Thursday, 11 October 2012

Varytale Tutorial: Statistics and Equippable Items

Well, it's been a while. It's always been a while between blog posts, mostly because I can usually fit what I want to say into a few tweets. I'm back and writing because I have a lot more than a few multiples of 140 characters.

I received an email today asking about the statistics and. inventory mechanics of Sixth Tower. It's been quite a while since I touched Varytale so have had to do a little study but I think I remember and understand what I did. Mostly, heh. Anyway, I could respond privately but why contain the knowledge? And I do vaguely recall I considered doing a tutorial on exactly this subject previously but thought that no-one would be interested.

What I do with Varytale is... odd. It's really not what the system is intended for but it's one of the great strengths of VT that it is possible to do all manner of weird stuff with it. I'll be using examples from Sixth Tower. This tutorial assumes at least a basic understanding of the tools and isn't recommended for new authors.  Frankly, I wouldn't recommend it anyone, myself included.

Enough blathering, here's the lesson!


Now would be a good time for you to open up Sixth Tower. Play up to 'A Something Introduction' at least if you haven't already.

You'll see something like this on the left. In the Book Settings document, this is written as:

page-area: C
title: Character
style: small, strong

page-area: C
title: Equipped

page-area: C
title: Talents
style: small

Character details are just Qualities set to various number values during the character prologue. Remember, quality names are defined with Value Sets (the standard, for displayed here, is @ranges). Here Gender (chargender) is 2. For example:

short-name: chargender
tags: character, attribute, gender
view-if: chargender > 0
initial: 0
in-sections: character 
Male or female? Sometimes it's anyone's guess. 
(1) Male
(2) Female
(3) Other
 Talents work the same way, but are even more simple. They are just qualities with no defined Value Set, which are set to at least 1 when a class is chosen.


In Sixth Tower there are three main types of items: usable, equipable and non-equipable.

In this inventory to the left, the Mobile is useable. The Pistol and Reading Glasses are equipable. Shards, the Empty Notebook, Package of Chalk and Currency are non-equipable.

The simplest, non-equipable items, are just a single quality which keeps track of how many of the given item a player possesses. They might be required for storylets or branches but otherwise there's nothing else that needs doing with them.

Usable items have two elements: the 'how many of these does the player have' quality like any other (which is NOT displayed, not ever) and an associated storylet which, instead of appearing in the main area (area A), appears in the Equipment list (under area C). That storylet includes actions to use, or perhaps examine, the item. You can use the same concept for books, notes or spells (teleport?) or perhaps memories.

There is significantly more involved in Equipable items. There are three elements required for an equipable item, described below. In brackets are (an example).

  • An 'item owned' quality (WeaponPistol)
  • An 'equipment slot' quality (EquippedHands)
  • The 'equip items' storylet (Equip Items)
As always, 'item owned' qualities merely keep track of how many of a given item the player owns. The 'equipment slot' quality keeps track of which item is current equipped. The storylet allows the player to manage which item in each slot is currently equipped.

The Equip Items storylet can get extremely complicated looking but for each item only two branches are required:
  • Equip item
  • Un-equip item
Let's have a look at those first two in detail. Firstly, how to Equip Item, specifically a pistol.
view-if: weaponpistol >= 1 and EquippedHands = 0
choose-if: EquippedHands != 11
quality-changes: EquippedHands = 11; powerelemental += 1
goto: choices 
*You have equipped a pistol.*
What is happening here is the branch is only displayed if the player owns a pistol and has nothing equipped in their hands; it is choose-able if a pistol is not already equipped (EquippedHands = 11 indicates a pistol is equipped); the branch equips the pistol and increases Elemental by 1 point. 'Goto: choices' returns the player immediately to the Equip Items menu, should they want to equip/unequip something else.

So, if a pistol is equipped and you want to instead equip some other hands-slot item? Unequip it.

view-if: EquippedHands = 11
quality-changes: EquippedHands = 0; powerelemental -= 1
goto: choices 
*You have un-equipped your pistol.*
And this undoes everything that is changed by equipping the pistol. ALWAYS double, triple check that unequipping an item undoes any changes equipping it makes, or you break the game by allowing the player to infinitely increase or decrease their stats.


I hope that is of some use and interest. If I've missed anything you would like me to cover, on this topic or something else you've seen done on my books, drop a request in the comments.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Writing, Writing and Reading

This is what my life has become lately. Chris Evans of The Reticule saw fit to trust me with writing to his website so I have been doing that a bit, writing news and a couple of review pieces. E3 - the Electronic Entertainment Exposition in San Francisco - came and went with much news only a little of which was of interest to me. Maybe I'm just a young grouch or a rather specific hipster but the current slew of games on the horizon doesn't do it for me. Except Dishonored, that looks ace.

My other major preoccupation has been bug-fixing my Varytale stories and developing further content for London Road. It is... infuriating how slow my development is going. The problem stems from the fact I never planned what would happen in London Road. It's a common with my writings, I just get so excited for an idea and just go for it without thought to what I would do next. It is an especially egregious failing here because LR started as experimentation in the Varytale system and scripting. I am fixing - or, rather, patching - this mistake as I go along. I've restructured Chapter 1 several times now, after forcing myself to step away from my laptop and make pen-and-paper notes about people and organisations, their motivations and objectives. It's basic stuff, the kind of thing I should have done before typing a character of actual story.

Oh, that reminds me: In case you didn't notice on my previous post, Alexis Kennedy pointed out that Varytale is not a product of Failbetter Games, but of Ian Millington. Failbetter have just been advising on it and talking about it. Common mistake, but one I won't make again.

Coming up soon is the closed beta for StoryNexus - Failbetter's public portal of the authoring system they use to write Fallen London - which I'm signed up for. Readers' beta first then writers' which is what I'm especially looking forward to. I will find something else to make for pure experimentation's sake but my proper project will be City of Phire - a fantastical post-apocalyptic scenario. Hang on, I've written about City of Phire on this blog before, haven't I? *Flicks through the old pages.* Ah, here we are! Anyway, I did make the core systems and half a prologue for a CoP Varytale but I think it'll work a lot better in StoryNexus. The Rael desert and the ruins of Phire are best as an open world with repeatable adventures and challenges. Varytales works best as linear or at least semi-linear tales in a limited region. Say, a braided rope rather than a net.

So, yes, I've been busy. Not that it gets me any money, but so little does in the arts. I'm in it to give people pleasure - so long as people like my work, I'll keep making it.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Varytale Reader In Open Beta, and StoryNexus Announced

For the past several months I have been lucky enough to be involved in the closed beta of Varytale, a web-based authoring and hosting system for interactive fiction. So far we testers have only had access to the writer's side of things, to experiment with the system and write our own IFs. Now, tentatively, the writers' side of VT is open to all for the first time.

Currently available to read - and rate and comment on - are short IFs from a handful of authors including myself. Most notable amongst them is Emily Short, legendary author and critic of interactive fiction, who created my all time favourite game, Galatea.

Varytale is developed by Failbetter Games, who you might know from Fallen London (once called Echo Bazaar) or their less famous tie-in to Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

While I'm on the subject, Failbetter recently announced a new system, StoryNexus, which builds off of the work they did with Fallen London and the impression is it will follow a similar structure. Failbetter's head, Alexis Kennedy, described the differences between the two systems thusly:
"StoryNexus is more game-y; Varytale is more book-y. StoryNexus is easier to use; Varytale is more customisable. We're concentrating on StoryNexus for now."
 So that's a fistful of new interactive fiction experiments to read, and two systems to play with. Good news, I say.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Finite Forest: Tale of Tales Begs To Keep "Art" Alive

The self-described team of artists (rather than games developers or designers) Tale of Tales have long courted the periphery of PC games community. Their string of releases including most famously The Path have all been controversial for one reason or another; usually whether or not they are games at all, and thus deserving of some people's attention or money. (For the record: it doesn't matter and yes they are.)

Now the group, led by husband-and-wife team Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn, are asking for donations to keep their first release alive. The Endless Forest requires €165 a month to keep the servers alive. Historically it has been supported by arts charities and communities donations but now that money is running out and the servers are in danger of being shut off for good.

First opened in 2005, The Endless Forest is a peaceful non-combative non-constructive non-verbal social world where players are anthropomorphically-faced deer frolicking around a forest and the ruins, follys and natural features found within. There is no way to speak or communicate in text with other players in this world. Instead, being deer as they are, they use body language (kneel, sit, leap, run around in circles...) and barks. There are no goals, enemies or dangers. Its an extraordinary experience and free to play.

I detailed my personal thoughts on the situation in the comments thread for Rock, Paper, Shotgun's article on this, and I cannot put it better than I did then:
The things is… I would love to. I’d love to be able to throw the whole €165/m at them just to know Endless Forest is still around should I one day want to go back and wander the forest for a couple of hours…

But I can’t. My money is exceedingly tight and I have to be very careful what I put it towards.

What surprises me is that they are [primarily] requesting regular, repeat payments. Yes, they can be cancelled at any time so technically a person could give a single payment but the impression is a significant element. [Also, one-off payments can in fact be made from the Donate page]. Should ToT ask for people to throw, oh, a one off amount of €5 in return for a simple unique visual effect upon their deer I am sure they would make their money for the next 3 months almost immediately. Handled correctly, it could be a great opportunity to build interest in Endless Forest again, their old releases on multiple platforms and their future projects.

