Posts Tagged ‘interactive fiction’

Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter is now on itch.io in Silverlight (windows only) form ($2.99) and plain Glulx form ($1.99). The Silverlight version includes the glulx file.

http://textfyre.itch.io/jack-toresal-and-the-secret-letter

Enjoy!

As the title says, I’ve updated The Shadow in the Cathedral with new maps and it’s now available on itch.io for $1.99.

Enjoy!

So I started Textfyre somewhere around 2006-2007. The corporation was legally created in March of 2007, but I had done a lot of research before that point. We released Secret Letter and Shadow in 2009.

Eventually I will write some sort of historical essay on the rise and fall of Textfyre, since at this time, it looks like I will be closing its doors at the end of the year, releasing IP back to authors, and open-sourcing all generic code. I’m still on the fence about this, but unless I have a compelling reason, Textfyre will end on Dec 31st of this year.

I still need to publish the Windows 8 Store version of Shadow. I’m waffling on it for the moment. It will just never be as good as I want it to be. It’s hard to do this stuff alone. I had help last year, but that help has for the most part disappeared.

* * * *

This does not mean I have lost one bit of passion for IF, commercial IF, educational IF, or any of the ideas or visions I’ve worked on for the past 8 or 9 years. It’s just a reality of the day. There are better people at it, specifically Choice of Games, Inkle Studios, and Versu. The emergence of Twine and CYOA games also leads me to believe we’ve hit a crossroads with parser-based IF and I still love parser-based IF. I think the art of IF within Twine and the new iPad games is very compelling. It’s much closer to what I envisioned than I could ever manage.

So what’s next. Well I think I will place my IF passions back to where they were. As a hobby, a passion, and an artistic endeavor. The plan have at the moment is to develop a JavaScript version of FyreVM using Quixe and then building a CLI based IF-builder the same way Ionic builds mobile applications. I envision it something like this:

You type a command in like…

zifmia start mygame z-standard

…and this creates scaffolding for a web-based interpreter using your game file. It automatically generates an I7 extension to be used by your game. You then go write your game in Inform 7 and when done, you save the ulx/blorb file in a directory within that scaffolding. Then you can serve it for testing:

zifmia serve

That command will open a browser running your game in the given template. The template can be modified if you know HTML, CSS, and AngularJS.

When you’re done and ready to publish, you type…

zifmia publish

…and this will create a package you can drop on a server.

I’ll finally be able to develop the templating system I envisioned for Zifmia years ago and by generating the extension in conjunction with the template, authors will have detailed instructions on how to write their game for a given template.

It will be easy.

* * * *

So that’s the new plan. Plans change of course, but this is where I’m headed. As I said, if and when I do close Textfyre, I will write a very thorough accounting of its history for anyone interested. Even so, I could not have done it without the following people:

Jesse McGrew – coded FyreVM from scratch and my hair-brained design requests about Channel IO in about 80 hours which is still an amazing accomplishment.

Mike Gentry – for flying out to Chicago on several occasions, busting his ass to write Secret Letter on paper when no one else had ever done that before. An amazing accomplishment and not just for Textfyre. I’m sure his efforts carries into other people’s IF design endeavors. And for writing Secret Letter itself, which despite its flaws and criticisms, is a wonderful game.

Jon Ingold and Ian Finley – for creating Shadow in the Cathedral, one of the best IF games I’ve ever played. I have played it hundreds of times and I still love it. I wish we could have done the sequels.

Paul O’Brian and Chris Huang – for designing Empath’s Gift and suffering through endless attempts to complete the code. Maybe it will still be finished. I hope so.

For everyone that offered their support. I could not have done even what I did accomplish without the IF community.

I’m not going anywhere….just returning to a hobbyist and an enthusiastic cheerleader of IF.

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

 

In the start-up world, the pivot is talked about like a bad dinner. You made reservations, you ordered what looked to be an appetizing meal, but after eating it you almost instantly had regrets. After a few days, you’re asking yourself why on earth you went to that restaurant.

So you’re an entrepreneur and you think you’re pretty smart. You have a great idea and you think you have enough charisma, talent, or hustle in your bones to make it become a reality. If you went to school, you know everyone will want a business plan. They’ll want a pitch. They’ll even want an obvious list of customers willing to shell out for your amazing product or service. Or they’ll want to feel comfortable that you can get people to spend money regardless of the quality of your service or product. Are you the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Huck Finn?

The world will only know if you pivot. Why? Because it’s nearly a guarantee that your original idea will stink and no matter how charming you are, talented you are, or how much hustle you got, that first pitch ain’t selling to anyone. It’s a dead dog. A bad movie script. It’s got no legs.

So you’re one of the smart ones and you pivot. What no one tells you about pivoting is that you may or may not know when you should pivot. You may or may not know what to pivot to. If you’re lucky and you pivot to the exact right thing at the exact right time, things might just work out for your nascent start-up. Odds are against you because the odds are…you won’t pivot correctly or in a timely manner.

Textfyre has been around for a lot longer than most businesses that call themselves start-ups. In fact, we’re well past the age where seed money is likely to come in the door. Angel investors look at anything past a year old and smell a rat. They run for the hills, ignoring any potential there may be within the targeted business model. I have always been of the mind that building anything related to Interactive Fiction would be a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve never had any illusions about the potential of this market. I’ve always been highly confident that there is a market. But also very sure it would be extremely difficult to tap. I was also sure that building the right technical profile would be the one thing that allowed us to break the mold of being an old start-up and still become successful.

Textfyre hasn’t really even launched. Our pivots have all been internal. It’s been five years of research and development. That’s changing as of today. This year we’re going to put real services in classrooms and develop relationships with real teachers and real students in real schools. We’re going to partner with content developers outside of the “IF” world and develop material that coincides with curriculum being taught at the middle-school level. We still believe that fictional content is important to young readers, but the key to this new effort is putting teacher-identifiable content in classrooms. We’re going to put their curriculum in our format using our tools.

As mentioned in previous posts, I have been working on a cloud-based engine for Interactive Fiction. This is completed and working. We’re now working on content that weaves fiction and non-fiction together so that students can learn about social studies and history in a new format. They’re still going to be playing Interactive Fiction, but the goals won’t be to find treasure. The goals will be to learn.

Our first large-scale pilot program will begin in fall at the Chicago Public Schools. We’re going to bring our client-server engine into the classroom where the teacher can monitor the progress of all students in real-time. They’ll be able to watch every command entered, help when needed, and determine each student’s capabilities from their efforts. It’s our belief, which studies have proven, that narrative or story-based education methods provide a much stronger connection to the student. They retain more information, understand the information more intuitively, and are able to use the information in real life. We plan to enlighten the education world to the enormous potential of Interactive Fiction.

This is a big push by Textfyre and we’re very excited about the future of adaptive learning. We’re hoping to bring our T.A.L.E.S. to every student around the globe in every language, in every classroom, and in every home.