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A Starting Screen

While I’m doing Glulxe testing, I thought I’d take one more screen shot of the game, this one all text. This is right after the game intro screen comes up, and the player presses the space bar to get into the game proper.

You’ll notice the first command issued by the player is followed by more descriptive text. “More” is a custom command I’ve added to the system that displays more detailed information about the location surroundings. Ultimately, it’s all to help the player make sense of the game.

firstscreen

Running on Glulxe

It’s quite easy to release Inform 7 games for the Glulxe interpreter, which in turn makes it easy to test. So that’s what I did to get this screen shot with the Capitol, and there’s a portion of descriptive text on the screen as well.

Streamlined Williamsburg Map

In my last blog post (Fun with Maps) I discussed the complexities around map development for Interactive Fiction, especially given the design tension between maintaining historical accuracy and fostering engaging gameplay. During my most recent trip to Williamsburg last September, I found that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation helped address the map dilemma by issuing a simplified version of their visitor map. This is the visitor map that is currently being published (along with the daily events in the colonial city area).

New Map 001

I took this map and eliminated the extraneous information based on the actual game and story requirements. That gave me a very clean map from which to work. You can see that this map provides a layout of the relative positions of buildings, the streets they are on, and distance information.

New Map 002

Using this clean map, I marked the positions of the buildings and other navigation junctures that would be needed in (this version of) the game. Then I connect the locations where I wanted pathways, so that I could visualize the compass headings to use in terms of game commands. (You can see the blue lines connecting the red and green squares.)

Williamsburg Game Map

Finally, I pulled the background out in order to have the unadorned map to use in building navigation functionality within Inform 7.

Williamsburg Game Map

The red boxes represent buildings or structures that have further navigation within, while the green boxes are simply outside locations. Using this map, I was quickly able to create basic navigation in Inform 7, and I am using the map as a location checklist for the location descriptions. (Additionally, I am creating the logic in Inform 7 to handle multiple stops at the same location, and requests for more information regarding locations.

In addition, this map allowed me to visualize some navigational shortcuts to help with the flow of the game. For example, I’ve created a custom command “street” that functions at many of the building locations on the Duke of Gloucester Street (that’s the main street running from the College of William & Mary in the west to the Capitol Building in the east). When a player is at the entrance of one of those buildings, using the “street” command will take the player to one of a number of unmarked positions on the Duke of Gloucester Street, between the two cross streets that apply to the building where the player is. From the unmarked position, the player can see the buildings up and down between the cross streets and choose to navigate directly to any of them. These unmarked positions on the Duke of Gloucester Street are not accessible through standard compass-direction navigation.

Within the next week or two, I’ll have a robust version of the game navigation completed in Inform 7 and available for download to the original Kickstarter backers.

Fun with Maps

December 29, 2015 3 comments

williamsburgmap

Maps are essential to many Interactive Fiction games, especially those that involve activity in various locations. Interactive Fiction game maps that deal with real locations, however, are challenging to implement, as there is a trade-off to be had between realism and playability. If the design is meant to represent the physical layout with utmost fidelity, the details of the map can potentially slow down and frustrate game play as the player is forced to move from one seemingly meaningless location to another in order to get to the desired destination. It’s similar to the counterpoint between a flight simulator and a flight game–the realism of a true simulator can be very boring, unless it’s the simulation itself that interests you.

Likewise, the conflicting visions of the HWLN: is it a simulation of the physical layout of Williamsburg as it was in the months leading up the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or is it a game about the events taking place during that time? That conflict plays itself out everytime I return to the map and struggle with the appropriate level of detail to include. I’ve been wanting the game to be both, but that may not be the wisest choice for the HWLN as a game.

Part of the challenge was addressed in part by the new daily maps published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for visitors. The new map (show in the picture above) is actually a streamlined version of an earlier visitor map which you can view here. The older map is much more detailed, and perhaps in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s thinking, it was not as user friendly. Whatever the case, the new map gives me a good template for a more streamlined game map, on which I am currently working and will implement at least initially in Inform 7.

So for the sake of playability, I’ll work with a less detailed map. But at some point, as an exercise in modeling an accurate picture of history, I’ll return to the “high resolution” version in order to satisfy my inner purist.

Parser-based or CYOA? What is IF?

I have an article published over on Storycade. Topic is parer-based versus CYOA; what should be considered “real” Interactive Fiction? Check it out!

Navigation QA: Checking the Map

August 22, 2014 3 comments

It’s been a while since the last update, as I’ve had several projects eat into my time both for work and for my dissertation. As it turns out, the dissertation is giving me the excu–uh, reason to reapply some focus on the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. I’ll need to have a simple version of the game up and running to provide to instructors willing to use the game in the classroom. That means I need to work on it.

I’ve gone back and forth and back again on the development tool to use for the project, from Inform 7 to Adrift to LiveCode, and right now I’m settled on LiveCode for the amount of control I have in building the interface and interaction framework for the game. Currently I’ve developed a simple version of the program that does nothing but navigate through the map, currently 199 separate locations, using abbreviated compass directions: n, ne, e, se, s, sw, w, and nw. The map is below, and you can access a PDF version: Logical Map – Nav Test.

Logical Map - Nav Test

 

Of course, you will need to actual program to run as well, if you’re interested in checking out the navigation. You may obtain that by accessing it by clicking this link. The file is a Windows version program Zip compressed for faster download. If you’re interested in a Mac version, leave a comment and I’ll compile a version for download.

If you intent to perform quality assurance testing and provide feedback, simply leave comments in response to this post. Be sure to list the error you found, how you encountered the error, and what the error does or doesn’t do. Most likely, errors at this stage will be discrepancies between the visual map and the navigational structure within the program. The visual map (above) is correct; the program will need to be corrected if any discrepancies are found.

One final note: anyone finding errors in the program will be listed as QA testers, being listed in the release version credits. So have at it!

Rapid Map Development in Adrift 5.0

One of the challenges of developing Interactive Fiction based on historical locations is in creating maps that are both geographically and architecturally accurate as well as not too complex or redundant from a navigational perspective. In previous entries I have outlined the process of building maps for the layout of the Williamsburg community as well as the buildings and structures within the community. To date, I have been using a combination of both Inform 7 as well as custom coding within the LiveCode environment for the maps (as well as for work on the game structure).

In September this year (about a month ago as of this writing), a new version of Adrift (another Interactive Fiction IDE) was released, and I started exploring it. The feature that immediately caught my attention was the ability to build navigational maps on a visual grid, so that I could lay out the relative positions of locations very closely to the logical map I had constructed earlier this year. Below are two images; the first is of the logical map, and the second is of the functional map in I built within a few hours using Adrift 5.0 (click image to view full size).

LOGICAL MAP

Logical Map 10

ADRIFT 5.0 FUNCTIONAL MAP

mapadrift

You can see how both map views are very similar. The pleasure of the Adrift system is that I could position my location points on the grid visually, referring back to my logical map, and then make the direction linkages using simple drop down menus. While I’m certainly not opposed to hard-coding the game (and I eventually will because of the opportunities for customization and fine control), Adrift has allowed me to get a working navigation system up and running very quickly, and based on the IDE functionality, I’ll be able to add elements including character interaction relatively quickly. Which, in fact, is one of the next tasks after I add some detailed location descriptions.

The High Road and the Low Road

It’s been a while since the last update, but we’ve been making progress on the the interface and parser coding for the “custom” front end. Additionally, we’ve come to the conclusion that a two-pronged approach is what we will be taking for the two main version releases.

Version 1: This is the first piece that will come out, which is purely a navigation-exploration framework for colonial Williamsburg during the setting we’ve selected. This version will be developed in Inform 7, and it will be available to anyone free of charge. All that will be needed is the proper interpreter to run the program file.

Version 2: This is the full game experience with the story placed on top of the location and time setting. Here is where we go off the beaten path with our custom IF interface, and we’ll be using a development environment called LiveCode by RunRev for the development. LiveCode was chosen specifically for its ability to handle text.

Currently we are developing the map within the Inform 7 environment, and we are also working on the custom LiveCode parser. While progress has been fairly slow, it has been significant, and the level of detail of the colonial Williamsburg environment should be quite satisfying when played.

As always, we appreciate the support and encouragement we’ve been receiving. Stay tuned!

Interface versus Intimidation: IF for Non-Readers

August 6, 2012 5 comments

For those (relatively few) of us familiar with Interactive Fiction, the simple presentation of text on screen with a single prompt awaiting text input is a welcoming and comfortable thing. Unfortunately, many of today’s game players are “intimidated” by a text-heavy computer screen, and the idea that they must issue a text-based command (rather than move a joystick, press a button, or shake a controller) is almost an insurmountable obstacle to stepping into game play. This situation is problematic when considering how to engage more (and younger) players in the IF genre.

While it is possible to add graphic elements to the IF structure (indeed, this has been done before), too much change in the IF interface results in a transformation away from IF and toward graphic adventure gaming. However, with the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, I am very interested in broadening the potential audience. I think that a few additions to the basic IF interface can increase appeal while remaining true to the IF experience. Consider the following possible interface for the project.

The reasoning behind this interface is to keep everything text-based, provide a few buttons so that IF neophytes can “jump in” by clicking rather than thinking about what to type, and to organize the screen into a few areas: description/command and navigation/inventory. This is something that I’m able to develop using a tool other than Inform 7, and that actually turns out to be a positive thing for me: rolling my own code allows me build specific functionality into the game, and I will have especially good “control” over the NPC interactions throughout the game–a fairly significant consideration.
At this point I’m looking for thoughts and feedback, both on the idea of going a bit non traditional with the interface as well as critiques of the interface itself. This design in only a prototype, but I’d like to know if anyone thinks it is worth developing further. Drop me a note!

Setting the Stretch Goal

Even though the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative has reached its funding goal, there are 16 days left in the funding period, and we want to put that time to good use. To that end, we are setting a stretch goal of an additional $500 in funding (for a total of $2000 altogether). These additional funds would go toward increased research resources and even some money to market the finished product to the target audience (educators, historians, and IF gamers).

Unlike the initial funding goal, the stretch goal does not have to be hit for us to make use of the additional funds. So at this point, every backer contribution helps us move the needle. Please spread the word and help us to continue to raise funds for the project.

To go to the Kickstarter project page, click here.