Archive for the ‘curriculum’ Category

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 ( 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.


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 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.

If you haven’t seen it, The Shadow in the Cathedral received another 4-star review yesterday. I had a few sales come through and wondered if something was up. Searched for news and found it.

In other news, the Windows 8 Store version of Shadow is moving forward slowly. We’re a bit more than half done updating the game file for touch usability. I’m currently implementing a new compass rose control and then I need to add an about and help view. Then I need to do a little design tweaking to make it look seamless. Once all of those tasks are completed, it goes into testing and then published.

Once I knock that out, I’ll start porting the new UX to HTML 5 and a cloud based version of Shadow.

In turn, that will feed into a new MVP for the classroom version known as T.A.L.E.S.

I went to another Startup Weekend last weekend, this one dedicated to educational start-ups. It was a ton of fun and if you’re a programmer, designer, or business person, I highly recommend attending one. My pitch didn’t get votes so I joined another team to build a Fantasy Sports take on teaching Geo Politics. Each student drafts a country and each country is award points on a weekly basis. Students win more points by doing various writing assignments. I’m going to stick with the idea to see it through MVP status and potentially partner with the guy that came up with the idea.

I’m feeling very relaxed these days and my urge to write is returning. I didn’t get a chance to do a comp game like I wished, but a game is coming soon. I may even get one of my kids to write a game. Should be fun.

I’m looking forward to the next version of Inform 7 when it comes out and playing the comp games in a few days.

There’s an entreprenurial subculture surrounded what’s called “lean startup”. The idea is that as an entrepreneur you should be testing your idea and vision immediately with your intended customer and finding out as quickly as possible if your vision holds merit.

In testing your vision, you are building a minimal viable product or MVP. You show people what you’re doing, get feedback, adjust, present again, get feedback, adjust again. You do this any number of times until you either have something people love or your vision blurs, pun intended.

So Textfyre is now on the path of MVP (it’s always been a lean startup…but that’s another story).

We’ve identified the content we want to deliver and how we want to deliver it. Now we’re in the process of actually building it out, on paper first, and then in an actual sample story game.

We plan to show this to our own acamdemic personnel as well as teachers and students in the coming weeks. This will give us the feedback we need build a great product, or pivot. I’ll talk about the pivot potential some other time. For now, it’s MVP time.



Once upon a time I started a business called Westfield Chandler Publishing. This name stunk, so I took on a name related to the old Textfire hoax which generated some pretty great small IF games. I mostly chose Textfyre with a Y because the Textfire.Com domain is owned by a squatter.

The original goal was to develop traditional Infocom-like fictional games and try to sell them in bookstores and to school libraries or to get them in classrooms as supplemental reading. I really had very little experience with such an endeavor and a large part of the process of developing Textfyre was to learn how to build a business. This was all in or before 2007.

In the first two years we produced two games with a third remaining incomplete. Secret Letter is probably targeted at 3rd or 4th grade readers (based on current lexical requirements in schools) and has an intentional Disney-like princess theme. Shadow in the Cathedral is much more accessible with its Steampunk theme. I’m actually very proud of both of these games, have played them many times myself, and enjoy both for different reasons. Ian and Jon were very clever about a lot of things in Shadow while Mike was, at least from my perspective, brilliant at capturing the tone and intentions that I asked of him.

In the years since those first two publications, the economy and “other things” put a lot of the business side push of Textfyre on hold. There simply was no time or money for me to push anything and it had become clear that my first few business plans were never going to fly. Instead of closing the business, which I had thought to do many times, I simply set it aside and used it as a conduit for my daytime consulting practice.

In the last twelve months the economy has improved (although not for everyone, I’m very aware) and Chicago has become a burgeoning market for digital start-ups. GroupOn and GrubHub have gotten a lot of people very excited and the new digs at 1871 have made it possible for entrepreneurs to come together on a daily basis for a small amount of money (I pay $125/month for nights and weekend space).

This has opened a lot of doors for Textfyre. It’s given me a place to bring people together to talk about building a company. It offers “office hours” from mentors and investors. It has the StarterLeague.Com (formerly CodeAcademy.Org) which teaches computer classes to people who travel to Chicago from all over the world. It has Excelerate Labs, where every year ten start-ups are chosen to work at 1871 on their business, with mentoring and support. A lot of start-up business is done through Built In Chicago, a website and group that hosts networking events, awards ceremonies, and more. Another group, Technori, hosts pitch nights every month at the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago.

In the last six months I took a long look at what I’d done with Textfyre and what was still possible. I knew traditional IF was going to be a tough sell without a lot of money or a built-in-audience. I have neither so I had to look at other angles. The education/school angle had been dismissed in the past because there were very complex barriers to entry. At all angles, it was just impossible for start-ups to disrupt anything in the education world. Something changed all of that…

The iPad and the continued adoption of computers in schools has altered almost all of the perceptions of education processes and at all levels people want things to change and are actively seeking new methods and tools. There’s a new Common Core Standard that needs to be adopted over the next few years. Students are coming into primary schools (K-5) with more expertise with computers than their teachers. The system was not and is not prepared for these students.

This leaves open a host of opportunities that many small and large companies are tackling from many different angles. But the one thing that has changed the most is that start-ups are being heard and being funded. Education funding has doubled in the last year and is expected to be the number one source of funding for years to come.

With this new understanding, I started to put a management team together which is complete and we are working and meeting every week. It’s a very strong and passionate team that includes sales, marketing, curriculum, art, and technology expertise. We’ve had meetings with Microsoft Learning and The Gates Foundation and from those meetings we’ve developed a clear path to success. We have a new mission, a new plan, and a part of the plan is the use of the underlying engine, world model, and natural language parser used in Interactive Fiction game development. We’re going to do non-fiction supplemental curriculum and it will have a lot of bells and whistles that you’d never see or need in a traditional IF game, but it’s going to be great.

We recently updated the entire Textfyre website so that it reflects most of the changes we see in our mission.

Of course we still love traditional IF and we plan to work that into our future, so if you have a game you may be hearing from me at some point, asking to put it into our system as supplemental material.

Textfyre is reborn as an education technology company and this is just the beginning.