So I started Textfyre somewhere around 2006-2007. The corporation was legally created in March of 2007, but I had done a lot of research before that point. We released Secret Letter and Shadow in 2009.

Eventually I will write some sort of historical essay on the rise and fall of Textfyre, since at this time, it looks like I will be closing its doors at the end of the year, releasing IP back to authors, and open-sourcing all generic code. I’m still on the fence about this, but unless I have a compelling reason, Textfyre will end on Dec 31st of this year.

I still need to publish the Windows 8 Store version of Shadow. I’m waffling on it for the moment. It will just never be as good as I want it to be. It’s hard to do this stuff alone. I had help last year, but that help has for the most part disappeared.

* * * *

This does not mean I have lost one bit of passion for IF, commercial IF, educational IF, or any of the ideas or visions I’ve worked on for the past 8 or 9 years. It’s just a reality of the day. There are better people at it, specifically Choice of Games, Inkle Studios, and Versu. The emergence of Twine and CYOA games also leads me to believe we’ve hit a crossroads with parser-based IF and I still love parser-based IF. I think the art of IF within Twine and the new iPad games is very compelling. It’s much closer to what I envisioned than I could ever manage.

So what’s next. Well I think I will place my IF passions back to where they were. As a hobby, a passion, and an artistic endeavor. The plan have at the moment is to develop a JavaScript version of FyreVM using Quixe and then building a CLI based IF-builder the same way Ionic builds mobile applications. I envision it something like this:

You type a command in like…

zifmia start mygame z-standard

…and this creates scaffolding for a web-based interpreter using your game file. It automatically generates an I7 extension to be used by your game. You then go write your game in Inform 7 and when done, you save the ulx/blorb file in a directory within that scaffolding. Then you can serve it for testing:

zifmia serve

That command will open a browser running your game in the given template. The template can be modified if you know HTML, CSS, and AngularJS.

When you’re done and ready to publish, you type…

zifmia publish

…and this will create a package you can drop on a server.

I’ll finally be able to develop the templating system I envisioned for Zifmia years ago and by generating the extension in conjunction with the template, authors will have detailed instructions on how to write their game for a given template.

It will be easy.

* * * *

So that’s the new plan. Plans change of course, but this is where I’m headed. As I said, if and when I do close Textfyre, I will write a very thorough accounting of its history for anyone interested. Even so, I could not have done it without the following people:

Jesse McGrew – coded FyreVM from scratch and my hair-brained design requests about Channel IO in about 80 hours which is still an amazing accomplishment.

Mike Gentry – for flying out to Chicago on several occasions, busting his ass to write Secret Letter on paper when no one else had ever done that before. An amazing accomplishment and not just for Textfyre. I’m sure his efforts carries into other people’s IF design endeavors. And for writing Secret Letter itself, which despite its flaws and criticisms, is a wonderful game.

Jon Ingold and Ian Finley – for creating Shadow in the Cathedral, one of the best IF games I’ve ever played. I have played it hundreds of times and I still love it. I wish we could have done the sequels.

Paul O’Brian and Chris Huang – for designing Empath’s Gift and suffering through endless attempts to complete the code. Maybe it will still be finished. I hope so.

For everyone that offered their support. I could not have done even what I did accomplish without the IF community.

I’m not going anywhere….just returning to a hobbyist and an enthusiastic cheerleader of IF.

I’ve made attempts over the years to play IF with my kids (now 15, 14, 12, 10, and 9) with poor success. Angie (12) had shown some interest with Lost Pig, but no else had any patience for all that reading and typing.

So I made a bargain. In equal amounts, they could play Minecraft for playing IF with me.

I picked up a wireless keyboard and mouse for $34 at BestBuy and plugged my laptop into my 60″ LED TV, fired up Zork I and upped the font to 24pt. It worked out well enough.

Penny, Angie, Tori, and Ben all played for about 90 minutes, but the cacophony of “Minecraft” requests and the whining became overwhelming. That’s as far as we could go. In the process, I did notice that Penny and Ben liked it, but if they had a choice, wouldn’t play. Everyone wanted the keyboard which engaged them more, so that was interesting.

Later, I fired Zork I up on my laptop in the kitchen and restarted it from memory. After about 10 minutes Tori (10) came and sat next to me to help. By this time I had pulled out the map from Treasures so that was something that definitely helped raise interest.

After awhile, Angie came sat with us. We got up to about 150 points before they had to leave to go back to their mom’s house.

Yesterday they were over again and we played most of the afternoon and finished Zork I. They (Angie and Tori) immediately wanted to play Zork II and so they started it on their own.

The parts I enjoyed was that they solved some of the puzzles on their own, but they also got into the rhythm of “save early and often” and understanding the parser well enough to not need my help.

I’m looking forward to playing Zork II when the come back next weekend. I’m really excited to get through the Zorks and on to Enchanter. That should be even more fun.

Way back in 2007 I engaged a few IF authors to design new commercial games. I asked them to come up with ideas, an outline, then a complete design. This worked out three times with Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, The Shadow in the Cathedral, and the as yet unpublished Empath’s Gift.

I had intended on keeping these private as intellectual property, but Textfyre is in a transitional period and I think it’s time I started letting go of some of my original plans. We still plan to release Empath in Glulx form and I’m still trying to finish up a touch-based application for Windows 8, but outside of that, no new games are planned. I’m releasing for general consumption Textfyre – The Shadow in the Cathedral. This is the full and final design document in PDF form. There are likely bits missing from the final game file, but that’s to be expected. The last bit of play-testing and debugging was done by Jon Ingold himself. I’m not sure how much time he spent putting things back into the design from that work. I suspect very little, if any any at all. Even so, the design document is remarkably complete.

