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I'm going to write and sell a full-length text adventure for iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). The game framework will be open source. Read more

Boston, MA Video Games
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This project was successfully funded on December 6, 2010.

I'm going to write and sell a full-length text adventure for iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). The game framework will be open source.

Boston, MA Video Games
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Mid-December

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Yes, it's early. No, it's not the Ides of December yet. That's tomorrow. Good thought, though.

I said that I wanted to place the final rooms and cabinets. That's now complete. With all the locks, navigation, and goal-traversal that they required.

I also decided to implement a lot of bits of paper. You'll recall that over the past two months, I chose locations for all the "magic words and recipes" to be found in the game. (Physical objects were basically all nailed down by November.) This information would appear on sheets of paper that you'd collect as the game went on. The first such sheet appears in the HL teaser.

So I decided, what the hey, I'll implement all of those objects. Not their text -- I mostly haven't gotten to scenery descriptions yet. But I wanted to create the objects, place them in the game, and assign their effects: what rituals and formulae do you learn from reading each one? This is all scutwork; I have all this information in my notes, I just have to crank through them. It'll maybe take me one day. And then that'll be done.

Well, it's done. You want to know how many pieces of paper I wound up with? Forty-three, that's how many. I've spent the past five days on this. (Admittedly, mixed in with some of the more recalcitrant cabinets.)

I intended a play experience rather like Infocom's Enchanter: you explore an area, and every once in a while you find a piece of paper! New recipes! Yay!

Forty-three pieces of paper is not that joyful experience. It's more of a burden. It's "Argh, more paper, what have I done to deserve this?" It's a tornado in a sticky-note factory.

Something is going to have to give. I will need a new game mechanic or two -- some way of discovering information in a location that isn't "See paper, pick it up, read it." The game doesn't need to be any more complicated, but it definitely needs some more variety.

I am not short of options here. There's books; books are always fun. (But I'd have to chain them down, because otherwise players would be juggling twenty books in the inventory, which is zero fun.) (Bits of paper, I can discreetly vaporize after reading.) (Yes, there's a REMEMBER command which gives you access to everything you've read.)

There's the old memory-flashback gag. Walk into a room, remember a lesson... or maybe it happens when you touch an object. Too cliche? I'm not thrilled with it. Maybe I'll have a special monocle you can peer through. I know, Counterfeit Monkey did it, but...

Well, something will turn up.

It will not turn up in 2013. On vacation now. Cookies are planned. Videogames are purchased. (Videogames are already started, to be honest.)

This is not to say that I'm off hacking for the rest of the month. I've done a draft of my other iOS text game idea, but it doesn't exactly work as-is, so that will get some more pounding. I will probably mess around with some Seltani features.

My next update will be at the end of January. Plan for that month: story bits.

November

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I am happy to report that all the items are placed. Every line in my recipe chart has a "found in" notation! ...I'm telling this out of order.

The first half of the month, I caught up on the implementation that I planned last month. That is, I created the ten new rooms (plus some cabinets) that all of October's placements required. And the navigation between them. And the locks on their doors, where appropriate. And the goal-tracking to open the locks.

In the second half of November, I decided all the placements for the latter half of the game. (Two "chapters", but as I said, the chapter numbers do not reflect either game pacing or numbers of objects.) The map grew another couple of rooms, and several more locked cabinets, but I have not yet implemented these.

You might think that the first half of the month was difficult coding work, and the second half was lazily scribbling in locations on a chart. Ha. No. Code is easy. Decisions are difficult.

Every decision is wading into a hazy cloud of "this will probably be okay" and throwing away 99% of it. Most of the possibilities that I discard are fine. Some look fine, but will trip me up later. I have to make sure that the one I keep doesn't trip me up. And then I have to make sure that I like the pacing -- where it shows up in the player's run-through. Or rather, the *range* in which it might show up. Too soon? Too much confusion early on? Might the player run into the hard-but-correct solution to a puzzle before the easy-red-herring solution? That would be embarrassing.

And then I do it again, and again. I've been doing it all day. My brain hurts.

(Yeah, I'm writing this on the evening of Dec 1st. Procrastination struck after Thanksgiving. I caught up.)

So, okay. I have (nearly) hit a serious milestone, and I am declaring a (sort of) vacation month. My brain needs to stop hurting for a while.

In December I will implement those last rooms and cabinets, so that I can say I've actually placed everything in the game. But I'm not going to work on HL otherwise. I will do holiday things. I will bake a lot of cookies. I may play the latest Bioshock.

I have a sneaky idea for another iOS text game, which I might try to crank out by the end of the year...

October -- goodbye sunlight

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Not goodbye forever, or even for the rest of the year. But it's Halloween; it's been damp and grey all day; and I just returned from the annual Somerville Anti-Morris Dance. Feels like putting the sun to bed.

I spent the first half of October dealing with the remaining major puzzles -- the ones outside the starship. Naturally, this was more work than I expected (it's always more work than you expected) but I got it hammered out.

Then, on to the map! This was more than just adding rooms -- it's about positioning objects and clues.

I've long had a list of important puzzle elements, and a sense of where they appear in the storyline: these in chapter one, those in chapter two, that one behind locked door X, and so on. But most of them weren't actually present on the map. So for the past week, I've been going through the storyline, chapter by chapter, and marking down locations for absolutely everything.

This task is still in progress. I've gotten the first two chapters nailed down. "Out of how many chapters?" you ask! Well, that depends how you count. There are four major plot stages, which I've been calling "chapters", but I suspect that they won't appear as such in the final game. The player will see significant breaks, but perhaps not the same division points. Maybe six of them?

That's not a useful statistic. Here's a better one: 60% of the magic words, 40% of the recipes, and 95% of the physical objects are now located on the map. (Yes, all that stuff appears in the first two chapters. These include many common items which will be reused throughout the game. The later chapters introduce rarer and more powerful items -- thus, by definition, fewer of them. Hadean Lands is front-loaded with toys; that's just how it came out.)

The map grew ten new rooms in the process. This was expected; I've always had a vague scribble off to the north marked "crew quarters, more stuff". That's now filled in. Bonus: I've sketched out the first two chapters in my PlotEx constraint tool, so I know the game is solvable that far. I haven't put a key behind the door it unlocks, or anything dumb like that.

The down side: I haven't implemented these new rooms, or the bits of paper with all those magic words and alchemical recipes. They're still just notes in my files. And of course I have two chapters (40% of the words, 60% of the recipes) still to go. So November's work is laid out for me.

As you know, tomorrow is the third anniversary of this Kickstarter's launch -- and the third anniversary of its funding goal, since your generosity cleared that on day one. I never anticipated this long a road, and it's not done yet. But we're moving along. I appreciate your patience.

If I may indulge in hindsight: a year ago, my update post was all about the goal-shortcut system... which was partially done, but included no puzzle goals yet. And I was getting ready to start implementing the map.

Two years ago I was staring at a huge stack of disparate puzzle and story ideas with a panicked expression on my face.

So, while I'm not thrilled with my progress rate, I don't think I need to be ashamed either.

Enough of my self-regard. More IF news:

I will be attending the Practice conference at NYU in mid-November. I'm not speaking, but Emily Short is. Should be a fun weekend.

The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction now has a twitter account. If you're in the Boston area (or are generally interested) follow away.

Finally, a bare-faced plea! As you may be aware, Cyan Worlds has launched a Kickstarter: Obduction. This will be their first major new game since Myst 5 in 2005. They have set a high goal -- over a megabuck -- and they are currently about 60% of the way there.

As you know, I'm a big Myst fan. I want to see Obduction get made. It's not Myst-related, and that's good: this is Cyan's chance to break away from the long decline of Myst Online, and start something fresh.

The Kickstarter is cranking pretty well, for the mid-project trough period. I'd still like to see it closer to the goal before the frenetic final weekend hits. So: please consider a donation. If you glanced at the Kickstarter when it launched, it's worth reading the updates; Cyan has added a measured dose of detail about the game's background and storyline. Also: Oculus Rift stretch goal.

And now I must digest Halloween candy and get over the sugar rush. Next month.

The eidolons of September

Gasp. Late, but triumphant. It's October 2, but I've just finished the last major puzzle item... if, okay, I fudge a little on "major".

All the horrible details with lead weights have been resolved. A puzzle with elemental fire which I completely forgot about until this week: implemented. And I've beaten out nearly all the quirks of map navigation which I was worried about. (There were a lot of quirks. Really it's the majority of what I've done this month.) (Because I was procrastinating on the lead weights, that's why. Every time I looked at the lead weights, I'd say "Hey, how about I polish off another map route instead?" And I'd do that! It's the good kind of procrastination.)

So yeah, all the major puzzles, except the "outside the starship" ones which, okay, I haven't gotten to yet.

You can count that as a miss, but it was a lot of map quirks. Anyhow, I get to declare a new milestone. End of October: outside-ship puzzles, and add all the little detail rooms. That is, all the locations which are currently globbed on my map as "player reaches here chapter 2". There's no puzzle involved in reaching these locations, which is why I've glossed over them until now; they're for realism (what does an alchemical starship require?) and pacing (is the player's rate of exploration smooth? Are objects too bunched up?) Not really hard work; but annoying work, because I have to make decisions and think about the high-level game structure. It's a big structure.

Other IF notes for the month:

The annual IFComp has begun! 36 short text games. That's way more than last year. The growth is primarily in the choice-based sector; the Twine community has more links to us old-school IF folks these days, and apparently they are paying more attention to IFComp. Anyhow, anybody can vote, so try some games.

A nifty article appeared on teaching English composition with IF; specifically, with my game The Dreamhold.

And finally, I'll be showing off Seltani at a demo night of the Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment. That sounds daunting, but I'm not part of the conference per se; it'll just be a bunch of game developers and academic folks hanging out, demoing projects, and talking about them.

That, I guess, is all the news for September. See you Halloween-ish.

(No, "eidolons" has no significance in this post except that it sounds good.)

August report

The holiday weekend is over, so it's September by anybody's definition. Where are we? 

I got one of the lead-weight puzzles hammered into shape. (Not a pun, it's not a hammering puzzle.) I implemented the alchemical effects that deal with the lead weight -- and some other lead objects lying around, of course, because you gotta acknowledge consistency. I put in some common verbs ("free", "release", "unfasten") which I've been meaning to do for months. I dealt with several irritating map-navigation cases.

Not done: the other major lead-weight puzzle; the puzzle elements outside the starship; more map quirks. Since that's roughly equivalent in scope to what I did this month -- and half of what I described as "remaining major puzzle items" last month -- I'm happy to say that September should cover them.

Once again this is a short update, but you get a September milestone out of it, at least.

My non-HL milestone for the month was presenting Seltani at a Myst fan convention (at the beginning of August) and then to the rest of the Internet. You can read the introductory talk on my web site, if you haven't already. Try it out! Ages are being added nigh-daily, at this point. 

I haven't been working on Seltani intensively -- that was May and June -- but I've been bumping the features and bug fixes forward, with the help of the first wave of dedicated users. (Thanks, users!) I will continue to push on it in combination with all my other crazy projects, because I believe in it.

And I will see you all at the end of the month. 

(PS: Gah, the post-editor on Kickstarter just keeps getting more unfriendly. Now I have to fix the links, italics, and the linebreaks after pasting in my text. Give me Markdown support, for the love of Montressor!)