Posts Tagged ‘shadow in the cathedral’

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!

I’ve been winding down some things relating to Textfyre and have talked with a few people about when exactly I should officially close it. There are some legal and accounting hurdles to overcome and those will take time. I separated my consulting practice from it so that’s no longer a concern.

So it looks like Textfyre will “survive” for another year. I’m not exactly sure what it will do, if anything, but I’m working on IF projects that may or may not fall under the Textfyre banner at some point. But most of my IF endeavors are open source and freely available.

These include:

  • Completing the game Reflections. This is not going to be open source, but it will be free. It’s likely going to be a non-competition release in a non-standard web-based user interface.
  • A friend of mine is adapting Quixe so that it can run FyreVM games. Once this is completed, I’m going to finish up a toolkit for building custom web applications for parser based IF. This is similar to Vorple by Juhana Leinonen, but because the IO model is significantly different, the tooling will be different.
  • These new tools will be similar to Ionic/Angular in that you can use a command line to quickly create an IF app from a template. I plan to have several templates ready on first release and these templates should be relatively easy to modify if you know HTML and possibly a little JavaScript.
  • A web application version of the Inform 7 IDE. I’ve only mucked around with this so far, but it’s something I want to spend time on in the next year or two.
  • A web-based IF hub for educational content. I’ve actually already built several versions of this for Textfyre, but will build a new one in the next couple of years and release it for public sharing of educational content. I think this is a really important platform to build and share.

Textfyre plans:

  • I’m still trying to figure out how to get Empath’s Gift completed. I need an I7 programmer to own it. Paul and Chris are happy to help with additional writing and testing. I’m willing to pay a reasonable fee to see this happen.
  • I have a unique touch-based UI for Shadow about 70% completed testing. This is on me to finish and release, whether it’s a success or not. At this point, I’ll probably release it for free just to get feedback on the UI concepts and share ideas with the community.

Feel free to share your thoughts about Textfyre’s future.

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.

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 intfiction.org 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.

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.