[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, 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.

May 25th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Five years is entirely too long to spend on a single video game. I’ll never do so again.

It was April of 2006 when I took SHELL.HUG from the Internet Archive and started the process of creating Cryptozookeeper. I had done two games that had handy labels attached to them so they could be easily described to potential players (“D&D creatures attack a mall! Clones on Phobos!”). Those games, of course, came from a much more personal place. I didn’t have much personal left to say when I started Crypto, so I thought it would be a great time to do a game without trying to cram it full of, ah, full of my problems. I had been interested in the pseudoscience of cryptozoology, so the thought of merging adventure-style text gaming — but through getting DNA instead of treasure — with the delightful alchemy of fake-creature building appealed to me.

But in the five years it took to make, the relationship I was in ended, and the job I had got rid of me. I found myself, suddenly, with lots to say and lots of frustration to work through. I was able to throw it all in my game, because the first couple of years was really just putting together the intro, getting some graphics going, setting up the rooms, the cryptids and the characters. I had a theme exactly when I needed one.

Development has gone on for so long that I can’t remember a time when this game of mine wasn’t part of my life. I’ve had stretches where I’ve lived on 4 hours of sleep indefinitely to get this thing together, and I’ve had months where I was only able to write a few lines per night. I listened to hundreds of hours of new music in order to pick out some that would fit the mood. I talked about the game a little bit at Boston PAX… and enough time elapsed where they had another Boston PAX. Even the IntroComp I entered is almost a year away now. But I was lucky enough to find a completely different lineup of testers for the finish line, having burned out the ones who helped me so wonderfully at the start of the project, and it’s much better than it was just a couple months ago.

There are a lot of regrets I have about the development of this game, the foremost being out of the loop for so long as a game maker. There is a chasm between what I am looking for in a game in 2011 and what is out there for me to play. In fact, it’s a completely different world than when I “left” to make Crypto in 2006, and to be honest — when I look at the whole of computer and video games and what the industry has come up with and what they want to sell me, well, I’m sick of clapping, when I know I can do it better for myself. I did the best I could to merge story and game and while I definitely want to create text games for the rest of my life, it does certainly seem like they’ll all be demo-length, bite-size fun in comparison. I simply wanted, once, to tell any potential player that might find this post that I left it all out on the field.

It’s May 25th, 2011. Crypto is finished, save for one last bit. I saved the last cryptid for the very end, and I’ll write about that tomorrow.

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!

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa