Posts Tagged ‘user interface’

So we’ve got a mostly working version of the engine for what we’re calling our K Apps. We still have some performance issues to work through, but we feel confident that those can be resolved.

Now the UI work begins. We had planned to work with James Terry, but the timing wasn’t quite right and we’re looking at another mobile developer. More later.

I’m developing user interfaces for each platform (desktop, various mobile, iPad). In the process, I’ve noted the requirement that the user may be new to Interactive Fiction. This has been discussed in the hobbyist community a lot in the past year and we’ve made strides in agreement on the subject. I think there are basic components to any IF user interface that are required for all levels of play.

They include:

  • An introduction – The Welcome to Interactive Fiction document on the Inform 7 website is fabulous and I used this as a templte in developing the introductions for Shadow and Secret Letter. This should contain information about the game itself, possibly a map, pictures of the characters, and setting.
  • A complete set of hints – Some authors have added hints to their games through menus while others have offered a walkthrough. Textfyre has offered hints that follow a sort of computerized version of Invisclues by offering a topic and a list of hints in encrypted words. Click on the hint and it decrypts for you. I think this should be a standard in ever game and the hints should be complete, meaning a player should be able to complete the game by touching every hint. It’s the players choice to use or not use the hints.
  • A complete set of tips. Tips are different than hints. They are more focused on the beginning of the game and their intent is to educate the player on how to use a standard Interactive Fiction interface. Each device will implement hints in its own way. This could be done with popup balloons, with speech, with a semi-transparent pop up window, popup toast, a highlighted portion of text, or something else. These tips could be relative to a point in the game or tied to command input, but the idea is to help new users through rough spots. It could also be used to point out game-specific oddities for all players.
  • A standard set of instructions or help – This is different than the introduction in that the help is generic and not game specific.
  • Save and Restore should retain scrollback or command+response history. When the player returns to the user interface and starts it up or restores a saved game

I think if all of these items are implemented, the user will have a significantly easier time in playing Interactive Fiction on any platform. They will know to look for certain aspects of the interface and have that “ah ha” moment each time.

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.

Updated: 11pm

Inspired by the outreach panel at PAX, I came up with the following design idea.

There would be a very sparse color-border container for the main window. We would eliminate the status line and possible move that information to the right side or somewhere else. Commands would be entered on the right. Help text, command lists, and other items could be retrieved by clicking one of the friendly color buttons. When clicked, the UI would transition smoothly to one of the new views (help, map, about, or ?).

The entered commands would still be embedded in the transcript, but I haven’t nailed down if I would highlight them or add them in with the standard “> open mailbox” reference.

Previous layouts can be seen here and here.

I moved things around for a second pass. Buttons on the right or in between the input bar and main window. Help screens would slide in and out like the iPod Touch/iPhone.

New thoughts?

Rough images of Secret Letter user interface...

The images to the left (click to see larger image) are rough implementations of the user interface for Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter.

The first image shows the closed book with a cover. After clicking the book, the title page is shown including credits. Clicking on the right page will take you to the table of contents, which is a menu of sorts to play the game, save it, review maps, see hints, and get help. After clicking Start New Game, the prologue shown and clicking on the right page again will take you to the game page itself. The game plays on the left while the right side will display pictures, conversation topics, hint topics, help, and more.

In the last two images you see the game being played and a list of topics when a character is engaged in conversation. These topics can be clicked or the number can be entered into the interface.

Note that these are rough images of a design in progress. We’re still debating other features like where to display the map and hints (potentially as the inside front and back covers). The artwork is not what would appear in the final product either. We’re still working through the list of required artwork and that will be a sizable effort to complete.

Which brings me to the subject of cash flow. Up until now I have refrained from discussing monetary matters outside of the hints about looking for funding. We’re at a point where my personal funds won’t meet the needs of the company. We’re actively seeking investors or partnerships that will allow us to move the company from start-up mode to being a full-time job for myself and others. This is necessary to drive the products to completion and actively work on future products. Needless to say, looking for loans or credit of any type in today’s financial world is laughable at best.  I’m not sure if anyone out there can help us find investors or partners, but if you can and believe in what we’re trying to accomplish, now is the time to step forward.

We’ve made considerable progress on the new user interface and I’ve provided a snapshot of where we’re going. Thomas Lynge from Tenteo has been great and our new Art Director Will Capellaro really has a great feel for where we want to go with having a unique design. A design that brings Interactive Fiction into the 21st century, but also doesn’t take away from the text.

The artwork in the snapshot is just rough drawings and do not represent the final look and feel. Will and I met on Monday night for dinner and worked through exactly how the user interface will function and what artwork is going to be required to get there. In the end we will be able to provide all of the UI functionality from within the book metaphor. There will be bent corners to turn the page for various tasks like reviewing achievements, viewing the map, and viewing hint topics. There will be a standard menu for save/load, and application help. The screen will also be resizable. I’m not sure how flexible we can make the font usage, but we’ll do whatever we can to make it as user-friendly as possible.

We will use more or less the same metaphor for Klockwerk and then Giant Leaps will probably change to something more like a standard high school assignment notebook with extra information on the right side. Paul O’Brian is going to help design the Giant Leaps user interface.

We’re also going to hire live actors for a modeling session to nail down the look of the main characters. This should help make our characters look like real people and give the artwork more consistency.

We’re plugging along and a lot of things are starting to come together. Stay tuned.

A few changes are happening within Textfyre. First, we’ve transitioned Graeme off of Secret Letter and Mike Gentry is taking the I7 programming reigns. This is simply because we’re almost entirely focused on grammar and bug fixes and not functionality. Mike can take Jacqueline’s test scripts and just knock them out on his own.

The next big announcement is that the first game design of the Giant Leaps series, A Path to Empathy, is completed and is now being reviewed for the writing portion. It’s a big game too, with 80 rooms. Paul just disappeared after giving me the rough outline and then poof, a full design. It’s magic!

I put out a few job ads for a Flash developer and even met with one, all to no avail. It seems there are plenty of Flash developers, but none of them understand how to talk to the FyreVM .NET Assembly. And after looking at the technical aspects, I can see that Flash really wasn’t meant to do this sort of thing. So it’s all up in the air right now. I don’t care if we finish the UI in WPF, Flash, Flex, or C++. I just need to find someone willing to do the work on a start-up friendly contract.

I don’t have any real news on the investor front, but I do have a couple of great leads.

That’s about it for now. I’m not pulling the launch from September yet, but we’re running pretty thin at this point. If I don’t have the UI done by August, well, then it will be obvious. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Oh yeah..I’m hiring a part-time assistant. I’ve been working through dozens of resumes and have interviewed several people. This should help smooth a lot of the business side communications out.