Monday, December 17, 2012

Lunar Base 1 - Version 1.1

Today I went ahead and made a second release of Lunar Base 1 to my website. Here is the changelog, which I have tried to make as vague as possible for anyone who hasn't tried the game:

- Fixed description of exits (or lack thereof) in one area. A pet peeve of mine has always been not showing how to get back out of a location.

- Locked down 2 items that I thought already were in the comp release. I'm sure this time!

- Added another conditional ending.

- Made a couple of wording/grammar changes.

- Added to the "about" text to reflect the new version.

You can download release 2 of Lunar Base 1 or play it in your web browser here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

IfComp 2012 Retrospect

Time flew over the past 30 days or so due to having a new job that actually involves more coding and "IT stuff" in general. I had almost forgotten about the day the results would come in. I think a lot of IF authors who have entered any competition can probably relate to the feeling you get as you go to open the page to view the results; a feeling both of hope and apprehension. Personally, my thoughts right before viewing competition results are revealed to me are closer to "Let's see how bad it is." than "I wonder if I won?". I'm generally not much of an optimist.

Lunar Base 1 was not originally intended to be entered into any comp. It was intended to be short, though more bitter than sweet. After a few testers tried it out and I got more ideas for branching the story out a bit, I decided that it would be worthy of an entry.. though without any idea of how good an entry it would be.

There will be a Lunar Base 1 version 1.1 released to my website in the coming month or two. In this version, I will try to correct all grammar issues brought to my attention, as well as lock the damn "blue dial" and "lock button" down! I can't believe I missed that in my final release. I remember fixing it at one point, and must have got my versions screwed up before submitting. I didn't realize that was still in there until about the 1st of November. I never re-submitted after discovering it though because I figured the bug was a lot more minor than many of the bugs in the first release of Hallow Eve. As far as grammar mistakes, I am really not good at spotting these out as many times as I read my story, so I welcome any comments here or my email relating to to grammar mistakes you found. "Awkward wording" seems to be a style of mine, but outright bad grammar mistakes really bother me and I hope to eliminate them.

I'm overall happy with the results of IfComp this year. I did have a lot of fun coding on the game a bit at a time over the period of almost a year while listening to a lot of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and drinking a  lot of beers. Next up for me will be going back to my Interactive Dreaming experiment, and I've also been jotting ideas down over the past few months for an interactive fiction based in North Korea. The latter will have a graphical scenery window but won't be as graphic-intensive as Interactive Dreaming, but will have a different game and conversational mechanic altogether  I really can't say at this point which one is going to take off faster than the other.

Thanks again to the testers of this game! Having a lot of testers added a ton to my to-do list for newer test builds, which helped move things towards completion. There were a lot of good entries this year. I had a good feeling Marco Innocenti's game would place higher than mine by playing his work. His story was a lot more intricate and complex than Lunar Base 1 set out to be.

I'd like to point out some common complaints with the game and address them. Be warned if you haven't completed the game and do not want the plot spoiled, you probably don't want to see the following.

** Spoilers below!! **

1. Why couldn't the airlock procedure be automated?
This was intended design. I wanted to emphasize on the general deadliness of space, especially outside of low-earth orbit as well as showing how tedious it would be to live in such an environment. Also, the original prototype of this game did play more like a sort of simulation.

2. I found the obelisk and brought it back without doing anything with it on the moon. Nothing extra happened. Why?
Looking back I think that perhaps I should have added a line to an alternate ending that mentions that the obelisk was returned and that it would be studied. Though nothing beyond that. The "scary governmental space agency" in this story acts on a need-to-know basis.

