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The 2011 IntroComp is on!
Jul 2nd, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Last year, I entered the IntroComp, which is a yearly competition that encourages authors to submit the intro of their in-progress text adventure. I took second place, but I also finished Cryptozookeeper before the year was up, so I won the second place money. (You only win a cash prize if you finish your game within a year.)

Adam Thornton was the first person to finish the programming of an IntroComp game within the year time frame. He had the bad luck to do it before money was involved though. Other games, like Jimmy Maher’s The King of Shreds and Patches, have turned from IntroComp tadpole into pretty badass poison-arrow frogs, taking a bit more time to do so. (I did get a chance to play Adam’s game on a real Atari 2600 when I visited him last year. Playing a homebrew 2600 game or alternatively, hearing David Crane speak makes me want to drop everything and make a 2600 game myself, but then I remember that I’d rather count a long life of dead brides than cycles.)

Stephen Bond wrote a post a few years ago asking why someone would choose to submit to a competition where
he felt an author’s drive to finish the work would decrease after the public showing. I personally found the whole experience invigorating. I was about four years in at that point, and just getting some comments from an audience was exhilarating. I get that there’s not as much development history to a lot of these games, of course. I also agree that there’s a real danger in asking people to replay the beginning of your game. When the demo to Diablo came out, I played it straight through to completion. I think there was only an hour or two of gameplay there, and it was 1996 or 1997 and I couldn’t program very well and… well… look, I had a lot of extra time on my hands back then, you fiends. Anyway, I never went back to the game because while I loved the demo, I didn’t want to have to retrace steps. That’s a possibility for my work as well, but having played the start of Cryptozookeeper around a thousand times, I can state quite categorically that it can be completed quickly when you’ve done it before. Unlike bringing down The Butcher, natch.

But I think in the end, with all the reviews and comments that the competition generates, the IntroComp gives you a bit of a support group when you find yourself in the endless, samey nights that you sign up for when making a text game. It’s better in 2011: we have conventions, meet-ups, conferences — some of which even without dickwolves. But it’s still a lonely process that occasionally benefits from some feedback.

Enjoy the games, everyone.

(Lastly, according to the Internet Archive, my game has been downloaded exactly 1,000 times. At a commitment of well over 500MB a pop, I’m thrilled with that number in five weeks.)

Cryptozookeeper at the OVGE
Jun 21st, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I had a chance to demo Cryptozookeeper at the Oklahoma Video Game Expo over the weekend. It was really inspiring to see person after person, and kid after kid walk up to the six computers Rob O’Hara, Jeff Martin and Brian Green had going. A Commodore 64 playing Scott Adams’s Hulk game next to an Apple II with Oo-Topos and so forth. Outstanding.

I wrote a blog post detailing my full experience with the expo, with photos over here on Caltrops.

Rob O’Hara did the same here on his site.

Rob and I got our games (he released HANGAR 22 for the show) into a lot of people’s hands, and I look forward to the show taking place in 2012! (NOTE, I shall include a link to where you can get/play HANGAR 22 as quickly as possible.)

[New Game] Cryptozookeeper
May 27th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Cryptozookeeper is finished. Download it through the Internet Archive here.

All of the other info I have on the game is at http://www.cryptozookeeper.com, which actually re-directs back to this blog.

It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s a host of people I’d like to thank, but I did so in the actual game. That being said, Kent Tessman, who wrote the programming language Hugo that I developed in, just released a piece of screenwriting software called Fade In Pro, and I would be remiss if I didn’t make things weird and uncomfortable for everyone involved by telling him how much I like all his software.

All right, I’m going to find the city’s biggest strip steak and put it where it belongs.

— Robb

Haunted Houses, Haunted Dreams
May 27th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The setting I usually write is most easily described as the near future. In 1999, when I wrote Chicks Dig Jerks, I set it in 2014 – a decade and a half away. Cryptozookeeper is set in 2015, which is just four. I’d love to be able to pick a real-world location in the current date and speak to it with passion, color and intelligence, but I am bad with directions and wholly ignorant of local history. There’s a statue of a blue Bronco with bright red eyes before the Denver International Airport. They make beer in Golden. When it comes to my ability to spin yarns about the state in which I live, I think we’re caught up!

So I am quite fortunate to know a guy who makes an almost completely new haunted house each year.

In case you’ve no idea what a ‘haunted house,’ as a business is, let me explain – starting toward the end of September, and all through October, there are a number of small business owners that are in the business … of horror! They find a piece of property. They obtain some volunteers. They modify the buildings and land on this property to be spooky. Perhaps they have a particularly terrifying theme, like “The Land of the Dead” or “The Corpse Locker” or “Trapped On A Bus With The Writing of Bethlehem Shoals.” When the haunted house (and “house” is really a generic term here) is ready, they charge customers a bunch of money to walk through. What you get for your money is employees jumping out of the shadows and yelling, “agggh!”, sure, but on some of the better ones I’ll admit I’ve been a bit taken with the scenery, the crisp autumn weather and the palpatable passion on display. There’s a sick creativity among the individuals in the medium that’s very alluring.

