Utah Indie Games Night – July 2010

We were a bit smaller in numbers this time around; about 25 people were in attendance. It’s still a fair number, but down quite a bit from last time. I’m not completely sure why we were down so much. Perhaps it was because we didn’t have pizza this time around (though I hope that not the only reason people were coming). I know July is a busy month for people too, so maybe it was just scheduling. Not sure.

Anyway we still had some awesome speaker and some awesome games shown. Mike Rubin of Orange River Studio gave a presentation on “Game Design Innovations in Interactive Fiction”. They were many in the crowd that haven’t grown up with the likes of Zork and other text adventures (now called Interactive Fiction), so the whole idea of Interactive Fiction (IF) was a bit new to them. I grew up with Zork and the Scott Adams adventures, so I was fascinated by Mike’s remarks. Mike mentioned that the parser was one of IF’s greatest strengths and also its greatest weakness too. It gives the impression of openness and unlimited verbs within a game, but it can also give the player a lot of frustration if the player constantly has to “guess the correct verb” to do something. IF has evolved a lot over the last 30 years, and have made some innovations to help bring more meaning and depth into the games. These innovations were the core of his talk.

The main innovations that I gleaned from his talk were:

-Better conversation and help systems
The game Blighted Isle included suggestions on what the player could type and also gave hyperlinks and numbered topics to help the player move the conversation along. The game Blue Lacuna and helped the player by responded to phrases like “I don’t know how to get the sword” with useful help (unlike a lot of IF that would respond with a default “I don’t understand that” phrase). It also included different colored text that highlighted recognized nouns, exits, and topics to help the player avoid the “guess the noun/verb/topic” frustration. (BTW, Blue Lacuna was written by Aaron Reed who used to come to our Indie Game Nights before he moved to California.)

-Use of emotional modifiers
The disturbing game Varicella allowed the player to use modifiers like Cordial, Hostile, and Servial to change to tone of your voice, which would in turn change how the Non-Player Characters reacted to you.

-Better conversation flow
Games like Galatea and Alabaster use a multi-liner plot with hundreds of quips that provide a more engaging conversation. The state of the conversation is also stored so that certain topics aren’t available at various time (such as if you are ignoring the NPC or not offering any info on you). In most adventure games the NPCs are often just “info vending machines”, but these two games provide something much more rich.

-Better implementations to offer more meaningful choice (freedom) in the game
The disturbing game De Baron is a piece of IF that offers more choices to the player, often forcing the player to make some moral choices along the way.

Mike did an awesome job with his presentation. We then opened the rest of the time for some game demos. We had six demos being shown (many were shown previously)

Tile Factory – Johnathon Deurig
This was a flash game about constructing contraptions to get ceramic title in piles ready to ship. It’s sort of a manufacturing puzzle game. You have to set up conveyor belts, bumpers, sensors, and painting machines to both paint and get the tiles from point A to B. It also had a nice tutorial at the beginning that helps the players get into the game. It looks to be a very fun game.

Zombie Defense –Darius Ouderdirk
Darius had me play his tower defense game again. I noticed he’s added a bit more polish now. There was even final art in a few places that looked really nice. Technically “Zombie Defense” is a working title since there are no longer zombies in the game. I believe they will be some sort of monster now though. It now had a tutorial section in it that helped explain the game for new players. It’s certainly coming along.

Flexitris – McKay Salisbury
McKay showed his highly configurable tetris clone built with XNA. There were a few graphical improvements since I saw it last. It now has a background to add some interest and the tiles look much better. On the main screen there are over thirty parameters that can be changed that affect the gameplay. For example, you can adjust the width and height of the play area and the speed at which the shapes will fall.

Gost - Josh Jones
Gost is a small flash game made for the Experimental Gameplay project. The theme this time was Repetition. You have to click on some moving ghosts in the correct order to send them to the afterlife.

Tank Raige Arena – Nick Terry
Nick showed me a little bit of his tank MMO game, however he didn’t bring in the newest build so he wasn’t able to show me some of the new features. He talked about it using some middleware called Tunngle, which is a peer-to-peer VPN solution that makes it easier to play multiplayer games over the internet. It will also handle the match making for you as well. It sounded pretty cool.

Vespers 3D – Mike Rubin
After his presentation Mike got a few questions about his game Vespers 3D, so he showed it to them. I didn’t get a chance to see what progress he’s made on the game, but I know it’s an interesting game that you should check out if you haven’t already.

As usual there were some cool discussions going on a well. At one point the topic of Apple’s hatred of Flash on the iPhone came up. Apple sure seems to be “loosing face” on many things lately, like this one and the whole iPhone 4 antenna fiasco. If they keep this up they are going to start losing even the die-hard Apple fans. Anyway, despite the numbers we had an awesome time.

Viva la Indie!

P.S. - Jay's write up can be found here.
Josh has some comments about the evening here.
Mike Rubin's presentation slides can be found here (on our Google Groups site).
Also, here's some import IF links that Mike provided.

Interactive Fiction Database: http://ifdb.tads.org/
IFWiki: http://www.ifwiki.org/

Parchment (online IF player): http://parchment.toolness.com/

Interpreter applications:
Zoom (Mac and Unix): http://logicalshift.co.uk/software/index.html
Gargoyle (Windows): http://ccxvii.net/gargoyle/
Frotz (iPhone): iTunes App Store

IF Games mentioned in the presentation (all available at IFDB):
Blighted Isle: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=9s66qxkt22kq5wv9
Varicella: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=ywwlr3tpxnktjasd
Blue Lacuna: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=ez2mcyx4zi98qlkh
Galatea: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=urxrv27t7qtu52lb
Alabaster: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=b2g8je1xxtqzei4u
De Baron: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=weac28l51hiqfzxz

Other recommended games:
Vespers: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=6dj2vguyiagrhvc2
Anchorhead: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=op0uw1gn1tjqmjt7


vazor said…
Having no food sure kept the size down, but that just meant it was only the truly driven that showed up and that was cool too. Thanks for the writeup! I've got a couple links in my latest post that might be of interest as well.
McKay Salisbury said…
FYI, my game is called Flexitris (sounds similar) the website is http://www.flexitris.com/

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