Monday, September 21, 2015

Flash FS!

Boy oh boy, Blue Bishop here and you certainly haven't seen me in some time, now have ya? I've been very busy these past few months, and I'm proud to officially announce my work on a new, Flash-based Flexible Survival. There's a lot to go through here, so sit tight and I'll break it all down for you. First off...

Story Time!

When you last heard from me, I was fresh off Dragonpalooza, with still a few minor mechanics to implement and primarily focusing on minor, quality of life improvements for a bit. Then we... Kinda hit a snag.

Basically, we hit inform7's previously unknown capacity limit; No more content could be added without removing old content. The most we could do, when updating, was shuffle out some really old stuff and when we had new content to produce. For this reason, I pretty much went on hiatus -- having another writer pumping out content would only exacerbate the issue -- until it was resolved.

Sadly, after working away at personal projects (And moving again), a fix never came. Things were looking dire, we needed the matter attended to right away, so I set aside my current projects and committed to creating a proper, long-term solution to our problem.

Using Fenoxo's, open source, Unnamed Text Game as a base, I started work on a prototype to replace our i7 version, and after many long months, I finally have something to show for it. And that leads us to today.

The Game Itself

Currently, the "Alpha" prototype is available exclusive to Patreon contributors. As much as I do encourage your support, I wouldn't stress over this too much if you choose not to. The Alpha functions primarily to illustrate our current progress milestone and only contains the most essential mechanics at their fundamental levels: room navigation, combat, items and inventory, infection and self examination, as well as exploration and scavenging.

There's no significant amount of new content for you to experience here, and we want at least some small way of compensating those who've stuck with us for so long, so you're not missing out here. The game will remain Patreon-Exclusive throughout its alpha stage, which involves adding all the remaining mechanics (pregnancy, pets, npcs, etc), and then become fully public once we enter Beta -- which is the point where we're purely translating content from the i7 FS to the new one.

Talking About Changes

Converting the game from i7 to flash is no easy feat, we basically had to start over from scratch. However, this can be something of a blessing in disguise, because we can now more closely assess and adjust mechanics as they're re-introduced. FS has become something of a patchwork of inconsistent design over the years -- an inevitability of changing hands -- and here is our chance to organize everything into a cohesive whole.

Obviously, the thing that’ll mostly be staying the same is scene prose -- though I imagine you can expect it to be polished/tweaked during the translation process -- so don’t expect completely new content across the board to complement this new version, just an overall better, more consistent experience on an engine that will last for us.

Additionally, simply by virtue of how different the two engines are, some things are lost during the translation process, though you'll be surprised at how much we've managed to preserve regardless. Here's a more in-depth breakdown:

What's going:

  • Text Input
It’s simply impossible for us to implement i7’s robust, in-engine system for receiving player’s text input, there’s no way we were going to preserve this during the move. 

This isn’t that big of an issue, however, as FS generally stopped relying on text input with the advent of hyperlinks. The only mechanic that really makes any use of text input is hunting, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

That being said, text input will see some modest return, if purely for inputting cheats and giving your PC an actual name for once.

  • Undoing
Similarly something built into inform that we were not going to be able to replicate was the ability to undo turns… This is kinda good and bad. On one hand, it’s nice to undo when you commit a serious gaffe, but on another it feels rather skeevy and cheap.

I don’t think any of the developers will really be missing this mechanic, and I’m sure players will find other ways to get around this absence. Of course, there will eventually be an ability to look back at previous text screens, even if this isn’t strictly “Undoing”.

And that’s… Actually kinda it, really. Everything else is wholly doable.

However, I do feel it’s important to highlight exactly what will be staying. This game uses UTG as the base for its prototype, and a “Fenoxo” game has a lot of implications circling around it, and I want to dispel those immediately. Here we go:

What's staying:

  • Hyperlinks
The ability to have interactable text within the main text box is something Fen’s games don’t really have. This is a big deal, because that otherwise means all interactions in the game are restricted to the UI’s button layout. If you want a lot of options, you need a lot of buttons or have buttons assigned to “Scroll” between them. This way gets past that entirely.

Core interactions will still be relegated to designated buttons, but now we can keep the button UI sparse while still having a very wide array of interactions.

  • Robust Inventory and Item Management
This is one such example of why hyperlinks are so important. In a Fen game, you can’t, say… Leave an item on the ground and pick it up later, or have a very large selection of items in your inventory.

This considerable expanse of possible interactions extends to NPC’s, sex menus, and pretty much anything we need. I can’t underline enough how significant this design choice is.

While I’m certain players have no problem with Fen’s work, they should have no fear that the game will end up becoming largely indistinguishable from his work at a design level, and this should be immediately apparent to those who have access to the Alpha… UTG placeholder UI notwithstanding.

Moving on, the translation process to flash means we acquire a number of newfound benefits, either from the engine itself or because of updated design philosophy. While pretty much every mechanic will see improvement, here are some highlights:

What's Changing/Improving:

  • Saving
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to go flash is the very apparent benefit of being able to easily save the game. i7’s browser-based interpreter can’t handle saves for a game as large as FS, and even with a better interpreter, the saves would not be preserved between versions. Given how rapidly we’ve been known to produce content for the game, this is kinda an issue.

Otherwise, you’d have to use savewords, and those were always something of a wonky, jarring process.

Anyways, this functionality is not yet present in the alpha version, but we do look forward to implementing it much later on.

  • Hunting
The ability to hunt for monsters or events basically has to change, given the lack of text input. Subsequently, hunting opens up a menu displaying any monster you’ve encountered and any event that’s been referenced elsewhere.

This means you can’t hunt for things right off the bat. On one hand, it’s really nice -- as an experienced player -- to know where everything is, but it kinda trivializes the experience of exploration and discovery.

Sure, in a game with physical navigation you’d have the same benefit, but you’d just as easily argue that’s a weakness of those games and not a strength -- at least from a designer’s perspective.

On the flip-side, you’ll never run into that situation where you’re fumbling about trying to remember what the exact name of some monster or event you’re looking for. So there’s that!

  • Time
This may seem like a minor annoyance, but in i7 FS you can only advance time in 3-hour increment “Turns”, which is a bane to anyone who wants to implement shorter increments. This could be fixed in inform, but because of a lot of mechanics presuppose these time increments, you can’t really change it without messing up a lot of timers connected to NPCs and quests.

Thankfully, since we’re starting from scratch, we’re no longer slaves to this annoyance, allowing us to shorten the time of certain actions or possibly provide feats that shorten them even further. Hooray!

And those are the highlights. It’s really nice to finally reveal what I’ve been working on these past few months, but the work still has a long way to go. I’ll be taking a brief break and focusing on producing documentation for writers transitioning between these two engines before development starts up once more.

As always, thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress!