Posts Tagged ‘infocom’

Textfyre now has the beginning works of an MVP (minimal viable product) and our primary goal this year is to complete the MVP and look for funding.

One of the places we’re looking to for cash our federal and private education grants. We just missed a couple of federal grants in February. There just wasn’t enough time to prepare the type of proposal that’s expected. An RFP from the Gates Foundation was recently publicized and we’re making a concerted effort to complete a proposal for this grant.

In the area of product development, we’ve brought in a new team member that has a learning science and assessment science background. We’re working to redesign existing processes to ones based on IF constructs. This process has just begun.

This has led me to think about our business model. We’ve been discussing the possibility of offering all of our content for free and charging for the assessment and reporting features. These are the features that teachers and administrators would use to evaluate their students progress in areas that can be measured against the new Common Core State Standards. What do we gain by offering our stories for free? What do we lose? These are the questions we’re asking ourselves.

In other news, I am going to add maps and hints to the existing online version of The Shadow in the Cathedral and make it permanently apart of the Textfyre learning structure. It will remain free. I also plan to promote it towards classroom supplemental reading use.

One of our other team members is actively working relationships with teachers to test our service. This is an ongoing struggle since teachers have very little time. If you know a teacher that would be interested in helping us work through piloting, please send them my way. We’re focused on 4th through 8th grade.

So the software I’m developing for the classroom is a hybrid of FyreVM and Zifmia technologies. There is a great deal of usability testing we need to do with students and teachers, but there is also a level of beating that I won’t be able to achieve through that process.

So I branched the code, ripped out all of the classroom features, and implemented a revised version of The Shadow in the Cathedral. If I can figure it out, I plan to do Secret Letter too, but that code is a mess.

You can play, for free, the online version of The Shadow in the Cathedral right now.

It’s a bit sluggish at times, although not terribly bad. It’s certainly usable. I’m considering a few tweaks to speed things up, but the performance is in large part a factor of the game’s size. It was not designed for a client-server platform…it was designed for a PC interpreter.

I have to thank Jimmy Maher for the Kindle port for a great deal of the bottlenecks being removed. Jimmy has a knack for finding bad Inform 7 code and rewriting it so that things perform well. This version of Shadow is a descendant of those changes.

The caveats I offer in playing it online includes the following:

  1. this does not change the price or availability of the Kindle, Android, or Hobbyist versions.
  2. if you have suggestions, please use the Feedback button on the lower right. This leads to a User Voice feedback dialogue where you can offer your feedback.
  3. at any time, I may make changes to the game file, which will reset all sessions to the beginning of the game. One feature I’m contemplating is the ability to have the system upload the new game, then fire off a script to rerun all historical turns in the new engine. I can think of a number of ways to enable this, but I’m undecided.
  4. if anyone has any art or music they’d like to share in the online version, feel free. I view this version as a sort of artistic endeavor combined with usability research. This goes for CSS changes as well. I can easily provide alternate CSS implementations.
  5. the underlying client-side code is copyrighted. look, but don’t copy.

I can’t say that this will remain online forever, but that’s my intention.

Enjoy!

Hey everyone, in addition to PC and Mac and game file downloads from www.textfyre.com, The Shadow in the Cathedral is now available on Android as well as Kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008TCVYHE

 

Nearly all startups go through a period of change. Many go through several periods of change. Most don’t survive these changes. The startups that do manage to stick around tend to adapt to everything thrown at them. They don’t always do it well or immediately, but the ones that survive find some knack for finding the solution to a thousand room maze that few others manage.

Textfyre is on the verge of exiting the startup maze and moving on to being a funded company with strong partnerships and amazing employees. Some of the details remain behind closed doors. Agreements need to be signed, product needs to be prepared, and people need to be notified of the coming changes.

But we’re finally approaching the real launch of Textfyre as a national brand in the Edutainment publishing industry.

These are very exciting and challenging times for me as the founder. I’d like to say that all of the ducks are lined up, but we still need to locate and place a few more of those proverbial ducks. I’m working on a number of fronts, bringing things together, and with a little more work, big announcements will be made in December and January.

These are exciting times for Interactive Fiction.

One of the processes the IF community is learning about right now and one that Textfyre has been going through since Secret Letter’s game file was completed was the process of provisioning. Turning content into product. Infocom was brilliant at provisioning their content. They made some of the most beautiful packages and “feelies” even by today’s standards. Actually, few games are packaged these days. They have a pretty box, but inside it’s just some cardboard and a CD or DVD jewel case. Infocom included specially made items and paperwork that gave the customer the feeling that they were truly on their own adventure.