Hell, they could ask for pre-orders of 8 (yes, that’s the name of their next big project) and I’d be throwing money at the screen. At least some of that could keep TEF alive.
TEF is free to play and can be downloaded from their website. If you are generous enough to donate, you can do so from this page.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Baldur's Gate: Reduxed?

I do love a good old fashioned map.
So, I imagine there's a lot of people disappointed with the Baldur's Gate announcement, or rather the lack of the announcement they were hoping for. Even though the BG:EE (for that is its name, so sayeth the prophet) website is no working, there are still few details at this time beyond a confirmation that it is the original game 're-forged' in an updated Infinity engine. For those of us with leaky memories, the Infinity engine was, or is?, the old 2D engine that the original games ran under.

Okay, so it's not Baldur's Gate III. It could always have been worse, as Susan Arendt of The Escapist trolled her twitter followers with this well placed 'reaction'.

Yes, yes she was actually kidding. Thank Bhall.
From what we do know, I would speculate we will see a retextured 2D roleplaying game in the Fourth Edition of Dungeon & Dragons following the same plot-line (plot-net, really) with restructured locations and monsters. Essentially, the same as before but a little shinier and using the new edition's Power-based combat mechanics.

I am really not sure how I feel about that vision of the future. The original games were based on 2nd Edition rules which are, from my personal perspective, extremely convoluted and backwards. However 4th Edition rules are limited in scope and flavourless. It is though easier to teach and play, more mechanically logical and coherent.

There is no great reason why games like this cannot tell the same story any better or worse than the originals or be necessarily more or less enjoyable but whatever Overhaul Games do there will be huge arguments over any changes they make. When beginning this piece, I had considered writing about how I would envision my perfect Baldur's Gate remake, and invite any reading to offer their own dreams, but if we allow ourselves to dwell on dreams we will never be happy with whatever we get in the end.

It is a ballsy move by any producer or developer to resurrect a beloved IP even under the best of circumstances. Whatever the result, BG:EE is likely to both sell in huge numbers and, unless it is exceptional in ever way and probably even then, be eviscerated by fans of the original. At stake is a further re-release, potentially a series of character roleplay game remakes and a thousand happy memories.

Good luck, Overhaul.

Remembering Forgotten Realms - Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition Announced

The end result of a Miniature Giant Space Hamster going for eyes.

It has been well ever thirteen years since the first instalment of the legendary Baldur's Gate series. BioWare's epic story of the child of a dead god set in the Forgotten Realms D&D world set the bar for character roleplaying adventure games. Over four years they released two games and two game-sized expansion packs, each of which gave easily over a hundred hours of gameplay for a single play-through, a feat which is impossible today.

At 7pm UTC a slavering audience gathered, expecting the announcement of a third full game. A countdown and the above seal-of-Bhall image over a background of the original character portraits from the first two games was brought down by interest about ten minutes before the hour. Then the site failed entirely, sometimes giving errors and sometimes nothing at all.

However the internet was soon flooded with proper games news websites telling us an email from Atari (the publishers) revealed the announced game is Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. Developed by Overhaul Games, it looks to be an updated re-release of the origin game and it will be released in the nebulous period known as Summer. Does that mean it will be released 6 months later in the Southern Hemisphere? Probably. There are no further details at this time.

UPDATE: A developer representative contacted IGN directly (which sounds rather like cheating [/pout]). I could paraphrase or I could quote. Let's go with the later option, shall we?
"We're adding new original content in the spirit of the original game," the representative said, as well as "maintaining all the awesome that is Baldur's Gate." The team behind it will include new staff, as well as team members responsible for the original games. 
It was also confirmed that Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition will be released at a later date. Both this and the first Enhanced Edition will be made in a "re-forged version of the Infinity Engine."

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Games for All Hallow's Eve

Wow I've been absent, haven't I? Again. Again, again, in fact. You know what I need? Someone with a hammer and chisel knocking on my door every 9pm and asking 'have you posted on your blog today, Christopher?' And if I say 'no'... well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

So, Frictional Games had a good old post about recommended plays/watches/reads for this, the darkest and most devilishly delightful of holidays. Both the post and the accompanying comments have a great selection of material if you're looking for dread and disturbing nightmares. One of the comments put me on to a new (to me) game which I thought I should share with others, and which reminded me of another little-known game well worth playing.

Below I give you a few of the lesser known examples of excellent horror-based games, all available for free!

