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Sidney Merk's News Archive

--=== Saturday, August 11th, 2007 ===--

     I've meant to post news here for quite a while, but just haven't. Here's an update for what I remember since the last one.

     I did the IFComp T-Shirt again last year. Orders have long since ended, but here is the IFWiki page about it. Below this entry, I've posted the back art.

     In award news, The Traveling Swordsman was nominated in four of the ten XYZZY Award categories for games of 2006, earlier this year. Being nominated is like an award in itself, and while TTS missed the win in three categories (Best Game, Best Puzzles, and Best Individual PC), it won the award for Best Story. The awards page on the IFWiki is here. I nearly napped through the live awards presentation held on the IFMud, but made it just in time for the Best Story category (and the full transcript, as a plain-text file, is here).

     I posted the TTS source code last month. It includes some documenting text files (with a developer's journal) that might be of interest to other IF authors.

     There was a discussion in the int-fiction newsgroups (which became, oddly enough, an “us vs. them” debate) a year ago about having an Interactive Fiction Community Forum. Two or three forums were launched in a short period as a result, and I offered to host a phpBB3-based board for Rioshin, one of the discussion's participants. I'm an admin there too, and the message boards are here under the intfiction.org domain I already own.

     This year's IFComp is coming fast, but it's not too late to sign up (the deadline is September 1st) and enter a game (the deadline is September 29th). With too many real-life conflicts this year, and after barely missing the “top three” for two consecutive years, I'm sitting this one out.

--=== Friday, November 17th, 2006 ===--

     I have added the TTS page here, with screenshots and a link to the download itself. As with my prior Hugo games, it requires a free interpreter to run.

     I intended to finish the TTS page in the review area soon. That's "intended" -- past tense. A very busy work schedule, plus today's discussion in the interactive fiction games newsgroup has left me sapped. I'm disappointed that some players disliked parts of the game, but just as pleased knowing that many judges did like it.

     I'm very happy at how TTS turned out. For good or bad, it's exactly the game I wanted it to be. Sure, I scrapped an idea for a couple alternate endings along the way, but it wasn't only to save time. It was to focus on the one ending that made the game right. Sooner or later, I'll post an extended discussion, or link to the various recent newsgroup posts, or even post my full (lengthy) design and development journal.

     On a different note, I received this email about Breath Pirates early Tuesday morning, but I only logged in and noticed it tonight. This really made my week. I'm even a little ashamed at suggesting -- earlier today, in fact -- that writing interactive fiction just might not be worth it. It really is, and this is exactly why.

--=== Thursday, November 16th, 2006 ===--

     The 2006 IFComp has ended. I'll post more about this later (probably when I add a "My IF Games" page for my entry, The Traveling Swordsman -- 4th place of 43). My reviews are here, although I had time enough to play only half of them this year.

--=== Monday, July 24th, 2006 ===--

     The source code to Distress is now available. You can download it here (requires the free Hugo developer's kit from here). The source code is complete, and should compile without errors if you have set up your development directory (with the Hugo library) correctly. If you're a Hugo author and would like to see any aspect of the coding behind this award winning game, now you can.

--=== Tuesday, July 4th, 2006 ===--

     Today, I'm releasing the Trading Punches update (version 1.9) that I've been holding for months. It isn't much changed from the last version, but it does (a) include "wider" illustrations to match the style of future Convergence Saga games, (b) change the by-line to my real name, and (c) run with the latest Hugo library built-in. I intend this to be the last build of the game. It's time now to think seriously about Part 2.

--=== Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 ===--

     When I (finally) updated the forum I use for Prowler Productions, I added a board specifically for Interactive Fiction. As of now, it has no posts. I don't expect it to become very active, but it's up now for anything related to my Interactive Fiction games, or even IF chatter in general. The forum is here.

--=== Monday, May 1st, 2006 ===--

     I have posted my reviews of the 2006 Spring Thing. You can read them here.

--=== Monday, March 13th, 2006 ===--

     They winners of the 2005 XYZZY Awards were announced live on the IFMud yesterday. My game Distress was up for six of the ten categories, and won the award for Best Puzzles. Vespers was the big winner with four awards, including Best Game of 2005. I was disappointed that another of my favorite IF games of last year, Chancellor, left empty-handed in five categories.

     As for the Slamdance awards, it was A. A. Reed's Whom the Telling Changed that was chosen to represent Interactive Fiction last year. He compiled a set of player transcripts -- very interesting to learn the kinds of obstacles new IF players have, when trying out this kind of game for the first time.

--=== Thursday, December 15th, 2005 ===--

     I heard back about my Slamdance competition entry today, and Trading Punches was not selected. Nor was Jason Devlin's Vespers, and we're only aware of one other work of Interactive Fiction submitted. The finalists are to be announced tomorrow.

     I decided to re-render the chapter start scenes from Trading Punches. I have cranked up the detail settings in Bryce-5, and the resulting images are clearer than the originals. I've also changed to 800x480 (was 640x480), which is the size of the chapter start scenes I have designed for the second game in the Convergence Saga series. I'm not planning a game update -- just a graphics resource update.

     I got the go-ahead to design this year's IFComp T-shirt, which I really enjoyed doing. The shirts, available in five colors, have been on sale for the past two weeks. Order-taking ends after tomorrow. The shirts are sold through Feelies.org, and all orders will be produced and shipped after selling ends.

--=== Wednesday, November 16th, 2005 ===--

     And so it ends.

     The official IFComp results are in, and Distress came in 4th out of the 36 entries. Congrats to the top 3 games, Vespers, Beyond, and A New Life -- and also to all the other competition authors. I highly recommend Chancellor -- I may post a walkthrough for that one soon; I'm sure this is why it wasn't in the top 3. I intend to collect links to other reviews and post them here soon, too.

--=== Tuesday, November 15th, 2005 ===--

     Judging is now over in the 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. That means we can post our reviews, talk about the games, speculate, and anxiously await the official results. I have posted my reviews here, and I added a page for Distress here (it's lacking some detail, to be supplied after the results are announced). I haven't written a Distress wrap-up yet, but I plan to.

     Also, The Wall Street Journal Online posted the IFComp article today. It was mentioned at SlashDot, but the resulting comments consist primarily of (a) silly jokes about Zork, (b), silly jokes about sandwiches and Kansas, (c) discussions about BBS games, BBGs, MUDs, and roguelikes, none of which are really Interactive Fiction, (d) general criticism of text-based games, (e) actual IF discussion, but with an obvious lack of reading the article, and (f) off-topic banter. It's great to get exposure like this for Interactive Fiction, but it's a shame a half-hour interview was reduced to a couple sentences about making sandwiches.

--=== Saturday, October 29th, 2005 ===--

     Good things are happening! First, the author of a recent Lunatix review emailed me this link to said review in QB Express #14. Second, Vauhini Vara, a technical reporter for The Wall Street Journal Online, is writing an article about some of the games and authors of this year's IF Comp. Third, I have submitted Trading Punches to the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition. One of the organizers has been anxious to include works of Interactive Fiction, and this might just be artistic enough to make a good impression.

--=== Saturday, October 22nd, 2005 ===--

     I have finally added a page for Miscellaneous Reviews, as well as a news archive to roll off the out-of-date posts. The sidebar image has been updated, too. I'm still playing and reviewing all the other IF Comp entries, but it has been slow-going. I'm about one-third of the way through, and the competition is about half-way over.

--=== Monday, October 3rd, 2005 ===--

     The 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition is here again. Thirty-six contenders -- including my own -- are available for download here. The six-week judging period is an information black-out, so I can say no more about my own game or any of the others. Like last year, though, I intend to play every entry and write reviews to post on November 16th. Although public discussion this soon goes against the rules, I welcome any and all private feedback about my entry Distress (written in Hugo). My email address can be found at the competition's voting page, or at the bottom of the sidebar to the left of this page.

     Hmmm.... I need to move old entries to an archive soon...

--=== Thursday, June 30th, 2005 ===--

     Long time no update!

     Jay Goemmer has handed maintenance of the IF Collaborators' List to me. This is a page at the IF Wiki for those interested in collaborating on Interactive Fiction projects. If you have any interest in teaming up with others to create IF, check out the list. You can contact collaborators already listed, or be added to the list yourself. I'd like to keep that page updated and current, to make it more useful.

     After many months of taking it easy, and a failed attempt to complete a game for the 2005 Spring Thing competition, I'm motivated again for more Interactive Fiction development. I'm currently working on an entry for the 2005 Annual Competition -- a graphic adventure, not based on any of my prior games. I'm also considering The Oxygen Wars, which was to be a follow-up to Breath Pirates (QuickBASIC, 1997). I have also started design work for the second game in the Convergence Saga series -- a prequel to Trading Punches. That's on hold, while I complete my 2005 IF-Comp entry.

     Soon, I will add my recent reviews (previous contributions to the 2004 Non-Comp Review Project and SPAG) to this website. Time permitting, I may also play and review a few more recent games. On a side note, I have also revised the About Me page.

--=== Wednesday, December 15th, 2004 ===--

     I have posted my reviews of the C32 competition games. The contest, conceived and hosted by Dave Bernazzani, challenged Inform authors to create a great game that compiles to just 32k in size. Four of the six entries are very good, and I highly recommend each. The fifth could be recommended, if the author releases a much-improved version. You can see each review here.

