Announcing TWIFcomp

I’m not sure this is a good idea, and I’m not sure what kind of response it will get, but I’ve decided to create a new IF competition — TWIFcomp.

TWIFcomp is the result of a collision between interactive fiction and today’s fast-paced thumb-typing lifestyle: all games must be 140 characters or less.

How much interactivity, character development, narrative and theme can be communicated in 140 characters? I’m not sure, but I think it would be fun to find out.  It will be a challenge to crunch games down to that density, but I assume the community is up to it.

The full details of the competition are posted on the TWIFcomp page. In two weeks, when games are posted, I will list them all on that page, and also create a blog entry for each game.

I hope this works and I get at least a few submissions. I have optimistically tagged this as “TWIFcomp2010”, but this may well be a one-shot competition.  We’ll see.

Good luck, entrants!

– Jack

p.s. If anyone has any kind of graphic arts talent, it would be spiffy to have some kind of logo for TWIFcomp.

A few minutes of fun

I stumbled upon a fun little web toy written in Java. You can create particles of various substances and they are released into a gravitational well that pulls them towards the center of the display. The substances interact in various ways, and you can sit back and watch the simuation run. For instance, you can drop some salt on the screen, and then add water and watch the salt melt. Dropping “seeds” will cause plants to grow, but add a touch of fire and the plants will burn away. By combining the substances, you can achieve effects which take a couple minutes to come into equilibrium.

This game doesn’t tell a story, and I’m not entirely sure what the objective is, but I enjoyed poking at it for what I thought was a few minutes, but was probably more like half and hour.

Android App du jour: PDAnet


It would be nice if Wifi access were everywhere, but that’s not quite the case. It’s not a big deal for me, because I can get to my email or browse the web via my phone over a 3G connection, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to connect with your computer. I knew that I’d be in a location without any Wifi access all day today, so I took a chance an plunked down about $20 for an application, PDAnet, that would allow me to tether my non-rooted MyTouch phone from T-mobile. I was skeptical that this would work well, but it does.

The browser on the MyTouch (“G2”) phone is a little sluggish, but I had always assumed it was I/O-bound. It turns out that T-mobile’s throughput is not the limiting factor and that connecting via the tethered connection gives a quite usable connect — better, in fact, than I have had at most hotels via Wifi. I was able to connect to work via the VNC, and the connection was reasonably responsive.

PDAnet is an application that runs on the host PC (in my case, an intel MacPro with OS X 10.5), and another app on the mobile device. The computer and the phone can then be connected either via USB or bluetooth. This software is available on a 15-day try-it basis, and then requires registration to unlock. There are a few flavors, including one for Palm Treo devices (where I think it must have started). The host application is downloaded from June Fabrics, and the android part of the app is downloaded from the android market.

This opens up a whole new level of connectivity. I had been thinking of buying a verizon dongle for the computer, but I’m much happier to not have to cart around another piece of hardware and, more to the point, pay another monthly fee. The only advantage the verizon dongle would now offer would be choice of provider, but I’ve found T-mobile’s coverage to be excellent.

So, five thumbs up. Posted via Android and Mac.

Les méchants meurent… encore

After the French IF Comp, results, commentary and transcript were posted on the comp’s website.

Of the three games in that comp, I hadn’t gotten very far with Eric Forgeot’s Les méchants meurent au moins deux fois, so I looked through the transcripts to see how other people had gotten through it.  On second look, I would rate the game higher than previously, although still behind the other two games in the competition.

Continue reading “Les méchants meurent… encore”

Jay Is Games CGDC#7 Thoughts

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Unlike the IFComp, there was no rule in the CGDC that forbade authors from commenting during the judging period. Even so, I didn’t feel inclined to comment publicly on other people’s games during the competition itself. Knowing how much I like receiving feedback, and how helpful it is in terms of making the game better in subsequent releases, I did privately send some comments and transcripts to a few game authors.

I haven’t played through all thirty games in the comp (notably, Ka and Roofed are still on my to-play list), but I’d like to jot down a few quick impressions of what impressed me in this batch of games. I’m not going to do into detail on each game, although there are some excellent reviews by Emily Short , Matt Weiner, Matt Wigdahl, and the fluffy bunny known only as “gruelove“.

These aren’t listed in order of preference; in fact, every time I look at the list, the games slide back and forth. Each of them has unique strengths, and that’s what I’d like to highlight here:

Continue reading “Jay Is Games CGDC#7 Thoughts”

Hoosegow wins Casual Game Play Competition

I got an email at work earlier today congratulating me on having won the Jay is Games CGPC#7. The site is blocked by policy where I work, but I logged on with my cell phone’s little browser, read the news, and fired a message off to Ben. Up to that point, all we could see were the “hearts” ratings on the competition page (where people rate the games from one to five hearts). According to that metric, few people had played our game, and many other games had higher ratings. I’d written off even placing in the top five at that point, and was thinking that Ben and I would have to sit down after the comp to review comments and figure out where we had misjudged what would work in a casual games competition. So, it was a very pleasant surprise.

Thanks go out to everyone who worked on the game. The process for developing this game was described in issue 57 of SPAG, but briefly, we had two phases of review. First, we asked a somewhat broad group of reviewers to take a look at the plot and structure of the game, and to critique the game from the perspective of design and writing. A couple weeks later, we started rapid beta-testing cycles. Our first wave of concept reviewers included David Anderson, Conrad, Matt Wigdahl, John Lodder, Duncan Bowsman, Jenni Polodna, Sam Kabo Ashwell and Yoon Ha Lee. Our beta-testers included Adrian Colley, Beth Vanichtheeranont, Jacob Lee, John Lodder, Peter Olson, and Rob Dubbin. Sarah Morayati gets special thanks for being both an early reviewer and a tenacious beta-tester. Rochelle Lodder also deserves credit for copy editing the entire work in record time. Without all of this assistance, Hoosegow would not have been half as well-written, and would have had (at least) twice the bugs. Thanks, everyone.

Kinkos needs competition

I don’t understand how Kinko’s pricing is competitive, when printers, color and otherwise have become commodities. The only time I’d normally set foot in a Kinko’s would be if I was very short on time and had a catastrophic technology failure, i.e, if I were at a convention or in an airport on the way to a meeting. Then, they would deserve a premium. However, today I was working from home and needed to print some items, including color copies. Due to snow insanity (see previous posts) anything governmentish is closed, so no library option. I wandered over to Kinkos, stuck a throw-away usb in their hopefully sanitized machine, and printed my stuff.

I’ll just let the prices speak for themselves. This is in addition to per-minute charges that are completely out of line with cybercafé costs for the rest of the world:

  • single page b/w: $0.49
  • double-sided b/w: $0.98
  • single page color: $0.99
  • double-sided color: 1.98

I realize that the cost is in the consumables and that heavy duty cycle means fast depreciation of the equipment, but let’s be honest here. The printers they have are nice, but not really that high-end. The paper is very light weight, and the print saturation wasn’t all that great for the price. I’m sure I’m also paying for the need to lock-down everything watertight against the assault of a thousand monkeys working on their Shakespearean plays, but still.

I think Kinkos has a good niche, and it makes sense to have centers that produce hardcopy or high volume output, but I would love to see some competition. The obvious place to look would be the big-box office supply stores (Paper Cutter, Office Max, Office Depot). The difficulty: they would need semi-competent staff to run the front end of the copy counter.

Okay, that’s my grumpiness for today. Back on your heads.

FCPS needs to suck it up

The Fairfax County Virginia Public School system is completely out of its mind. Snow has that effect in Virginia.

We just heard that school’s been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday (after Friday and Monday off). Sure, a snow day, maybe two, is reasonable for a half meter of snow, but come on. They already took a bunch of questionable snow days right before Christmas vacation. How are working parents supposed to buffer all of the extra days at home? We don’t have these days off, and we can’t necessarily work from home on such short notice.

The make-up days are now going to eat into pre-planned holidays, change travel plans, etc. I strongly suggest that the school system write off the half-days previously allocated for teacher training, grading, and parent conferences. I’m perfectly willing to do parent conferences by teleconference; the other activities can be done outside of teaching hours.

While I’m generally sympathetic towards teachers who, in general, have difficult and under-compensated jobs, and towards the school system that is collapsing under loss of revenue due to devaluation of real-estate, I’d like the FCPS to suck it up a little.

Hoosegow, released

A picture of an Old West sheriff''s office

After several weeks of furious work, Ben Collins-Sussman and I have released a new game, Hoosegow. The game was written for the Jay Is Games Casual Game Play Competition #7, which solicited preferably single room games, with a theme of “Escape!”

You don’t have to dig too deeply to find either element in Hoosegow. You’re in a one room jail cell, and you’re going to be hanged at dawn. It is in your best interest to escape.  Luckily, your best buddy, Muddy, is there to give you moral support, if not helpful advice on escaping.

The game was submitted to Jay Is Games on the evening of January 31st, a couple hours before the deadline. It sounds like they’ve had a good response to their call for submissions; their forum for the Casual Game Play Competition #7 indicates that 30 games have entered. These games have not yet appeared on the Jay Is Games website, but their staff are presumably getting the site ready and perhaps thumbing quickly through the games to make sure they don’t post something inappropriate for their general audience.  As soon as Hoosegow appears on the Jay Is Games site, we’d like to steer people over there to play all the submissions and vote on their favorites. In the meanwhile, the Hoosegow game file is available for download at the game’s main site. You can download the source code and walkthrough documents from the same site. For the sake of convenience, we also listed the game on the IFDb and IFwiki sites.