3. Okay, I completed the "best ending". Did you just rip off 2001: A Space Odyssey?
This was definitely not intended. While there may be some similarities  I don't recall 2001 drawing connections with "aliens" to "gods with elongated heads worshiped by ancient religions" and other aspects of this story. I have seen and enjoyed this movie, but it was not really a conscious influence with Lunar Base 1 at all. A lot of the strange aspects of the story were meant to be left to the player's interpretation. Some of it still is. The original plot for the prototype was basically "Two guys go to the moon, things break down, and insanity occurs".  This was actually inspired by a story that a counselor told me at Space Camp as a kid; a completely fictional story about a lunar landing gone wrong and a man being stranded there. The man lost his mind, burned his face trying to repair an oxygen tank, and affixed make-shift blades to a pressurized glove to kill the first person that came to rescue this astronaut Freddy Kruger.

4. It took us this long to go back to the moon? Wait, we've never been before?
Yet another disappointing aspect of the story! But also, intended. I've always been fascinated with many aspects of space and space travel. At one point in my life I was spending too much time looking into my own  suspicions and theories on this topic. I felt that while it could be interesting to imply these sort of things, it would be noneffective and a bit tacky to have too many details written as why they are implied.. especially with a PhD physicist running the competition (heh-heh).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lunar Base 1 Submitted to IfComp

I submitted my entry into the 2012 Interactive Fiction Competition today about 6 hours before the deadline. Even in the last few stages of polishing, I found a bug or two to eliminate. I was not able to send out the file for one last round of testing, but after running through the story a few times myself today I'm fairly confident that it won't be a sloppy release. An aesthetic request here and there from my testers may have never been implemented due to time or technical restraints. Of course, there will surely be some sort of surprises when the story is in the hands of the judges.

Earlier this week I wasn't sure if I would be able to use an original sketch I had worked on for my cover art at all. My intent was to photocopy it, paint and ink it, then scan it for an electronic version. The results were very poor using this method. I ended up actually taking a picture of the page in my sketchbook with a digital camera using no flash underneath a lamp in my computer room. This gave it the yellowish tint you see, which I think captures the ghostly feel of the surface of the moon pretty well. I then added black into the darker areas to make everything pop out a bit more, and finally touched up a rough edge or two.

This is now the last time I can mention anything publicly about Lunar Base 1 until the end of the competition per rules of the organizer. There will probably be a retrospect of the competition added after the results are in. Good luck to all authors of IfComp 2012, and good adventures to all of the judges.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lunar Base 1: Beta Test 2 Coming Soon

In a couple of more weeks I should have the next round of beta testing for Lunar Base 1 in the email boxes of the testers. What's taking me so long? Well, a couple of things (excuses). The first being that I had a rather lengthy to-do list after the first beta test. Another has been a lack of free time lately due to doing stuff for my 2nd job in web production / programming. To make matters even worse, a co-worker at my first job sustained an injury at home that put them out for a few weeks. Guess who had to do their work while they are out?

A slew of bugs and bad grammar was to be expected with the first beta test. However, there were issues in the story pointed out by some that did come as some surprise. The main complaint is that the story (especially the ending itself) is too open-ended and too vague. Initially I felt defensive about this. I not only wanted a feeling of emptiness and eeriness during the player experience, but I also wanted to leave some large chunks of the story completely up to the imagination and interpretation of the player. Perhaps I was falling into a trap that is frequently used in modern science fiction. As one fellow interactive fiction enthusiast describes this trap, it is that basically a lot of modern science fiction doesn't even try to explain most things. This has been a big complaint with the new movie Prometheus.

                                                                            Med Pod from the movie Prometheus (2012)

I did really enjoy Prometheus, but I can definitely see where others have complaints. I had a few of my own. Perhaps the fact that I haven't even cared to see a modern movie in a theater or Drive-In going on about five years now and expecting an extreme let-down was a factor. I won't list all of my nitpicks with this movie as others have. I'll just say that I didn't expect to know every secret of "the engineers" or even David the android. My gripes were with the completely illogical behaviors of the human characters and at one point wondered about infection in one of my favorite scenes from the movie, the Med Pod scene.