It’s occurred to me that Infocom was popular in part because of their brilliant packaging. I wonder how well their games would have sold had they come in a simpler, less enticing box. And if their games had no feelies at all, would they have garnered the same passionate following? It’s an interesting point to speculate on and one that I take seriously. I think anyone that wants to reach a wider audience for an IF game should also take it seriously.

This is not a trivial process. Some of the things involved in provisioning include:

  • Artwork. Every game should have at least one high end signature piece of artwork that represents the game. The community started doing this a few years ago with cover art. I think this was brilliant and the beginning of the community’s interest in provisioning their games.
  • Documentation. Each game should come with its own introduction, help, and any additional paperwork that helps the customer immerse themselves in the world within the game. I think this is key to booting the relationship between the customer and the game. It probably gives the customer a stronger attachment to the game, which will help them overcome any initial difficulties. Where IF is concerned, any way to reduce start-up confusion is highly desired.
  • Map. Each game should just give away the general setting secrets by presenting the entire game’s map in color, preferably drawn by a talented artist.

But these are things that go in a box or in a PDF. What about getting the game working?

  • Installation. The customer should be able to very easily install the game. The game should install exactly the same way that any other application installs on a given OS. The installation process should include details about the end user license agreement as well as any information about open source software being used. The user should be offered the opportunity to “run” the game immediately as well as display the introduction documentation immediately. There are free tools to create installations for Mac and Windows and Linux. I highly recommend looking for these tools and making your game a standard install for all platforms.

And there are things that should be within the application itself:

  • General help.
  • Full set of hints.

All of this is hard work. Just when you’ve finished updating your game with that last beta testing report, you feel this sense of accomplishment and you should. But you’re not done. You then need to determine how you want people to perceive your new work and go through the process of provisioning it accordingly.

If you’re not an artist, there are plenty of starving artists available through Craigslist.org. I paid $500 for the cover art for The Shadow in the Cathedral and I think it was well worth the money. You can also find great photos and artwork at istockphoto.com. I’ve used their site to grab various little pieces of spot art like gears and clocks for Shadow’s documentation. Again, it was well worth it. Of course in a perfect world I’d have an art director managing the graphical provisioning process, but if you have to be your own art director, you can still do an excellent job.

Provisioning is a critical aspect of making your game look exciting and giving the game player the feeling that they’re getting something really cool. Whether you’re giving your game away for free or selling it, provisioning should be on your to do list.

So I spent the weekend in Boston at the Penny Arcade Convention, PAX East 2010. The trip wasn’t quite as comfortable as I would have liked it to have been, but I had an excellent time meeting up with various IF peopless. I was working on a few promotional ideas for the convention, including possibly getting a booth to show Textfyre games, but ultimately decided to just hang out.

One of the promotional ideas was to partner with Jason Scott who was doing his premier of GET LAMP, a documentary about the history of Interactive fiction.  When I interviewed for the film, we’d talked about possibly adding Textfyre material to the DVD’s and Jason was very receptive at that time. For whatever reason, Jason changed his mind and this partnership never materialized. I think it was a missed opportunity for both of our endeavors, but that’s just my opinion.

Another thing I’d been working on in the background was a license for the Infocom trademark, now owned by Omni Consumer Products in California. Activision does not own the trademark anymore, something i verified with my internal contacts there. I’d gotten the licensing agreement and reviewed it with my business attorney. After reviewing the associated costs and strong language, I decided it wasn’t in our best interests to pursue such an agreement. I did talk to some of the original Infocom people and they thought it wasn’t really a good name for a brand unless there were plans to do sequels of the original games, something we do not have access to. So that promotional idea ended as well.

The only other thing I had planned to do was possibly make Textfyre t-shirts or CD’s of games, but I just couldn’t determine what sort of audience there were for those items. I’d never been to PAX before and wasn’t sure if it would work or not. I think it might have worked, but I also believe it wasn’t worth the risk. So in the end, I’m glad I just had fun and left the Textfyre promotion stuff off the trip.

On to the details…

Friday

My flight was delayed two hours so I missed the IF writing panel, which I was seriously miffed about. I did see the GET LAMP premiere and met up with most of the people I know from the IF community. I’ll write a separate post about my take on the movie, but overall I think Jason is a good filmmaker. After the film I chatted with Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Dave Lebling, Steve Meretzky, and Mike Dornbrook. I ended up having drinks with the Infocom guys until 1:30am. It was very surreal being around people that had such a tremendous impact on your life.

