Posts Tagged ‘silverlight’

So while I’m porting Shadow to Windows Phone 7, I started realizing where Microsoft is going with all of their platforms. They want to make it so that if you play a game, you can stop and restart on another device.

So the scenario is…start a game on your new Windows Phone 7 device on the train. At some point you decide to save and quit. When you get home, you fire up the Xbox and load up the same game and continue playing. But wait, your friend Joe calls and wants you to come over. So you head over to Joe’s and pull up the same game on his PC, right where you left off.

Since we’ve been talking about user interfaces lately, this brings up a completely different problem. What will the three different devices/platforms looks like and how will they work? It’s obvious that the WP7 device will have a minimalistic user interface and touch controls. The Xbox might have a keyboard, but it would also have to support users without one and just the standard controllers. The PC user would be running something closer to what we would consider a traditional user interface.

All of this can be done in Silverlight using the various SDK’s and common data file formats, which we already have with FyreVM and Quetzal save files.

I’ve always thought one of the flaws of the iPhone (and now iPad) model was that you couldn’t buy an app and play it on your computer. Why not? What’s preventing Apple from creating an SDK that shares the same code base, but allows the developer to choose different devices to target? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Unless you don’t care about your desktop business anymore and you’re solely focused on mobile devices. That would seem to be the direction Apple is headed.

It will be interesting to see how this dynamic impacts the market when WP7 is launched and the marketing of Microsoft platform neutral gaming comes into play.

In any case, Textfyre is likely to pursue this model. I think telling people they can play our games on their new Windows Phone 7 device, a PC, or an Xbox, is going to be a nice draw.

Emily Short started an interesting conversation about the parser and offered an interesting alternative. Nick Montfort commented about the subject and Emily’s blog post has a sizable number of responses. I highly recommend reading through everything.

I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone that points out the flaws in using the current parsing technology within the available IF platforms. There’s a long history of parser inadequacies starting from two-word commands all the way to guess the verb problems. The most glaring problem is that if you place a person in front of a computer with a blinking cursor and tell them they can type anything, you’ve already failed. The parser is a very limited translation mechanism to a very limited world model.

The IF community has always sort of closed its eyes and waved away the problem by convincing itself that with thorough verb implementations and coded hints within the text that this resolves the problem. There was a belief that we were smart enough to hoodwink users into believing the parser could understand anything they type. We also believed we could create an imaginary world that seemed real enough to make the parser more meaningful than it truly is.

Emily has thoroughly disabused us of that notion. We have to face the fact that although our parser implementations are limited, the user experience is not conducive to new people catching on quickly.

However. I don’t believe our problem is the parser.

The parser does it’s job perfectly well. Once the user is familiar with how it works and determines what subset of english is available in a particular game, they tend to do just fine. So the problem isn’t the parser. That’s just a symptom.

The problem is the user interface.

Why do we do things the way we do them? Because we started out with tools that almost exactly mimicked systems that were designed in about 1975. These original systems were setup before we even had video. That’s right, the original Adventure and Dungeon (Zork Mainframe) games were only available in their original state on an ARPANET paper terminal.

When Infocom ported Dungeon to microcomputers, the only alteration they made was to add a status line at the top of the screen. Other than that, the user interface is exactly the same as using a paper terminal. Later on they added a few other graphical features, but the basic user experience remained.

When Mike Roberts created TADS and Graham Nelson created Inform, we were still using dumb terminals connected to mini and mainframe computers. Up until 1996, I was working almost exclusively on video terminals connected to a DEC VAX.

In the fourteen years since, no IF platform has embraced modern programming constructs. The Gang of Four design patterns book was published in 1994. Do we implement any of those patterns in our platforms? Not really, no. Have we embraced the concept of loosely coupled architectures? No. Have we embraced the concept of component based or layered architectures? No. Have we embraced web technology? No offense to Parchment and all the other Java or JavaScript interpreters, but no, we have not.

In order to truly explore alternate user experiences, IF programming needs to move into the twenty-first century. Our platforms need to provide loosely coupled architectures that leverage modern technologies like AJAX, Web Services, Flash, Silverlight, HTML5. Our platforms need to separate what the actual game engine does from what the user sees and how they interact with the story.

Once we get to that point, then we can start realizing user experiences that support and extend our existing parser technology. And then, through friendlier user interfaces, we can gradually immerse new users into the wonderful world of Interactive Fiction.