The intent of this process was to prove that you don’t need to be an IF author to design IF. I think to some degree that effort has failed. I was never able to get a non IF author to write IF. However, I was able to prove, with Jon’s help and Mike Gentry (Secret Letter) and Christopher Huang (Empath) that you can write the game first and have an entirely different person create the code. It’s just that all people involved need to have a deep understanding of Interactive Fiction.

I hope you learn from this document and that it may possibly inspire you to build more IF games.

It’s been about a year since I have actively worked on the educational aspects of Textfyre. I have been spending most of my time putting the Windows 8 Store version of Shadow together and doing other things.

The Windows 8 Store app is in a holding pattern until I solve a save/restore issue within FyreVM. When I do a Quetzal restore, the engine goes into an infinite loop. I’m afraid this crossed the border of my programming capabilities, so I’m at the beck and call of others to solve this problem.

On Wednesday, the IES posted two educational technology grants (http://1.usa.gov/1hFd61j) worth $150,000 and $1,050,000. I wasn’t really prepared for these grants in many ways, but I’m trying to gauge if I can ramp back up to complete all the work required to submit the proposals.

We would probably need about $12,000 to complete the proposals and associated work, but that’s a lot of money to gamble when you’re a lean start-up. On the other hand, I do believe the idea of creating educational material through Interactive Fiction is a viable solution. The $150,000 grant would go a long way to either validating or invalidating my vision. Certainly the larger grant would go further.

I need to figure everything out as quickly as possible. Proposals are due in a month and the grant-writing process would require all of that time. I’m wondering if this is the sort of thing I could push out to Kickstarter or Indiegogo. I’ve already approached one private angel investor and may talk to a few others.

I’m looking for guidance on the proposal process and the cost of getting into the game, so to speak. If I did a Kickstarter, I’d have to set a quick deadline. I couldn’t do a 30 day project. It would have to be 10 days at the most. I’m not familiar enough with Indiegogo, but I assume it’s similar. There are other funding sources, but I am not familiar with all of them.

The new Windows 8.1 Store version of The Shadow in the Cathedral is now ready for testing and I could use some volunteers to run through it as much as possible and provide feedback.

You’ll need Windows 8.1 and a Microsoft Email  and Developer Account (apparently MS never thought non-technical people would need to test apps). The developer account is $19 USD, which I will reimburse in the form of your choosing (Amazon gift card, PayPal, etc), with a little extra to show my appreciation. (Remember, this is still mostly a labor of love.)

You can sign up for a dev account here: http://bit.ly/1bgFGR4. Click the “Next” button or if you already have a Live/Hotmail account, sign in. You’ll need a valid credit card to complete the process.

Once you have this setup, please drop me a line and I will provide a link to a zip file that you can unblock, unpack, and run the PowerShell script to side-install the application. I’ll also direct you to the bug-tracking website to provide feedback.

Thanks!

Just thought I’d drop another progress note out about Textfyre’s third soon-to-be-published Interactive Fiction game…

Brady has sifted through and rewritten about 20% of the code and should have the first round-trip with Paul and Chris in a few weeks. He thinks a full code review/rewrite will be completed by the end of the year. I can’t say for sure, but I think this should mean testing will follow in earnest. I’m no fool to be suggesting a release date, but this sort of progress is welcome news.

The Windows 8 Store version of Shadow is still being shrink-wrapped, so to speak. When that’s done, the new Zifmia will follow suit.

Since reestablishing the pipeline for traditional Textfyre games, things are going well. The changes to Shadow in the Cathedral for App Store touch-based deployment are nearing completion.

This has been made possible with the help of one Brady Garvin, known as emacsuser on intfiction.org and one of the I6 compiler helpers. Simply put, Brady is brilliant and although he doesn’t have the notoriety of a Zarf, he clearly has similar profound IF capabilities. Brady was instrumental in doing some very tedious work in Shadow’s code to make it touch UX friendly. He tagged every noun in the story text so the UI can turn those into clickable/touchable words. He also setup all of the other suggestions for touch words including verbs, articles, and prepositions.

The next endeavor, one long delayed, is Paul O’Brian and Christopher Huang’s Empath’s Gift. There was work done on the code back in 2010, but has since languished through the economic downturn and my personal distractions. No more! Brady has begun to assess the code and I have tasked him to own it. He has the original designs, writing, and test transcripts and we will see progress in the near future. This is no small undertaking and I can only afford a limited number of hours to pay Brady, but I’m hoping to see beta testing in 2014 sometime and a release in Glulx and Windows form soon after. Touch based implementations shouldn’t be too difficult since we’ll have ironed out most of those issues with Shadow.

When the new touch based Shadow is published, Textfyre will make a concerted effort to publicize all of its works, including the older Silverlight version of Secret Letter. I still believe that Secret Letter is a very strong IF game, despite some of the reviews claiming it’s too cliche. I would argue there are moments in Secret Letter that rival some of the best IF ever written. Every time I go back and play through it I am moved by the one major revelation in the middle of the story. Michael Gentry deserves to be recognized for his writing and the clever way he took a simple story and made it something more. If you haven’t played it, you should.

I’m still involved with another education start-up; Fantasy Learning, which is marrying the concepts of fantasy sports leagues with teaching social studies. The founder, Eric Nelson, is currently working in an incubator in New Orleans as I assemble the MVP. It may be that Textfyre and Fantasy Learning come together, or at least become working partners.

I’d like to know if people are interested in sequels to Secret Letter and Shadow in the Cathedral.