it, or removing items from it, are actions associated with those objects rather than the bookcase itself).
When an object button is clicked a picker list (drop-down menu) is displayed with actions that might be performed. The action list is also game-state aware, although “standard” actions are always displayed where an object’s state permits it; the action to pick up a portable object will be presented even if the player is not allowed to carry any more items. Actions are both game-state and object-state aware, so “Camel, drink water” would only be shown at the Oasis location whilst “Insert camel in to eye of needle” would only be shown if the needle were in the current location or in the player’s inventory. Once a player selects an option the picker-list is replaced with blue narrator text showing what action was performed, providing a context when scrolling back through the output.
Feedback so far is that this approach has only marginally detracted from the flexibility of a parser-based system whilst dramatically increasing playability, which is encouraging.
For help, type HELP…
As I’m principally a software developer and entrepreneur with some (limited!) creative writing and art-work skills, I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who might like to collaborate with me with the aim of releasing this game to market over all major touch-screen platforms. In particular, please contact me if;
- You believe you could in developing the creative writing and “puzzles” of the game
- You would be interested in providing some illustrations; my current thought is to provide a few images for key locations in the game
- You could design some game artwork, such as “box” art and icon
- You have an Android phone or tablet and are open to providing some constructive feedback on the UI and game engine (note, you’ll need to be OK with installing an application that isn’t in the Google Play market yet)
- You’re familiar with Appcelerator and can help port the game engine to iOS, Blackberry and Windows (none of which I own, or have access to)
For credits, “credits”…
I’ll give full credit to anyone who assists me in polishing the game in to a releasable state. For anyone who substantially assists in developing the game, I’ll share any proceeds - although given current Google Play download counts for IF I wouldn’t go placing an order for a Ferrari just yet.
If you’d like to see where this adventure game goes you please PM me or contact me at “spam dot off at outlook dot com”