Microsoft announced their new mobile platform in February and I’ve been actively working on prototypes using the new development tools, Expression Blend 4, Visual Studio 2010, and the Silverlight Windows Phone 7 SDK.

One of the great things about targeting Windows Phone 7 is that all of our existing code base compiles without change. The FyreVM class library ported without easily and now it’s just a matter of working through the new WP7 API’s to make it work seamlessly.

Of course the real work will be coming up with a user experience that works well. It may be that our work with the book “paging” model used in Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter Deluxe Edition will help us with something similar on WP7.

The way that paging works on WP7, by flicking the screen right or left or up or down is a key to making something interesting and intuitive. The user should be able to play our games with just a thumb.

The other aspect of targeting this platform is that we can also implement them using XNA for the XBox 360 platform and players could go back and forth between them playing the same game. It will be interesting to see this in action.

We’re already registered as an official developer and targeting to be one of the first products available at the launch later this year.

Stay tuned!

We’re in our third year at Textfyre and nearing the completion of our third game, Empath’s Gift. Empath is now in a state where the game can be played through to several of its conclusions. There’s a bit more paint to dry before it goes into beta-testing, but that should happen in the next few weeks. I can’t offer a firm release date yet, but it’s looking like sometime in late June, early July.

Meanwhile, our fourth series is beginning its design phase and we have a series and episode title. The series, designed and written by Sarah Morayati (Broken Legs), will be called Anna Chronicle. The first episode in this historical fiction adventure is Poets in Peril. It’s great to see the fourth series underway.

You may have noticed that Sarah is doing both the game design and the writing. In this case, She’s very passionate about the subject matter and knows it well. She’s also planning to use internal resources for puzzles and interactivity, but the project is hers to manage. The programming will still be done separately. The designers and writers (except for Gentry) all seem to love not having to do any programming.

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In other news…

The Apple platform versions of FyreVM (now an open source project on sourceforge.net) are cruising along. I look forward to announcing the first releases of Textfyre games on the iPhone and iPad.

In lieu of a professional user experience consultant, I am adopting some of my own ideas into a Windows version of Shadow in the Cathedral and then having those ideas ported to the demonstration Silverlight version that can be played online. Some of the ideas include hyperlinked exits, a “Try This” context menu, and voice over help. When ready, we will share the new ideas with everyone.

We’re wrapping up Secret Letter 2.0 and Shadow 1.0 over the next few days. Secret Letter has significant changes to the middle and ending, plus there are new images and some UI changes in the Deluxe Edition. Shadow has gone through exhaustive testing, although I’m still having a few people run through it to get those last second issues.

Jennifer Montes is once again doing a set of maps for Shadow (she did the map for Secret Letter that every has loved) and I’m hoping we can get her work into the final product by the 6th. If not, it will be e-mailed to all customers or a link will be provided in the new customer section of the website.

Speaking of the customer section of the website…we’re diligently working on it and although you can register and login, there’s really nothing to see quite yet. We’re going through some business model tweakings and this section may be handled in several different ways. We’re trying to nail down the Classroom Editions of each game before we complete the customer section.

The Classroom Editions will be based partially on SilverFyre, the vanilla Silverlight interpreter that Chris Cavanagh developed a few months ago. This edition will have a slightly different interface since the audience will be middle-school students and their teachers.

We’ve also gotten help from Giles Boutel from the IF community to help out on the website design.

Meanwhile, coding continues on Giant Leaps (Empath’s Gift) and we’re actively seeking a fourth design/writing team.

Secret Letter is now one of the sample applications listed at Silverlight.Net.

Secret Letter on Silverlight.Net

In the presale announcement, I mentioned that the online demonstration versions of our software will require Silverlight, but I did not note that Silverlight is also installed as a part of the downloaded product.

Because of licensing issues with Silverlight 2.0, we are required to have the user download and install Silverlight from the Official Silverlight Website.

Silverlight 3.0 has an “install local” feature that we will implement in July and this will make the download and installation process seamless.

We will continue to look at other cross-platform technologies, including Adobe Air and potentially C++ with a cross-platform toolkit, but right now, the best technology for our developers has been Silverlight.

If anyone has already purchased our games and would prefer not to use Silverlight and would like a refund, please let me know and I will be happy to refund your purchase.