It's kind of humorous to me now, but I remember a week or so before seeing the movie I actually thought to myself "Wow. I hope this movie doesn't have some crazy earth-shattering plot that ties other planets and Earth to each other. That might influence how I complete my sci-fi game." In the end, it did influence me to do something with my endings... to write them in a manner that lets the people know what actually happened in my story.

Originally, I had apprehensions that telling all would drive some people away from the weird ideas and explanations I had in my mind as I wrote the story for Lunar Base 1. Now, I'm actually doing that with the next version as I expand on the only "good ending" and create another or two. Also, I'm adding more "logical stuff to do" such as introducing the device above.

If anyone who missed out on round 1 of testing Lunar Base 1 would like to be included in the next round, just leave a comment with your email or send me an email to jizaboz (at) .

Friday, May 4, 2012

I Was A Teenage Interactive Fiction Player

It was towards the end of 1992, and CD-ROM drives were just then starting to become the bane of my existence as an "IBM Compatible" gamer. I was still running DOS 5 on my first computer that I finally had convinced my parents to buy in 1990 when I was twelve years old; a $1400 Packard Bell 386SX @ 16mhz with 1MB of RAM. It had a 5 & 1/4 floppy drive, a 3 & 1/2 drive, and a 40MB hard disk. Fancy VGA monitor, but no modem and no printer. I eventually had a total of roughly 60 games, mainly graphic adventures. The first few games obtained were Ultima 4-6,  Eye of the Beholder, and X-Men - Madness in Murderworld.

One day, I'm at the mall with my grandmother, who was my main supplier of video games. At the time, PC games were usually sold for less money than console games due in part to the extra money needed to produce the cartridges. I spot a game called Return to Zork, and marvel at the cover. I assume before even picking up the box that the game is CD-ROM only. Looking at the spine expecting to be further frustrated that my system was outdated, (Ultima Underworld had recently come out. I was very disappointed that the game required 2 MBs of RAM and it would probably be very laggy without a 486 CPU) I see that my system can in fact play RTZ correctly! I had heard about the original Zork trilogy many times reading PC Gaming World and other things, so the title and the impressive packaging along with screens of real life actors had me very intrigued.

When I get the game home and install the twelve 3 & 1/2 inch discs included (using more than half my hard disc), the game fires right up the first time. The next few months will be filled with exploring the game, figuring out puzzles, and generally annoying the rest of my family with "Want some rye? Course ya do." blaring through my 8-bit Sound Blaster card. Somehow, I did sucked into the game despite having not played the original series. Many people I talk to today have a dislike for RTZ. Others mention their hatred for it, but yet told me about watching a walk-through of it on YouTube to see the solutions. I still prefer the floppy version of RTZ over the CD-ROM version due to originally playing off floppies. I also always thought that some things like the geography just weren't didn't seem right to me. Flood Control Dam #3 being depicted too small in the game motivated me to make my own version of Flood Control Dam #3 within the Return to Castle Wolfenstein (modified Id Tech 3) engine a few years ago.

A couple of months after getting RTZ, I read that The Lost Treasures of Infocom has been released. Not only did it contain every old Zork game, but it also contained many other Infocom games I had only heard about and missed. It was pricey.. around 75 bucks. My grandmother bought it for me after assuring her that it was a lot games in one package, and would keep me occupied for a long time. It also came with a card to send off in the mail for Leather Goddesses of Phobos for 9.95$. Somehow, I managed to get her to send off a check for that too! I still have the discs, books, and all maps that came with Lost Treasures of Infocom. I never did get Lost Treasures of Infocom 2.

The first game out of the Lost Treasures of Infocom box I played was Zork I. Instantly, I thought to myself that this was a far better actual "game" than RTZ. While there was more graphically to RTZ, the original Zork text adventure completely filled in any questions I had about the actual Underground Empire environment. The interface was also much better to me, being used to typing in commands into early text adventures such as Space Quest 2 and 3, Wonderland, and the Spellcasting series. I was amazed at how much better the word parser was in the Infocom games, and played everything within the Lost Treasures box steadily for months.

