Textfyre

And so my month-and-a-half of IF blogging draws to a close. There were 11 games listed on the IFWiki front page when I started; a twelfth has been added since then. I’ve only posted about ten of them so far. The remaining two are both works of Textfyre 1Not to be confused with Textfire, a fictional company that was the subject of an April Fool’s Day hoax back in 1998. , a small company that’s trying to make text adventures commercially viable again by catering to a new audience.

There has always been IF marketed for sale by individual creators — Howard Sherman alone would make sure of that, relentless huckster that he is 2This article isn’t really the place to go into detail about Sherman, so I’ll just point you to a blog post by the illustrious Dave Gilbert. — but Textfyre is, to my knowledge, the first serious effort at making a real company that solicits and publishes IF by multiple authors since the brief life of Cascade Mountain Publishing a decade ago. And it can even be called into question whether CMP really counts as a “serious effort”; it apparently started up without much thought about how to gain an audience outside the IF community. I’ll probably go into more detail about CMP in the future, because half of their catalog 3Once and Future, by G. Kevin “Whizzard” Wilson. The other half of the catalog was a remake of Doc Dumont’s Wild PARTI by Mike Berlyn, which I had already played at the time. is still on the Stack. I bring them up mainly to contrast them with Textfyre. Although they only started releasing games this summer, Textfyre has been in the planning stages for years, and has a good notion of its market position. Just look at the website, with its “Parents” and “Teachers” tabs. David Cornelson, the company’s founder, understands that he’s competing with videogames, and that, although text games can be enthralling when you’re actually playing them, they can’t hold a candle to today’s graphics for the kind of obvious appeal that makes people look at an ad and say “I want to play that”. And so he’s marketing the games at one remove, overcoming the handicap by replacing the appeal of “I want to play that” with “I want my kids to play that”. How well it works, only time will tell.

The commercial aspect does have one disadvantage for this blog in particular: by the terms of the Oath, I can’t buy them yet. I haven’t gotten anything off the Stack since September, and Steam weekend sales haven’t stopped during that time, so my game budget is all tapped out right now. But there are demos, which I have now played. There are currently two games on offer — Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter, by David Cornelson and Michael Gentry, and The Shadow in the Cathedral, by Ian Finley and Jon Ingold — each meant as the first episode of a series. These are all known names, with a number of titles under their belts, major and minor; just to name a couple, Gentry wrote Anchorhead, which I was commenting on in passing lately, and Ingold wrote Make It Good.

secretletterThe Secret Letter demo seems satisfactorily solid and lushly detailed, and makes it clear that even in the part that I saw, there are interactions beyond what I tried. In short, it’s the level of professionalism that we demand even of amateur IF these days. Also, it’s very much written to appeal to the target demographic: this is young-adult fantasy to a T, and reminds me a lot of some of Lloyd Alexander’s books, particularly the Westmark trilogy. The setting is a fictional kingdom in something resembling an 18th century. Complications in the royal succession are mentioned enough times to make it clear that it’s going to be a big part of the plot later on, but the player character starts at the bottom of society, as a penniless orphan who spends time filching food from the open-air marketplace and getting into trouble. And is secretly a girl, as we find out towards the end of the opening chapter. By now, you presumably know if this is the sort of story that appeals to you. There are noninteractive text sequences of a length that I think I’d normally consider excessive, but they seem fine here, probably because they keep the story moving, rather than degenerating into infodumps. (The storybook-like interface may even help a little here, changing my expectations of how the text should look.)

The Shadow in the Cathedral is considerably sparer in its prose, preferring to do its world-building through the accumulation of little details mentioned in passing. It’s set in a world that literally worships clockwork and considers it sacred, providing a point of view that seeps all the way down to the player character’s automatic habits and the idioms used to describe the world. This demo seems a lot smaller than the Secret Letter demo, but it has a lot of promise. Specifically, it promises lots of opportunities to interact with elaborate mechanisms, and that’s always fun. It’s also the sort of thing that IF can do really well, much better than it can do interaction with characters. The gameworld is clockwork anyway, so we might as well celebrate it.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words said already about mere demos that you can try for yourself if you want to, so I’ll just conclude by saying that I look forward to playing the full versions of both of these games, once I can afford them.

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1. Not to be confused with Textfire, a fictional company that was the subject of an April Fool’s Day hoax back in 1998.
2. This article isn’t really the place to go into detail about Sherman, so I’ll just point you to a blog post by the illustrious Dave Gilbert.
3. Once and Future, by G. Kevin “Whizzard” Wilson. The other half of the catalog was a remake of Doc Dumont’s Wild PARTI by Mike Berlyn, which I had already played at the time.

3 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 16 Nov 2009

    I think Ingold spells his name as “Jon”, but I’m not 100% certain.

    And I totally did confuse them with Textfire.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 16 Nov 2009

    Typo corrected.

    Also, the “not to be confused with” line is frankly more of an excuse to just mention Textfire, because the Textfire demo 1-pack was a jolly thing and more people should be made aware of it.

  3. Dave Gilbert on 28 Nov 2009

    Who knew I was illustrious? Oh, Google Alert. What can’t you find? Thanks for the shout-out! I wasted several hours today reading your blog. Consider it bookmarked. :)

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