Posts Tagged ‘secret letter’

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.

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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.

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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.

Way back in 2007 I engaged a few IF authors to design new commercial games. I asked them to come up with ideas, an outline, then a complete design. This worked out three times with Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, The Shadow in the Cathedral, and the as yet unpublished Empath’s Gift.

I had intended on keeping these private as intellectual property, but Textfyre is in a transitional period and I think it’s time I started letting go of some of my original plans. We still plan to release Empath in Glulx form and I’m still trying to finish up a touch-based application for Windows 8, but outside of that, no new games are planned. I’m releasing for general consumption Textfyre – The Shadow in the Cathedral. This is the full and final design document in PDF form. There are likely bits missing from the final game file, but that’s to be expected. The last bit of play-testing and debugging was done by Jon Ingold himself. I’m not sure how much time he spent putting things back into the design from that work. I suspect very little, if any any at all. Even so, the design document is remarkably complete.

The intent of this process was to prove that you don’t need to be an IF author to design IF. I think to some degree that effort has failed. I was never able to get a non IF author to write IF. However, I was able to prove, with Jon’s help and Mike Gentry (Secret Letter) and Christopher Huang (Empath) that you can write the game first and have an entirely different person create the code. It’s just that all people involved need to have a deep understanding of Interactive Fiction.

I hope you learn from this document and that it may possibly inspire you to build more IF games.

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.

Microsoft announced their new mobile platform in February and I’ve been actively working on prototypes using the new development tools, Expression Blend 4, Visual Studio 2010, and the Silverlight Windows Phone 7 SDK.

One of the great things about targeting Windows Phone 7 is that all of our existing code base compiles without change. The FyreVM class library ported without easily and now it’s just a matter of working through the new WP7 API’s to make it work seamlessly.

Of course the real work will be coming up with a user experience that works well. It may be that our work with the book “paging” model used in Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter Deluxe Edition will help us with something similar on WP7.

The way that paging works on WP7, by flicking the screen right or left or up or down is a key to making something interesting and intuitive. The user should be able to play our games with just a thumb.

The other aspect of targeting this platform is that we can also implement them using XNA for the XBox 360 platform and players could go back and forth between them playing the same game. It will be interesting to see this in action.

We’re already registered as an official developer and targeting to be one of the first products available at the launch later this year.

Stay tuned!

We’ve finally nailed down all of the changes to Secret Letter and after a bit more testing, we will re-release it as 2.0. Changes include two new puzzles and an entire rewrite of the final chapter. We’ve also changed the tone of some of the characters.

The new version will come out in Standard, Hobbyist, and Online form with the Deluxe version going through more detailed changes and following at a later date.

Textfyre is still in the process of business development. This means that the business plan is fluid. We have to adapt to new ideas, new market pressures, and of course, we need to generate revenue, even if it’s small.

Secret Letter’s sales have been slow and that’s probably because we need to get it into the target market’s hands. Getting a text game in the hands of a middle-school student is very difficult, but we’re inching closer to seeing that happen. In the meantime, we need to diversify our plans and try to market to the indy/casual/hobbyist gaming communities. So we’ve made some dramatic changes…

All future releases of Textfyre games will have a Hobbyist Edition, which will come with the same End User License Agreement, an Introduction, Hints, and the raw Glulx file that can be played on any existing Glulx interpreter. The raw Glulx file will also be included in all other editions, except for the Classroom Edition, which is a different delivery model anyway.

We still expect to get the games into classrooms on a per-student seat licensing basis, but we need to build the business however it comes to us. We’re going to try to market to casual gamers interested in IF and see where that leads. It looks like The Shadow in the Cathedral is going to do well in this area where Secret Letter has not. I believe the next game, The Empath’s Gift, will also do well in this manner.

I’ve also realized that aiming a little higher with game content is probably a wise move. Secret Letter may be a little too simple in its story-telling. Blame me. I have four daughters and was really basing my instincts on their interests. My two eldest daughters are now reading tween books that are well beyond Secret Letter’s story-telling.

The pricing has come down and we’re okay with that. The gaming market is competitive and online prices aren’t the same as brick and mortar prices. If we ever box up the games and get a chance to sell them in Borders or BN, the price will most likely increase.

The price of the Deluxe version of Secret Letter is likely to come down too. I’m weighing what price point makes sense.

There will be a Deluxe version of Shadow, but probably not until next year.

Version 2 of Secret Letter is due out any day.

I’m glad to see the reviews by Emily Short at IFDB and PlayThisThing. It’s gratifying to see we’re doing good works.

Our second published game, The Shadow in the Cathedral, is available now in Standard Edition form for Windows XP/Vista/7.

We’re also working on version 2.0 of Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, which should be released within a few days.

Please visit for more information.