Posts Tagged ‘flash’

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.

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.

Since we have had such a difficult time finding resources to work on WPF, I’m making the big decision to dump it in favor of a Flash implementation. We still need to determine the right mix of .NET and Flash to make it function well on Windows, OS X, and Linux, but I don’t see this as a huge technical hurdle.

So the UX job description has been updated. We’re now looking for a very strong Flash developer with C# experience. My preference is to hire someone in the Chicago area, but I’m open to other suggestions.

I’ve talked often about hurdles in the development of Textfyre as a business. We’ve had to work through procedural issues, development issues, content issues, game engine issues, artwork issues, investor issues, and user interface issues. We still have marketing, sales, partnership, and other issues on the horizon.

In late 2007 I was finally able to hire Jesse McGrew for the game engine, but I still couldn’t find anyone to fit into the development of the user interface. This is obviously one of the most critical components of Textfyre since the vision is to present something that is easy, attractive, and yet retains the simple beauty of interactive fiction.

After trying to get a local Flash developer involved, then trying to hire a consulting firm, I finally contacted Peter Mattsson, the creator of Flaxo, a Flash-based z-machine interpreter. Peter is going to help finish the Windows version of the user interface. Peter also has offered to help build a Flash version of uor games for Linux and Mac environments, but we’re still trying to figure out the technical details.

On the investor front, we’re getting ready for a presentation on February 20th with a Chicago-based angel investor. This Saturday, Mike Gentry and I are having dinner with Janny Wurts, a noted fantasy author who I’m trying to entice into helping with content or to become an advisor. I’d also ask that if anyone knows of a potential angel investor to talk to them about Textfyre and get us together.

On the marketing front, I’ve been developing the advertisement plan for our launch and this going very well.

The development of Textfyre has been exciting and every time we fine ourselves facing a challenge, we have always managed to define it, plan a course of action, and meet that challenge head on.