The Marionette (thanks to Dylan for recommending it) is the first game by Team Effigy, a doing-it-for-the-love-not-money group of friends. Released back in late '09, Marionette is a point-and-click adventure where Martin, a sculpture, finds himself trapped in a series of places where 'time and space meaning nothing'. Someone or something seems to want to use the world to send him a message and with the help of the mysterious Guillaume, Martin must find some way to escape back to his life and the reality he knows.

The mechanics of the game should be familiar to anyone who's glanced at a point-and-click before. You have three main icons: eye (look), hand (use, move, push, attack) and speech bubble (talk, of course). Combining these with the environment and with the inventory allows you to solve puzzles and these puzzles are pleasingly logical for the most part. The writing, meaning dialogue and plot, is solid and often enthralling. Beware that you are playing a character with his own ideas and attitudes - his interpretation of a dialogue option may not be exactly how you imagined it. As for Guillaume, he can often be incredibly frustrating. While that seems to be intentional, he is still frustrating.

Marionette has especially fine graphics and musical accompaniment. Both are highly detailed and evocative, deftly manipulating emotions and amplifying the experience of Martin's journey. You can listen to the music online or, if you donate to the team, you can download the score.

Team Effigy and volunteers are currently working (slowly) on a fully voiced version so it's worth keeping an eye on their blog. Check out a preview of the voice work here.

The White Chamber was released back in the Summer of 2005 by the now-defunct Studio Trophis. It's another point-and-click, this time about an amnesiac protagonist on an abandoned space station. But this is less System Shock, more Silent Hill as she, and you, soon discover. Blood on every surface, everyday tools rusted into the worktop, bloody limbs scattered throughout and it only gets worse from there. Why is she here and what in hell happened?

Playing through it, I realise White Chamber's greatest asset is its ambient soundtrack. The thrum of unseen generators, the horribly suggestive thumps help root the sense of place, which is all the more powerful given you really do not want to be anywhere near things making sounds like that.

At first the anime-style characters seem to jar with the environments. While the backdrops are hardly naturalistic, it doesn't immediately mesh well with crazy purple hair or such but this is a relatively minor niggle.

General gameplay is made of logical puzzles (make sure to read all item descriptions if you get stuck) and several imaginatively designed console screens. While there are very few, possibly only one, truly deadly scenarios, the choices you make throughout play will impact the ending and decide which one of four you get. Even playing it again just now, knowing the solutions, I ended up with a less than stellar result. The effects of your actions are not always immediately apparent but that would be giving the game away.

And one which I think more of you might have hard of: Don't Look Back by Terry 'VVVVV' Cavanagh. An in-browser flash game platformer inspired by the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's not as fiendishly hard as you might expect but challenging enough and its mechanics directly echo its narrative, which is nice.

You know, I'm not going to talk too much about that one. Just go play it. Oh, and avoid the comments until you've finished - you know, spoilers.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo: Gemini Rue

So as you might have noticed I was at the Eurogamer Expo today. And only today, and not the whole three days that the event took place over because A) the weekend tickets were sold out before I realised it was happening and B) spending three days in London might just be enough to finally send me round the bend entirely. As it was five hours was more than enough in that place.

And more than enough to see everything at the show that I wanted to see. I had missed the RPS meet up and the presentation of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on Friday and Shogun and Rage really aren't my kind of thing. Because I'm not getting paid for this, I can make the decision to ignore them. :)

Here is something I did not ignore:

Gemini Rue (previously known as Boryokudan Rue) is a point-and-click future-noir story created by Joshua Nuernberger and, if I am not mistakenly remembering the flashed-up names in the intro cinematic, to be published by Wadjet Eye Games. Set against a galaxy explored and colonised by man, the story unfolds through the eyes and actions of two central characters: one a retired assassin who, in the demo I played, is searching the downtown blocks of a rainy, oppressive city on a distant planet for a contact who has gone underground; the other is a prisoner of a mysterious organisation (aren't they all?) who has suffered repeated memory wipes in the course of his jailers' investigations.

The immediate sensation is of place, of the characters really inhabiting a world. It looks used and lived in, it feels like a not-so-distant world captured through (beautifully painted) CCTV cameras or seen from across the street. It is the little things that make the difference: the way water drips from a ceiling or the weariness in a store clerk's dialogue. Even in the logic of the puzzles. This is not a game of infinite-pants and obscure combinations. If you want some information, the most expedient way is to think logically about how you would find it out in a real world. Sometimes asking gets you a long way. That said, I did miss a fairly obvious solution early on and spent some time attempting to brute force the answer to the puzzle. This actually did work, but only because the answer provided a different kind of 'no' to the others.

I did not get far, however, as I feel distinctly nervous with a queue forming behind me and even in the Indie Arcade's out of the way corner of the floor there were plenty of people looking to play, but in just 10 minutes or so Gemini Rue made a big impression on me.