Monday, May 23, 2011

Hallow Eve - Spring Thing 2011 Retrospect

Spring Thing 2011 came and went. My game, Hallow Eve, placed 6th out of 6. I am not deeply disappointed, nor am I happy about this. Some voices from the community I have heard suggest that I should not have even submitted Hallow Eve to the contest, but I am certainly glad that I did. It has been both an enjoyable experience and a learning experience. I must say that the organizer, Greg did a great job with the competition proceedings.. he even worked with me on my lack of a Paypal account.

Criticisms along the lines of "This feels like a bad simulation of a bad b-rated horror film" would be pretty scathing if I didn't agree with it. The low-brow crudeness of many aspects of the game was completely intentional and that seems to click with the people that actually enjoy the game. I can't say the same for a game like Bonehead. In contrast to me saying "Oh, you like horror? Check out my game, please pardon my oldschool mess.", Bonehead is geared towards those who are interested in baseball and is extremely well-presented with fancy glulx effects.

Some advice I received from the reviews was great. Emily Short and some others emphasized on the pacing of the story being off. Why was the pacing off? The plan. My 16 year old plan was all over the place with tons of things I wanted to bring into the game, some of which I made huge stretches to make even slightly logical. I was confident the game didn't have any game-halting bugs in it, but some important ones were brought to my attention such as a timing issue with one event and random "understanding" issues with the parser. When I launched the game after release, I noticed an end quote that was spaced way down from where it should have been.. must have been an accidental keystroke in the wee hours of the morning before Spring Thing 2011 submission time. That alone told me I was probably in for it.

A major criticism of the game I didn't agree with was that the game seemed to have no conversation system to speak of. I spent many hours creating "topics" to ask or tell just about all of the NPCs, but there was zero hinting to the player that these topics even existed. I had actually thought of bolding topics that you could ask or tell a person within narrative and description texts (A system similar to Ultima V), but part of me thought perhaps that could spoil things for some players. I regret not adding bolded text now.

There should be one more release of Hallow Eve, complete with a website and source code sometime between now and Halloween of this year. In that release I will revisit the game to address complaints with the system itself and add other small improvements. I welcome anyone who enjoyed the game to leave suggestions about story elements you would like elaborated on or perhaps even added.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Glimmr UI - Progress & Problems

In this current prototype of my next interactive fiction I'm wring in Inform7, I have most of the basic elements I wanted while planning the user interface for this game. A modified version of Erik Temple's compass example sits in a graphics window to the right. In the graphics window above, a simple graphics window is displayed, and the status bars have been moved to either side of the image.

At this point I knew I still had more to add and polish, but was satisfied with the general result. However, I did worry about how the graphics would align in different interpreter windows. Gargoyle seems to be one of the more popular ones, and is what I normally use. Above is the result in Gargoyle for Windows.

Resizing is another issue. There's probably a lot of people who re-size their interpreters after they load a story, and probably almost as many restart their game to clean up any mess the re-sizing left behind. In the image below, I've resized the Gargoyle window a few times, resulting in the "simple graphics window" being duplicated. This could be due to me not adding a bit of code to prevent this, as the window containing the compass graphics does not suffer the same effect. Below is a screenshot after resizing and before restarting.

If that assumption is correct, I figured that making sure the graphics at least align correctly in Gargoyle before any resizing should be OK. Any resizing (unless they chose to make the window even smaller) and then restarting should keep everything neat. I was wrong. Here's the same file loaded in Gargoyle for Gnome:

In this version, one of my bars is completely overlapped by the simple graphics window, and the other is far out of alignment. I have to resize the window to make it larger in order for everything to display correctly. This makes me think of other platforms as well, such as how it would display on fancy hand-held devices that I can not afford. So, at this point I'm not sure what, if any, form of standardization I should be using.

Hopefully, I can get some feedback from the community on this. Also, if anyone reading this has any thoughts on my UI in general, please leave a comment.