     By request, I have released the source code to Trading Punches. If you are a Hugo author and would like to peek at the code behind the game, feel free to do so. However, please don't go changing it around and releasing pirated versions of it. It's for learning purposes only.

--=== Sunday, November 21st, 2004 ===--

     I added a page for Mystic Force, a piece of Interactive Fiction I wrote eleven years ago. It's the proverbial poster child for everything inexperienced authors can do wrong in a game. I planned to write a walkthrough, but these notes are the best I could do. I have also fixed the "down" bug in chapter 2-2 of Trading Punches. The version 1.8 update is here, and the full download (which includes the graphics and music) is here.

--=== Wednesday, November 17th, 2004 ===--

     The results were announced yesterday, and Trading Punches ranked 10th in the competition. Having braced for much lower, I was excited to make the Top-10 (and it means the game will be listed on the official T-Shirt). The reviews have been insightful. While some disliked the excessive (overdone) prose and the mood music, others enjoyed both. In criticism, some themes were repeated by many reviewers, and it's useful (even vital) feedback for future projects. One killer bug was brought to light (do not attempt to go "D" (down) when inside the buildings of Site Seven -- if you do, UNDO). I might release a version 1.8 update to replace the 1.7 update, but I'm undecided. What needs to be done (adding to NPC conversations, making the entire "cups" puzzle more intuitive and less tedious, revising the overuse of noun-paired "hybrid" objects, etc) would change it beyond the original scope of the competition entry. While that's a good thing, I also like the idea that future players are using a more polished version of the competition entry, instead of a game with different puzzles and different interactions.

     Before voting ended, I wrote this lengthy essay about my entry. Part of it is just paranoid speculation, but I do address some concerns about the plot. It may also shed light on the larger story -- what I was thinking, why I wrote the game in the way I did, etc. Read it at your discretion, and keep in mind that the results were still three weeks away.

--=== Monday, November 15th, 2004 ===--

     The judging deadline for the 2004 IF Competition is mere minutes away, so it's time to finally upload the Sidney Merk homepage. I kind of have the inclination to write more IF regardless of the outcome. I only hope the reviews for Trading Punches offer constructive advice (derogatory mocking isn't helpful, no matter how witty it might seem to the reviewer). I admit, my expectations are low. The "spoilers" room of the ifMUD hosted links to a few early review sets, and my entry has met with something substantially less than critical acclaim. Only one review seemed blatantly uninformed (the one-liner seems to be based entirely upon the reviewer's frustration with the first chapter, leading me to believe he summarized the entire game from only a few minutes of play). The others -- informed, just not very positive.

     Although the update (version 1.7) includes dozens of fixes/changes (see the notes if you already played the competition version -- otherwise don't peek, because it contains spoilers), I didn't add anything to the ask/tell responses. I had planned to, but I decided to fix what needed fixed, and let the lack of responses remain as-is. I didn't want to change the game in a way that would turn it into something else, and I didn't want to add further detail when much of what's already available may be excessive. If you don't already have version 1.6 (the competition version), download the full .ZIP of version 1.7 (which also includes the graphics and music files).

--=== Saturday, November 13th, 2004 ===--

     The reviews are now ready to show, when the judging ends. I have also added pages for Breath Pirates and The Insanity Circle. I included source code as an additional download (not previously available) for each. The Trading Punches page is almost ready too, but it won't be finished until the competition results are announced. Version 1.7 of the game is almost ready for a post-comp release.

--=== Wednesday, November 10th, 2004 ===--

     In about five days, the results of the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition will be announced. At first, I was pretty optimistic. Browsing early reviews has dented the optimism, if not destroyed it entirely. The irony is, my entry in 1999 was a DOS-based game that placed 12th out of 37 entries. Most early reviews rank Trading Punches closer to the bottom. Still, some very positive feedback has come my way via email. The competition generally sees dozens of voters (sometimes more than 100 per game), so the results could be anything.

     With the results so close now, and because I plan on posting my reviews of the 2004 Competition Games when it ends, I have created this website. I may also post my thoughts on my own entry. I'm almost finished with an updated version, which includes dozens of changes, fixes, and improvements. I have included built-in hints, and the chapter titles now appear on the status bar (an important thing, when players may not have realized that you're supposed to skip stones in the chapter called "Skipping Stones" and serve drinks in the chapter called "Serving Drinks"). Other changes are numerous, but I may post a link to a complete list when the update is released. The contest version wasn't bad (although the reviews may disagree), but the update will be more polished and playable.