Thursday, June 29, 2017

itch.io has the Summer jams!

Quick take: Starting almost immediately on itch.io is a "Summer Novel Festival" (SUNOFES) jam running to September 1st. This may be of interest to new IF authors not quite ready to jump into IFComp. A "jam" usually has lower stakes than a Comp; this one is no pressure, no judging, no prizes, just a sense of community focused more on the creation phase than the end product:
An online game jam focused on adventure, interactive fiction, role-playing game, and visual novels. Starts July 1st, ends August 31st, annually. Feel free to start working before the festival begins. No one is required to start their work from scratch unless they want to. If you have any unfinished projects in mind, you're invited to use this festival for completing it. SuNoFES has no judging or prizes - the only rewards are those that come from the challenge and camaraderie with others.
  • Takes place during July and August.
  • Project must be a new game and have not been published before.
  • Releasing a demo is fine.
  • Polished works are encouraged.
  • There are no "winners." Anyone who reaches their goal during the festival has completed SuNoFES, though it is encouraged to submit a game.
https://itch.io/jam/sunofes17

I'm not a regular on itch.io, but it offers a huge number of indie and experimental free and low-priced games, as well as the means to set up your own "storefront" (bazaar booth?) to present your own works.

I had a lot of fun there participating in Emily Short's "Bring Out Your Dead" jam of abandoned or stalled games.

They've got a lot of other fun stuff also starting very soon that may also be of interest to the community such as "Fantasy Console Jam", "Games Made Quick Jam", "Yaoi Game Jam" and "Pixel Horror Jam", so check out their whole timeline of upcoming jams.

P.S.: Don't forget June 30th is your last chance to get in on IntroComp as well!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

By the CSIDE!

ChoiceScript is a very easy language to write in. It is how all Choice of Games narratives are created. It is simple, powerful, and lets an author do more writing than coding to create an extensive choice narrative that can hinge on the powerful accumulation of stats that bend and alter the story and an individual player's game experience.

Right now, CoG publication is probably one of the most accessible and visible ways for choice-IF authors to actually get a game out to the public and get paid for it. Choice of Games commissions talented authors for their featured stories that fit within their specific inclusive "house style" framework they are known for and their audience expects, but anyone can submit an "indie" spec game to be hosted by CoG as long as it complies with a certain number of minimally sensible parameters with regard to length and content.

That said, writing a CS narrative that fans will want to play and shell out a few dollars for is an enormous task. An author is seldom going to whip out a CS masterpiece of any length in a matter of weeks or possibly even months. Most worthy titles are at least novella-length with regard to visible word count, and depending on how efficient the game and the choices are structured, it has been discussed that an author may find themselves needing to write upwards of three to five times the amount of prose than in a standard novel, most of it not used in any given play-through. There are smart ways to avoid such excess, but game designers needn't apply if they're not up to the task of writing at least 30,000 words including code, and possibly a lot more. (30k is the minimum length of a hosted game CoG will accept, word counts for epic games in the 300k-500k range are not unheard of.)

So you're up to the task, and now you need to get started in ChoiceScript. While authoring in CS is easy, the initial setup is not. In the past, authors had to deal with separate text files including the prose and connecting code and then running them through a compiler which only works in Firefox, and the compiling can be a tedious chore, making compiling and testing a thing that might only be done once a day. Plus the game must pass required automated testing routines provided by CoG that could be sometimes difficult to carry out and understand. I'm one of those curious people who loves to discover and learn new authoring systems, but the minute the directions use the words "run the included compiler" or "write your code in separate text files" I'm out.

The only way I had ever had a chance to experiment with ChoiceScript at all was by using a clever community-created editor that was available online. The thing that helped it click for me was being able to type code in one window and see it instantly compiled in the other. That little bit of WYSIWYG experimentation let me blunder my way through my newbie mistakes and begin to learn how CS works and fits together. It was a great idea for learning, but in no way full-featured enough to write an extensive work.

Text files on left, auto code coloring on right
Now, we have CSIDE (Choice Script IDE) which is a brilliant community-developed piece of work shepherded by Carey J. Williams (CJW on the CoG forums) over more than a year of testing and building from that original tiny CS editor into what I can only describe as "Microsoft Word for Choice Script". If you are familiar with the format and functionality of the Inform 7 IDE, CSIDE will be an easy glove to fit.

Instant playtesting
CSIDE manages all the files for a project, is a code specific color-highlighting CS word processor, allows instant compiling and playtesting, keeps a word count, spell-corrects, includes in-window help and tutorials for some advanced CS concepts, and simplifies many CS-specific tasks. At any time an author can run randomtest or quicktest to see the likely chances of each text fragment being encountered, export to an HTML file playable in almost any browser, and eventually produce a simple folder of files ready to email to CoG for review. A project can begin in CSIDE and it will manage all the individual text files and locations itself, or one can easily import all the pieces of an existing project at once.

While this is all pretty intuitive for people familiar with enclosed authoring environments and word processors, there may be a few minor adjustments required for a veteran CS coder to adapt to how CSIDE handles all the pieces of the puzzle, but the organization and benefits provided are well-worth a minor relearning curve or at least a look to see how it might be useful to an individual author's workflow.

I've only scratched the surface, but hopefully, CSIDE will become a valuable tool alongside Twine and Inform 7 to make the process of writing IF much easier.

You can download and try CSIDE from here for Mac and Windows. The program is entirely self-contained without any other pieces to download, and one can begin a project entirely within the IDE with the plus icon, or import multiple existing CS text files from the folder icon. Check out the help files under the question mark icon, and tutorials under the book icon.

Web version (requires a Dropbox account): https://choicescriptide.github.io/web/

--Hanon Ondricek

Addendum: CSIDE currently only runs on 64-bit architectures. For most people this is not a problem, but you may need to switch to a newer machine to run the program, or use the online version with your Dropbox account:

See post here:
We will not be officially supporting 32-bit releases. If the demand is there, we will try our best to provide one, but with such a small team, there has been a very hard limit to what we can effectively test and support. 32-bit architectures are on their way out, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for us spend time supporting them.That said, I understand that there will be cases where people simply don't have access to anything other than a 32-bit machine, and that should not mean that you have to go without the chance to use CSIDE. You have two options there: Either make use of the website version of CSIDE (which is near enough as fully-featured as the Desktop app), or contact me privately and I'll provide you with a 32-bit copy, with the understanding that it's not officially supported.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Introcomp: New Website, Intents due June 30!

IntroComp is one of the coolest low-key events on the IF calendar that hopefully will get a lot more attention this year with a snazzy new website and new management. This is the one ongoing competition that actively solicits unfinished IF works. It's a great way for new IF authors to get their feet wet if they've never finished a game and attempted a comp, or want some support and motivation to do so.

One major change this year is IntroComp is accepting any slice of an unfinished game as opposed to just the beginning; the website makes clear the "Intro" part of IntroComp now means you are "Introducing your game" as opposed to providing just the actual "intro" as required in years past. The website rules state authors may submit the middle or end of a game as well. There are also cash prizes with a catch: the author has to actually finish the game within one year and notify the Comp organizers to claim a prize.

Even if a submitted game doesn't win Introcomp, one of the coolest parts is voters are encouraged to provide constructive feedback along with their votes which is provided to the authors.

The only slight downside is works submitted to IntroComp are ineligible for IFComp, due to being a partially published work. However, Spring Thing is a good venue to show off a game that was partially developed via an IntroComp entry.

If you've got a long-unfinished game fragment kicking around, perhaps consider submitting it to IntroComp.

Intents to enter this year are due by June 30, and the "complete" game slice for the comp must be submitted by July 31.

See http://introcomp.org/ for more details.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Intfiction.org forums back after temporary glitch

If you attempted to post on the intfiction.org forum Tuesday (in US time zones), you may have been mistakenly informed that you were "banned" and not allowed to post your message. Upon clicking the "submit" button, users were subject to a long wait, and then red text rejecting the message.

This was an unexpected server misconfiguration that affected all or most users. We apologize for the error and any inconvenience it may have caused. I'm happy to report the forums should now be operating correctly.

As always, please don't hesitate to let me (HanonO) or any of the other moderators (our names show up in green on the forum) personally know if you have any questions or need assistance. I'm on Gmail as hanon.ondricek if you are unable to access forum PM. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

AXMA Story Maker 5

I've long been a fan of AXMA Story Maker, a Russian-developed hypertext choice narrative engine that is very similar to Twine. I used an early version to write Devil's Food, a speed-Ectocomp entry in three hours. AXMA is now up to version 5, and despite its relative obscurity with English-speaking IF authors, there's a whole lot here to like. AXMA offers an easy alternative for those who want to write a choice-narrative, but, like me, may find Twine's nearly unlimited modifiable adaptability a little bewildering.

First off, AXMA is technically a free app with a "professional version" that lists for €29.90 via PayPal (but as of this writing is marked down to €19.90, approximately $22 USD) which is not a bad deal. The free version is unlimited to use, disabling only direct HTML export (all games can be uploaded to and are hosted by AXMA's public library for online play or download). Upgrading for the one-time fee doesn't change the software, but unlocks the ability to export HTML directly, as well as allowing the author to modify the resulting HTML file, and removes a "created with AXMA Story Maker" link on the title screen.

I've described AXMA to some people as "imagine if Steve Jobs had designed Twine"; AXMA is a closed-system so it's not as modifiable as Twine, but what's included is very powerful and provides enough functionality most authors will want. Saving, restoring, modifying text size and toggling game audio is accessed by an icon and/or a right-click.

AXMA's standard right click dialog

Every game displays beautifully on desktop and mobile (!) screens with no modifications necessary. That means that the game interface elements are structurally uniform in any game, but can be modified with several themes, and tweaked with regard to background, border thickness, colors, and about five fonts (basically variations of serif, sans-serif, and Courier, limited but all readable). The overall interface layout can be chosen when a new game is created, which essentially changes the ratio of screen elements; "Interactive Fiction" makes the text window big and the constant graphic window and menu box share space as a sidebar. "Visual Novel" fills the screen with a graphic and makes text type out letter by letter and fully appear with a click like a JRPG, "Classic quest or RPG" prioritizes the screen picture (for a map or a location picture) with a smaller text box at the bottom and a long menu box on the side for stats. CYOA book briefly displays a big picture which then recedes to show just a single window of text. "Interactive Audiobook" is something I've never seen but presents interesting possibilities. The system is so flexible that I would use it to create documentation manuals and other instructional material that isn't IF. AXMA's own documentation is created with it.