Before that, I had only played one text adventure in junior high school on, which I think was Mystery House on an Apple II. There was a disk of it laying around in a typing class I had. The only thing I really remember about it though was making the teacher very angry when I printed out the map from an in-game menu. It was seemed huge and I was never able to use it again, which was a disappointment.

I must admit that I used the hint book for Lost Treasures pretty heavily for Zork 1-3 and the Enchanter series. However, it's been so long ago that I can remember only fragments of all of those games with exception to Zork I. I will probably be playing the games in that collection off and on for the rest of my life, which is more than I can say for most modern games in my collection.

As mentioned in my first blog post, all of this lead to me trying (and pretty much failing) to create text adventures shortly after. It wasn't until about 15 years later when I was telling a bit of this to story to a friend after mentioning Get Lamp that I was rewarded with him telling me about Inform, and the whole interactive fiction enthusiast and developer community that I had been missing out on for a large chunk of my life.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lunar Base 1

After some consideration and plot changes since the initial concept, I am now discarding the "working title" of the new sci-fi interactive fiction game and settling on naming it after one of the main locations within it. I felt that using the word "stranded" within the title has not only has been done before with other games, but also it encroached on the plot itself a bit much. Why assume that the player will even be stranded at all?

Originally I stated that I probably wouldn't enter the game into any sort of competition. I later had second thoughts after really getting into the development of the game and it becoming more than a short experiment. The game itself though is still quite short compared to the time investment needed for playing Hallow Eve to completion, too short for Spring Thing 2012, which I missed the deadline of putting in intent to enter anyway. Perhaps it will be entered into the next IFcomp if it is well received by the beta-testers. Lunar Base 1 should be sent out to beta testers within the next couple of weeks! If you are interesting in being a beta tester, please leave a comment or contact me through my website.

I would also like to thank everyone that gave me input on my last blog discussing the colors of the moon. It helped me feel a lot more comfortable with the words I put down in my descriptions.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Color is the Moon?

Making a new sci-fi game on the moon was something at first I thought would be fairly simple. I would only need a few rooms to simulate landing on the moon and walking into a base there. I would only need one or two NPCs. Of course, I was wrong. Timing and inventory issues are still a time-sucking hurdle to get over for my second IF. Trying to make the game very detailed, yet not annoying while reflecting those details is also a new practice for me.

As long as I can remember, the moon and outer space in general has always fascinated me. Growing up, I was intrigued by books on space and had the experience of going to Space Camp in Alabama when I was 11. At that point I started asking questions and wondering about things that I couldn't understand then. Some persist to this day, and it's always a relief to resolve them in my mind. However, I still have a question that persists as I write this game:

What color is lunar soil?

This isn't a question you can merely type into Google and get a definitive answer. In the 1960s before the manned Apollo missions, there were encyclopedias saying that the moon's soil was high in silica and other materials which would give it a slight orange appearance. Apollo camera footage makes it appear grey. I've seen many, many NASA slides of lunar rocks and soil. Usually the soil is consistently grey, yet I've seen different colors in some rock samples. I've posted a couple to show the general contrast.

Apollo 14 rock

Also, how would the light photon physics of sunlight affect the appearance of the soil? I'm thinking that if the soil itself has a lot of reflective materials in it that it would sort of glow slightly like snow at night during a full moon. Even if it were grey this could happen, much like concrete dust.

Apollo 17 rock

With the stars issue, I'm fairly certain that the light of the sun would drown out visuals of any other stars, though Earth and Venus should be visible. What really bothers me is the color, even though it will only be visible to the players in their heads after reading my description.

Hopefully I can decide on all of this soon. The story and puzzles of the game are completely planned. At least those are already laid out and for certain.