My pal Randy, as mentioned in the previous entry, has put together a haunted house near Denver for each of the last four years.

He has also generously allowed me to tour and take photos at night, before his business went “live.” This is gold to me, for the games I make. I place a graphics window in my games to show the player where they are, so having these unique locations as a backdrop is just awesome. Touring real cities and photographing them for a game is a colossal pain because people leave their cars parked on the side of the street. I’d rather code a wet trough of Dutch adverbs than a bunch of automobiles, especially cars uninvolved in the plot. (Plus, the “missions” in any given Grand Theft Auto game might be designed by feebleminded bores, but they dominate everything regarding breaking into cars in a computer game conceptually. Let’s allow them to own this and think more of them for it; they do good work there.) Fake towns created to see the effects of nuclear weapons during the Cold War seem a little creepy. Wandering around some of the villages Randy has made is the closest I’ve experienced to that.

In this way, our crazy nature benefits each other. Because he has to tear down his haunt each year, it’s almost as if there’s a bit of performance art to them that slips into the ether come November — when the season is over and the walls, props, mannequins and fake pig organs have been packed away, his art is gone forever. (Especially since he has too much buzzing about in his brain to simply replicate what he’s already done.) His constructs live on in the games I make, and my work wouldn’t look half as interesting if the scenery was mostly made up of bad daylight shots of sunny Fort Collins and bums sleeping on parked Civics and Escorts.

I’ll include a few pictures I took of Randy’s haunts over the years after a MORE jump. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s breakfast who might be reading this at Planet IF. (I am assuming stuff only shows up to the WordPress MORE prompt on Planet IF. Otherwise, I probably owe you a breakfast.)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Cryptid
May 26th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The first cryptid was a Big Foot costume.

My good friends Randy, Dusty and I shot a black and white video of Big Foot wandering, as he is wont to do, across the suburbs south of Denver. It was hot, stifling and dark inside the suit, and I don’t recommend getting into one for the pleasurable experience you anticipate wearing such a costume providing. There is no pleasure to be found in there.

I am not complaining, as that day I was among friends, and more, friends who agreed to play the part of characters in what is a somewhat marginalized entertainment genre. These are the best kind of friends you can have, and I recommend them highly if you ever want to get into this sort of thing. I’d like to say that I re-shot all of Randy’s scenes when he lost like 200 pounds after lapband surgery. I’d like to say a lot of things about this game that I am unable to, however. Randy snapped off a few photos during my time in the suit which eventually made their way into Cryptozookeeper. I played a dead body in Fallacy of Dawn, but otherwise, this marks the first time I was at all involved with depicting a character in one of my wares that had some noticeable effect on the plot.

I suppose if you were to rank the cryptids of the world in some sort of order according to how famous they are, you could do a lot worse than state that the “big three” are Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and the fur-bearing trout. I gave myself a heat swirlie for the first, traveled to Scotland and caught the Nessie exhibit while over there for the second, and thought there should be something special for the third.

“Special” ended up meaning “waiting until the very, very end of development,” but I was waiting for the perfect Source Trout. I thought I would find a river out here in Colorado and fish the thing, and get myself a proper trout with which to use as a base for the crown prince of cryptozoology. I didn’t have to, though, as Safeway had trouts with their ghastly fucking heads still attached a couple months ago. I went in looking for cat litter and a Reese’s, but I left with so much more. I chucked the trout in the freezer (and the Reese’s, now that I think about it) and you’re not going to believe this, but I was able to cut off as much white cat hair as I needed for the final product. I had three major colors to pick from, but trust me, after a rigorous programme of consumer testing, white looked best. Let’s bring it in and go behind the scenes for a moment:



After trying for three or four minutes to shoo Frobozz up there away, to get the proper lighting and to set my digital camera so the photo would be perfect, I switched the camera over to “auto” and did all the real work to make the fur-bearing trout presentable in-game via Photoshop. The fur-bearing trout was finally complete, and is one of over 60 cryptids you can create in Cryptozookeeper, and among the over 200 creatures you can encounter overall. Steps were taken at the deadline to ensure that the trout kicks a bunch of ass in spite of his visible stats, and I hope that it brings you as much delight in the game as the trout I — according to the racket upstairs – believe I left out is currently giving my cats out of the game.

Cryptozookeeper drops May 30th and I promise this will be the last post I make on my blog until then, when I present a download link.