Saturday

On Saturday I grabbed a bite and hot chocolate from Starbucks before managing the Speed-IF in the IF Suite at the Back Bay Hilton. Everyone stood around and we came up with a few ideas and everyone spent the better part of the day writing their entries, all of which are noted on the IFWiki page. I grabbed a late lunch with Jesse McGrew (vaporware), Kate (his girlfriend), and Mike (can’t remember his name) at the Pour House. Lunch was tolerbale, but not great. I then walked around the convention with Mike where we poked around, saw Will Wheaton, got t-shirts, bought the Jason Shiga Meanwhile book, and then separated. I eventually made my way back to the IF Suite in time for the IF Outrach Panel, where we all discussed ways to get the word out about IF. Since this is a topic I am intimately familiar with, I had a lot to say (probably more than some people care to hear). We then pulled all of the Speed-IF entries together and people played them. It was great to see so much interest.

Sunday

Went to brunch at The Cheesecake Factory, which was fantastic and then headed to the IF Suite for another panel on adaptive play. The idea being that we should develop ways to allow newbies and pros to play the same games without hardship. It turns out this is similar to the outreach discussion in many ways. The panel talked a lot about Jay Is Games, but I am not personally convinced casual gamers will ever be interested in IF. I think if people want to write casual IF games, that’s great…but that’s not what I want to do. I want to develop immersive (not casual) stories that intentially take many hours of your time.

We all chatted until about 5pm and then the bulk of the crew went out for dinner. It was a bit early, but I ended up heading straight to the airport. I upgraded to first class because I was just so tired and had a nice quiet flight home.

Last year was, to say the least, interesting. Some of our accomplishments include:

1. We managed to complete and publish two games and get a third game into the programming stage.
2. We have a relatively stable and functional, if boring, website.
3. We’ve had talks with interesting partners, including Infocom implementors, about working with Textfyre.

Some of the things we’re still working include getting the word out to the audiences that we think will appreciate our works. This is the primary goal of 2010.

I also have some other business I’d like to attend to…finally. As I have mentioned many times, Textfyre is currently funded entirely by me and a very small number of sales of games. To say 2009 was difficult can’t possibly describe the year we had. Since I can’t work at Textfyre for a living, I have been doing computer consulting work, independently. Prior to 2009, this was a fairly stable endeavor. I made enough money to provide for my family (I’m married with five children) and siphon off just enough to keep Textfyre rolling. It was never enough to really go all out though and that’s why I have always been looking for external sources of funding.

In 2009 though, things went south. Like south pole south. Like to the moon Alice south. Some know about my endeavors with a company called OneDegree.Com, but I will give you the summary. I took a contract to hire position with a start-up that claimed they had a million dollars in the bank. They didn’t. They went under and my consulting business lost about $90,000. To top that off, when I found out they were out of money, I did start looking for other work, but didn’t find anything until August, but that only lasted four weeks. Then I was out of work until the middle of December. I’m just now getting invoices paid for the first time in five months.

So needless to say, Textfyre has had to weather some troubling financial times. But most entrepreneurs will tell you, you can’t fail unless you quit. I haven’t quit and I don’t plan to quit. We’re making some headway in getting the word out. Sales are slow, but enough to keep the website up. I’m back to work and the consulting market looks to be improving slowly. We also have very passionate people helping us that understand that building the business isn’t a cake walk. It takes hard work, dedication, and most of that before anyone gets paid.

One of the things I have discovered is that there is one sector of help we need that doesn’t like the “get paid later” scenario. That is the artist. Well, I should say the _talented_ artist. There are plenty of people who think they’re artists, but if you want someone who you can direct and will deliver, you have to pay them. This is one of the things lacking in our process and would be the first thing rectified when we finally draw more revenue or find a funding source.

In 2010 we’re already looking at ways to get the word out. I will be attending PAX East in Boston in late March. I’ll be there Friday afternoon through Sunday night. If anyone wants to get together, please let me know. Drop a comment on the blog or e-mail me directly.

There’s a fall middle-school convention that I was sore to miss last year, but will not miss this year. By then we should have an official booth, CD’s, and several more games published. I plan to have at least one Infocom Implementor in the fold this year and possibly more than one. If we can convince Activision to let us at the Infocom material, we might do something there too.

We’re evolving. I started with many plans, but some of them have been set aside and new ones have taken their place. That will continue.

We’ve only just begun…