Visual interface, there is also an option to view plain source code if you prefer.

If you've used old-school Twine, you probably will grok AXMA's markup almost immediately. You've got [[links]] and [[text to display|to go to this link]] and [[click this link|to go to this passage and change this {$variable = 2}]]. Links can be [[inline with the text]], and bare links on their own line are converted to nifty buttons automatically. The main interface shows passages that can be dragged and dropped with arrows connecting them, and there are shortcut keys for most useful functions. There is a permanent "StoryMenu" passage which can be filled with links that will always display in a sidebar menu—a function (along with permanent location-graphic window) that is a tricky feat in most interactive fiction systems that is built in here.

Byooottiful player interface...

One of the coolest features is that passages which just add flavor text, such as an inline link that solely provides information, can be formatted to actually appear over the current window instead of changing the text and requiring a "back" button to return to the story.

Brilliant.

AXMA is crazy happy to handle your multimedia. Images can be placed inline with the text, or sent to the "main picture" box, wherever it is formatted by the originally chosen layout. Graphics can even be defined as sprites, so ostensibly you could make a picture of a treasure whoosh out at a player, or move a marker around on a static map, or slide your characters into and out of a visual novel scene. AXMA differentiates between "music", which is played constantly in the background and loops until changed or stopped via a macro, and "sound effects" which are played once on a different channel from the music. Videos from YouTube and Vimeo can also be streamed within a passage. All media can be streamed from the internet, or provided locally in a folder with the game.



On iPhone
Works on mobile
Overall this is a polished package for hypertext and choice-based fiction. The only slight bumpy spots I've encountered: the documentation lists everything AXMA can do, but is not comprehensive, leaving some nuances to be discovered through experimentation. There is a Google group for English-language discussion that isn't very active, but I've had very good luck with getting the devs to respond, usually within a day. Otherwise, I've used web-page translation of the Russian forums, but otherwise, there aren't many other places to read up on what people are doing with this software. AXMA's online library, at least on the English side, is a bit of a mess with many unfinished experiments (and a few works of dicey NSFW subject matter), but stories from the free version of the software can be hosted there (there is a limit on how much multimedia can be included) and linked to directly as below.

Catch the Spy, one of the more impressive examples in the library.

AXMA Story Maker can be downloaded for PC, Mac, and Linux, and there is an in-browser editor online as well.

UPDATE: I purchased the software (actually a lifetime "Professional" account) via PayPal, and received my registration key via email promptly within 24 hours as promised on the site. The actual registration key is for earlier versions of ASM which work fully offline. The current version asks you to sign into your user account using the email and password you register on their website and will handshake that account online to unlock all features when using the standalone editor. AXMA Story Maker is a popular engine in the Russian IF community and is actively supported and distributed.
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My IF can be found on IFDB, or via flashy links there from my website.





Monday, February 6, 2017

Undiscovered Bugs

Someone on the forums with the handle "lister" decided to industriously tag all the IFComp games on IFDB, so of course, I vainly searched to see where mine had placed over time. Finally on about page seven of hundreds of games, Transparent showed up. I gave it a play-through since I hadn't looked at it in a while, amazed at how packed with stuff it is. Who knows how I got it done; it was way too large for IFComp, and despite starting out moderately-scoped in my head, it blew up out of proportion and I didn't have time to test it as thoroughly as one would want.

As I explored Thorne Manor again, enjoying how well the random sound generation actually worked out, I couldn't remember what clever refusal message I had implemented if someone tries to pick up the bathtub:
>TAKE TUB
Taken.
Dammit.

With all the poorly-conceived inventory limits I had initially put in that game, my photographer was now walking around a haunted house carrying an entire claw-foot bathtub with shower and curtain. Luckily I had restricted objects that could be put in the PC's coat pocket with an adjective, so I was spared that ridiculousness, and I kept it in inventory since I didn't want to see if the butler would dutifully tidy it up and shut it in the hall closet. I solicited a lot of feedback post-comp from experienced beta testers, and nobody (including me) had ever caught this very easily fixed bug.

So what's the longest a bug has gone undocumented in a game? Comment below and tell me about the glitch you found years later in an old Comp entry or that one bit of weirdness that the Infocom team totally missed. Or anything obscure and hilarious that crops up when an IF is abused beyond what the author considered.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Fair Postmortem Available

I was exceedingly thrilled for my IFComp entry Fair to place 7th this year (woo! top 10!). I have finally written a postmortem which is posted on my blog. Since it's exceedingly long and spoilery, I chose not to push the entirety of it to Planet IF. You can read it here. Please leave comments if there are any other questions you have or elements of the game you'd like to hear about in more detail. Thanks to everyone who played the game and voted!