Creative Commons Music and Your Text Adventure
May 16th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The game I am just about finished making couldn’t have existed without Creative Commons, and I’d like to take a sec to explain how it worked for me, and how it might benefit your game in the future.

I’d dabbled with music in my text games before. When I began to code A Crimson Spring, I found that Hugo allowed me to incorporate graphics, sound and music easily. I had played in a band in college, and had played tenor & baritone saxophone and, er, the oboe before college, so creating my own music for a game was possible. But difficult from the perspective of time as a resource. If I had the talent and ability to just whip out hours of appropriate music on the fly none of this would really be an issue, but I can’t do that.

I am a slow coder. This would be acceptable if I were also an extremely accurate coder, but that’s not really me either. I’ve become better over the last couple of years, because I’ve both taken the time to try to really understand Java and design patterns (which are fairly applicable in many ways to Hugo, honestly) and because I have had mentors at work that have explained concepts to me in ways that clicked. It took about a year to make A Crimson Spring, and in my experience in college, it takes several months for me to write, perform, record and mix original songs. I can do one, of writing code/making music, and still have some semblance of being productive, but not both. So I tried to find songs created by others that would fit.

I didn’t know about Creative Commons back then. Their website states that the licenses began to crystalize around 2001 and 2002, which was a couple years after I made ACS, so it wasn’t really available to me, although I’d bet there were similar methods of sharing content out there. I was brought into contact with the band URT, who generously allowed me to use a couple of their songs. Rybread Celsius and Ben Parrish did as well. This is great, except that it’s very slow going: you have to directly contact the artists, and there’s certainly no situation where you can take an evening to sip scotch (the official beverage of Hugo, everywhere) and listen to dozens, if not hundreds of songs, and find ones that fit.

In 2011, thanks to Creative Commons, I was able to listen to hundreds of songs and pick the ones that fit for my work in progress. As long as I released my game with a similar license, it was all cool. I was also able to be a bit more discerning in style — I wanted songs that had a minimum of vocals, as I have been told by players that listening to singing and reading the game text at the same time is less than ideal.

To that end, there are sites out there that are very helpful. FWONK is a music label that specializes in mostly vocal-free electronica. The Internet Archive was also extremely clutch. I was able to use a search term like “Blade Runner” or “Vangelis” or “Look Goddammit, I Want This Game To Sound Like Blade Runner” there and find songs that fit. CC Mixter has a wonderful search-by-tag mechanism in place. I had success with Soundcloud and 8bc as well.

(There is one bit about Creative Commons I don’t get, so perhaps I’ll do some more reading on the subject. It’s pretty much expected that computer programs release their source code. Pieces of music don’t need to have their sheet music posted anywhere and movies aren’t required to drop the raw footage on the web, but there’s been a couple instances where people are appalled that a CC-licensed game or application hasn’t done so. I don’t quite get it, but I haven’t actually read up on this fully either. Regardless, after a couple months to fix any bugs that I become aware of, I am going to release the full source of Cryptozookeeper to the IF Archive.)

There is one other thing about music that has nothing to do with Creative Commons — in ACS and Necrotic Drift, I was starting songs when players reached certain areas. If you got to a scene in less time than it took for the first song to play, the second would start over it. It was more typical that the song would end and there would be silence — the worst of both worlds! If a player likes to have music going on when playing text games, having it randomly start is an awful way to do it. In Cryptozookeeper, I wrote some code to check when a song should be finished, and play a new song when that happens, after the player moves again. This cuts down on silent space during gameplay. This is good news! For Hillary!

The IF Theory Reader
Mar 7th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’m trying to backfill a little bit, having been away from a computer for much of last week, trying to help orchestrate the revival of the Old Man Murray Wikipedia page from a cruddy mobile phone. One such event that happened to me was the release of the IF Theory Reader.

Edited by Kevin Jackson-Mead and J. Robinson Wheeler, the IF Theory book contains over 400 pages of articles on the art and theory of making games in text. I wrote a piece on NPC (Non-Player Character) Dialogue. Here’s how my piece starts:

The very first time I recall being completely smitten by NPC dialogue, I was a kid playing “Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls.” The game depicted a group of role-playing college students engaged in a round of ‘Malls n’ Muggers.’ I had plenty of things I could do in the game at that point – classes to attend, spells to find, co-eds to maybe seduce once my parents had gone to bed and it wouldn’t be quite so weird – but I had my player character stay put in the dorm and just listen to this group of NPCs play a game with each other.

