Archive for May, 2008

In the course of meeting with marketing companies and investors, I’ve been getting an education in what sort of expectations need to be met in order for people to open their checkbooks or offer to work on a business.

Some marketing companies will give you a plan and ask for cash. Some will identify deliverables, a price tag, and leave it at that. Then there are a few professionals who actually look beyond the fringes of what you’re trying to do and dig deeper. Way deeper.

I’ve had conversations with a couple of marketing people that were extremely stressful. One in particular has had caused me to lose more than a little bit of sleep over the last month. But she was right and I have only myself to blame for trying to see past steps I already knew I needed to take in order to get funded and be successful.

The one step I somehow thought I could get by recently was the one where I have a nearly completed product that’s presented to the target demographic in a structured setting. Within this process we would gather feedback and testimonials. According to my new marketing “friends”, this is a requirement and I had always planned for this. I just got ahead of myself when a couple of people actually approached me about being investors. I’m still talking with investors (not unlike talking to a wall at times), but I’ve shifted my focus back to the tasks at hand. I have put a lot of money into Textfyre to date and it looks like I’m going to bear the brunt of investing more of my own money. It’s not a difficult decision…just painful.

I’m working with Mike, Jacqueline, Graeme, and Peter and we’re trying to put the finishing touches on Secret Letter and make it ready for market testing. This has become quite a surprisingly difficult effort. Jacqueline came back with a first test script with 1400 issues in the first scene of the game. Mike has addressed them and now we’re making those changes in the source code. That first scene is a tough one and I’m hoping the remainder of the game is less problematic. Not that it matters. We’re being extremely methodical about testing. No stone (or noun) will go unturned.

I’ve also taken on the task of writing a chapter book for Secret Letter. It would seem to be a relatively easy task, especially since the whole story is already defined in game form. Chapter one is already down, 1300 words long. Twelve chapters to go.

If anyone reading this has ever imagined themselves starting their own business, take note. There will come a time in the process where things do not come together as you hoped, but when this happens, you simply go back to the plan and push forward. You have to believe in what you’re doing. If you don’t have that or if you lose it, your business will fail for sure.

I so strongly believe in Textfyre that I’ve upped my own commitments to the company. We are still focused on launching the first game this year and doing everything in our power to make that happen. Any and all support is greatly appreciated.

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One of the reasons I started Textfyre was that I had and have a firm belief that paid programming was a considerable missing component of the development and improvement of Interactive Fiction as an artform and medium. The “IF community”, depending on your definition of such a thing, generally focuses on the academic and hobbyist participatory aspects of the medium. We’ve had a few people sell games within the community and they’ve shared some of their processes and thoughts, but no one has recycled any profits into the community at large.

Although I don’t have any profits (let’s not talk about the increasing debt I’ve incurred) to speak of, I do have a sincere interest in sharing the fruits of our internal workings as much as possible without crossing swords with my attorney.

So with that in mind, we’ve put together a “shared source” version of our Glulx VM implementation named FyreVM which can be reviewed and downloaded from the FyreVM website. By shared source we mean that there is a non-commercial aspect to the source code and we also want to restrict branched versions of the VM itself. Any code you write that uses the FyreVM is of course all yours. We’re going to put up samples and those will all be public domain. We will entertain friendly requests for a limited (individual) royalty-free commercial license.

FyreVM is the culmination of a lot of thought on my part and a frustrated review of the Glk specification. I’m not saying Glk is bad or wrong. I just think its limited in its usability by the average developer. There has been a sizable effort by several people to make Glulx and Glk as friendly as possible and yet we still aren’t seeing any increase in games developed with higher quality user interfaces.

So I’m sharing FyreVM because of how we implemented I/O, which is differently from how Glk implements I/O. FyreVM uses channels to convey all information between the virtual machine (game engine) and the user interface. We’ve completely abstracted away any detailed knowledge of pointers and memory and low level programming hacks to access the I/O interface. The developer has to simply retrieve the text that comes out of each channel on each “turn” in a game and do with it as they may.

To aid in this process, we’ve also created a very friendly set of Inform 7 extensions to give developers the tools they need to create channel based games.

Of course we’re still working on sample games to show off the potential of FyreVM and Channel I/O and we will report updates on the website. We invite anyone and everyone to help create samples for the website.

Textfyre is dedicated to being involved in the interactive fiction community and will continue to share our tools and processes as time, money, and lawyers permit.