15 Years!

Tools of the Trade: Inform 7

One of the earliest computer game genres was the text adventure. Perhaps the best-known text adventure game is Zork, which was published in 1980 by Infocom. Text adventure games are pretty much exactly what they sound like – adventure games featuring puzzles that consit entirely of a text parser.

Players would enter simple sentences such as, “open mailbox,” and, “read leaflet,” or even, “hit the orc with the Elvish sword,” and the game would respond with ways in which the world changed as a result of your action. Understandably, these games only understood the nouns and verbs needed for the game and don’t recognize a full range of English input.

The text adventure is alive and well today, although the community of developers and gamers who play them prefer the term _interactive fiction_ or IF for short. There are several languages and platforms for programming IF and one of the most interesting is Inform 7.

Rather than requriing you to learn a programming languauge, Inform 7 allows you to describe your game using the same language that your players will use to enjoy it – English. This doesn’t mean you can type in your short story and hope Inform 7 can figure it out. Inform 7 requires you to follow some very exacting standards so that it can interpret what you write.

Inform 7 also supports extensions, which allows you to download complex items that other people have written – such as vehicles and locks – and include them in your games.

Inform 7 runs on Linux, OSX, and Windows. It’s free to download and use and comes with very comprehensive documentation that walks you through everything you need to make your own interactive fiction game.

Inform 7 makes it possible to create engaging and dynamic game environments, even if you aren’t a programmer or an artist, and yet it still teaches you to think logically and use a more demanding language structure, hinting at what it’s like to write in a programming language.

If you’re a team with excellent writing skills, a great idea for a game, but no art or programming skills, consider being the first OGPC team to submit an interactive fiction game!


Tools of the Trade: Inkscape

This week’s TotT post is for the artists on your team. Since I’m an artist myself, and an advocate for FOSS (free and open source software), you’re going to notice more opinions in this week’s post than last week’s.

There are two types basic methods of creating 2D art on a computer – raster and vector. Raster images are commonly called bitmaps, but have multiple common file formats with different strengths and weaknesses. You’re probably already familiar with .BMP, .JPG, .GIF, and (hopefully) .PNG* file formats. These images are made of individual pixels of color and cannot be made larger without losing a lot of information.

Vector images are created by programs like Adobe Illustrator, an expensive and proprietary profesisonal-grade application, and Inkscape, a free and open-source professional-grade application. Inkscape uses proprietary file formats and Inkscape uses the SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, which is an extension of XML and can be viewed by most modern web browsers (finally).

We will make it better - with math!Vector images are created using mathematic calculations to define geometric shapes. Every time you scale a vector image the math is recalculated, meaning you always get crisp clear lines… unless you’ve applied a mathematic formula to blur the edges, in which case that gets recalculated too, so you always have a predictable amount of blur.

Many people are under the impression that vector images are only good for logos and text, but as you can see from the Inkscape screenshot to the left, a talented artist can do so much more than that with vectors.**


Now, those of you who’ve used GameMaker Studio or Stencyl before know that they allow you to import raster files, not vector. So why would you want to use Inkscape to make art for your 2D game? Scalability is the most important answer. You may decide to increase the resolution of your game and scaling all of your art assets is not going to be fun if the originals are all raster files. Inkscape easily exports to the PNG file format, so if you need a character or UI element to be larger, it’s a simple matter of re-exporting your art to a higher resolution.

Personally, I also prefer to work large and with clearly delineated forms as opposed to working small and with shades of color. Crafting 32×32 grids comprised of dots of color simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to my brain. With Inkscape, I can work in a manner that makes sense to me and still contribute meaningfully to projects that require small icons and sprites.

 Finally, if you’re working on an HTML5 game, SVG files can be used natively and programmers tend to love them, since they can open them up and edit them using a text-editor to create groups and assign item names that make sense to the code and structure of the web page, all without touching the art you so carefully crafted for them.

Inkscape is a free program that runs on Linux, OSX, and Windows. Download it today and see what you can make with it!

*As an illustrator and designer who loves crisp lines and rich color palettes along with clean transparency, .PNGs are the only raster file type I like to use for my work.

**That’s not my work, sadly. Click the Iron Man image for more examples of great vector art.

Tools of the Trade: Stencyl

If you’re a Mac user, or prefer using a Linux OS, you’ve likely discovered that Game Maker Studio (GMS) – a long-time OGPC staple – doesn’t play so nicely with those platforms. The OSX version of GMS is out of date and the current version doesn’t work under WINE, the open source application that runs many Windows applications and games on Linux.

Enter, Stencyl.

Stencyl has a lot in common with GMS. It’s a 2D game creation studio with an art-focused approach to game design. You add actors (what GMS calls objects) to scenes (rooms in GMS), edit sprites and animations, add music and sound effect, use physics, and customize actor behavior.

And while Stencyl allows you to edit code for your game using ActionScript 3.0 (an ECMAScript language similar to JavaScript), it also allows you to design your code using drop-and-drop puzzle pieces. This allows you to quickly create complex behaviors while learning common programming logic. You can also easily view the actual code you created, so more advanced programmers can easily work alongside the game designers on the team.

One of the most compelling features of Stencyl is the platform’s focus on community. Members are able to upload and share snippets of code, original art, and music to the StencylForge. Browsing the StencylForge, you’ll find kits provided by both the Stencyl team and other members that include all of the functions you need for side scrollers, RPGs, racing games, and many more gameplay styles. Members have also uploaded pre-built behaviors that you can easily include in your game. 

Under the hood, Stencyl uses popular and powerful Flash-based libraries to build your games, notably Flixel and Box2D. The current free version of Stencyl exports your games to Flash and buying a subscription allows you to export your game to iOS, taking advantage of the tilt and multi-touch controls of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Version 3.0 – which is scheduled to be released in 2013 – will add HTML5 export to the free version and Android export for subscribers.

Learn more about and download Stencyl at www.Stencyl.com