I wrote whoever I could find on my phone when the news dropped earlier this week, but I already received a comment, which I’ll post here, because the comment was in a private e-mail, and 2011 is all about transparency. In between rounds of driving my dear friends away from my bulletin board, Benjamin “Pinback” Parrish had this to say about non-player characters:

The best NPCs I ever saw were in Infocom’s “Cutthroats”. Not because they had great dialogue, but because they would talk to you, and then tell you to meet them somewhere at a certain time, and then leave, and then go do other things, and then meet you on time, but not a minute before. At that point, I’ll listen to what they have to say.

I have never played “Cutthroats,” never even started it. I have a boxed copy I bought from eBay years ago on a stand downstairs with some other games. I dated a girl who was a cutter many years ago, playing that game together probably would have saved the relationship. That and a spork.

Er, anyway, you can check the entire IF Theory Reader out as a PDF here, or buy a printed hardcopy.

The 500 Meter Hurdles In Being Wrong About Something
Feb 15th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey


Aric did the heavy lifting
here. The original interview was on PC Gamer, here.

PC Gamer interviewed game developer Jonathan Blow about his upcoming game, and this came to light:

Adventure games are all confusion. If it’s text, it’s “Why doesn’t the parser understand me still?” So the core gameplay of adventure games is actually fumbling through something, right? And that’s true with modern [versions]. All the episodic stuff that’s coming out. And there’s a whole community that makes modern interactive fiction games and all this stuff. And it’s true for all these games.

This is inane and offensive.

There’s something about text adventures that makes everyone feel like a expert historian. You can be given a backpack full of weapons in a first person shooter and be unable to get past a locked door — everyone is OK with that. Reduce the entirety of NFL football to a rating for foot speed and the same three offensive players, and millions of people will buy it at $60, every year.

But type “WIN THE GAME” as your first move in a text adventure, and people can’t keen loudly enough that the illusion is broken. Ha ha ha, look at these idiots! While giving more possibilities for meaningful interaction than all other genres of game and entertainment combined, text game authors haven’t finished the job and created parsers that can pass the Turing Test! Morons!!

But no, the modern day text adventure isn’t about struggling with fucking parser confusion. This would be immediately obvious to anyone who has played a decent modern-day game. I am obligated at this point to prove it, so here’s Narcolepsy. That is the most immersive game of all-time, which maintained mimesis successfully until the last move. It was developed by a wizard of his craft who hated the I CAN’T SEE THE YOU shit that everyone else did. There’s at least two dozen people as talented as Adam who have made similar strides, but Adam basically wrote two complete text adventures depending on the player’s actions at the beginning, thus taking the issue of reacting to player decisions and rocking its world.

I’ve probably read 90% of the reviews and comments on GET LAMP. I miss a few that would appear in Google Alerts because not everyone can spell “lamp.” I would like to note that while people are constantly referencing the limitations of text games, as they pertained to 1979’s Zork, another group of people whine about all the “new guys” in the documentary, and how unwelcome they are. The people that are advancing the art form far beyond what the forefathers ever did, to help stop text games from being a punchline have their work ignored and visages unwelcome. I don’t make text games for the fame and recognition, but good grief.

I was going to write more, but the ‘painting on the ledge’ puzzle in Braid is worse than almost anything I can think of in the whole history of text adventures. There were absolutely no clues that a completely new mechanic was necessary, and the game mechanic involved wasn’t used anywhere else in the game. The thought of anyone seriously discussing what’s wrong with other genres and then brightening at the inclusion of “amnesia” is hilarious, and we all should have known the guy wasn’t speaking with any authority on text games when it was announced that he’s naming his new game The Witness. Jesus Christ, dude.

Anyway, I figured out how to save platformers, gameplay is going to center around rings coming out of people, and I shall call it Major Havoc.

It’s The Little Things
Nov 20th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

(An exchange between my friend Gerrit and I.)

Robb: Did ya “dress up” for Halloween?
Gerrit: Yes. I spent $2.00 to get some green face paint and went as the Ghast from Necrotic Drift.
me: Hahahahah
me: You went as BEN’s character!!
Gerrit: If Ben won’t go to a party, at least his character can.
Gerrit: Kelley went as Max from Where the Wild Things Are
Robb: I have never seen “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Robb: So I am probably the only person in the world who would have “gotten” your costume, but not hers.
Gerrit: It’s amazing how those things work out sometimes.
Robb: Did you two crazy kids take any photos??

I have been working on the same, unfinished game for 1676 days. 4 years, 7 months, 1 day. I will never attempt a project this big again. It pains me that it is not finished. But it’s the little things, like one of your buddies going as a character in one of your games, that helps you complete the journey. Thank you Gerrit.

I still don’t know what on earth “Where the Wild Things Are” is, however.

Hugo, via DOS, on the iPad
Oct 31st, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Flack wrote an article on his site regarding the iPad app “iDos”. He was able to run Hugo games in DOS mode with it, which is, of course, close to my heart. Read more here.

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