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Author: Jalen Wanderer

Jalen Wanderer runs Comparative Creation, a blog about computer game creation systems. As his day job, he is a studio teacher, working with underage actors on film sets. In his spare time, he writes, draws, composes music, and wishes he had more spare time.
Sorry for the Silence

Sorry for the Silence

Okay, it’s been a month since my last post, and I’m sorry.  I’ve had a lot to deal with lately, and unfortunately I haven’t had a lot of time to put in the work necessary to have something to post about here.

I think I mentioned in my first post that I’m a studio teacher; I work with underage actors on film sets.  And that’s one of the things that’s been keeping me busy lately.  Not the work itself; more some of the, um, professional advancement necessities.  See, to get licensed as a studio teacher, it’s necessary to first have a California teaching credential.  In fact, it’s necessary to have two teaching credentials, both a multiple-subject credential (which would normally be for teaching elementary school) and a single-subject credential (which would normally be for teaching middle school or high school).  Moreover, the single-subject credential has to be in a core subject: English, math, science, social science, or a foreign language.

So, of course, I have those—I couldn’t be (legally) working as a studio teacher if I didn’t.  The thing is, though, when you first get a teaching credential, it’s a preliminary credential.  It expires in five years, unless you take additional classwork additionally to “clear” the credential.  And that’s where I am now; I’m in the middle of the “induction program”, as it’s called, to clear my credentials.  I want to get that done as soon as possible not only because I need to get it done before my preliminary credentials expire (I’ve still got a couple of years before that happens), but also because after I get clear credentials I can get on the Studio Teachers Union call list, meaning that if a union production is looking for a studio teacher and no union studio teachers are available, I could get called up and start accumulating union hours and eventually get in the union myself.  (Yes, there’s a Studio Teachers Union; there are unions for everything in the entertainment business.)  And that would be a big advantage, because not only would it probably mean steadier work than I’m getting now, but also higher-paying work—the minimum daily rate for a union studio teacher is about twice what I’m making now.

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Four Unsuccessful Kickstarters

Four Unsuccessful Kickstarters

Welp, it’s once again been a while since my last post.  Sorry.  It’s just been a very busy month for me so far, and when I’ve got so much else to do there are two seemingly contradictory factors that get in the way of updating this blog.  One is that when I have so much work to do I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be messing around with games, even if it is for a greater purpose instead of just playing or creating games for their own sake.  Another is that although I generally enjoy creating games, when I’m doing it for the blog it kind of begins to take on some characteristics of work.  Though the former reason is probably the predominant one.

The issue is not that I don’t have enough to write about.  I’m still working on the Wander game (albeit not as actively as I’d like, due to the above reasons), and there’ll be more posts about that.  And while in my last post on Super Tony Land I wrote that I was unable to complete the levels I was working on because I couldn’t open them in the alpha version of the editor, it turns out that I can open them sometimes; it just takes a few tries; so I want to complete them after all despite the issues (and despite the fact that by now the Kickstarter is ended and I have early access to a newer version of the game).

(Speaking of which, at my Kickstarter backer level I get to help design a block for the game, and I haven’t replied to the backer survey yet because I haven’t decided what kind of block I want.  Got to figure that out sometime soon.)

But for today’s post, I’ve made two posts about successful Kickstarter projects for game creation systems, and I said at some point I was going to make a post about unsuccessful Kickstarters, so… I guess now’s as good a time as any.

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Where I’m Wandering

Where I’m Wandering

Well, dang.  It’s been over a week since my last post.  The thing is, I wanted to make another post about Wander, the text adventure system from 1974, since after all the focus of this blog was initially supposed to be on old game creation systems, and… I didn’t think I had anything to say about it.

As far as the game goes that I’m writing in Wander, well, I’ve basically got all the puzzles planned; I just have to finalize the map.  And I’ve got a good start on coding it—the initial rooms, anyway, and some bits I don’t need the map finalized for.  But I don’t really have anything I can easily show for it here on the blog.

I was also working on implementing an online version of the Wander interpreter in Javascript, and… well, that’s where things got bogged down a bit.  See, I figured that’s one thing I could post about here, when I got that done, and that’s something I’d want to have done before I finished the game anyway.  (Otherwise there’d be no easy way for anyone to play the game when I did finish it.)

The problem was, I was going about implementing the interpreter in just about the stupidest way possible.

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Wander: A Little Research

Wander: A Little Research

Okay, this is another post about the process of my creating a game with Wander that’s not really about Wander itself, so much as it is about an aspect of game creation independent of the system.  Honestly, I don’t know how much more I’ll have to say about Wander until I finish my game with it.  If I run into any other interesting aspects of the system that weren’t evident on first examination, I’ll certainly bring them up; otherwise I may just find other things to blog about as I continue working on the game.  I’d go ahead and mix in some posts on the next game in the list, except that I want to finish up with a year at a time, and Wander is the only game for its year.  I’ll certainly be mixing in some more posts on current game creation systems, including probably Super Tony Land—it turns out the editor will still sometimes load large levels; it’s just not reliable; and once it’s loaded I can keep editing it, so I may try to finish up the levels I was working on anyway.

Hm.  At this point I’m worried the preamble may end up being longer than the main topic the post was supposed to be about, so I’d better get to it.

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What’s It All About?

What’s It All About?

So, I finally got around to doing something I probably should have done earlier… added some features to the site to make it easier for new readers to find out what this blog is about.  There’s now a prominent “About This Site” widget on the sidebar on the right, and there’s a menu in the top right that can take readers to a new About This Blog page (also linked from the aforementioned widget) and the Big List.

And speaking of the Big List, yes, I’ve finally gotten around to doing what I said I was probably going to do eventually, and made it available as a Google spreadsheet.  (Since I already had it as an Excel spreadsheet, this was pretty simple to do.)  There have been a few additions to the list since I first posted the initial version, some from comments on previous posts and some that I found on Kickstarter.  There will certainly be more additions in the future; I still have some sites noted that may list other systems I don’t have on my list yet, and in fact a new one just occurred to me a few days ago: it turns out that you can search Steam for games with level editors.  Of course, most of the games and game creation systems that turn up in that search is going to be recent releases that aren’t a high priority to add to the list (since it’ll be a very long time till I get to them chronologically), but some are likely to be rereleases of old games.

Anyway, now that that bit of housekeeping is out of the way, tomorrow I plan to make a post about the Super Tony Land alpha… which I’ve been spending way too much time on the last few days…

Pondering Puzzles

Pondering Puzzles

Okay, while in this post I’ll be talking about the games I’ve been creating in Wander, this post isn’t really about Wander specifically, but about text adventure games in general.  And more specifically, about puzzle design.

While planning out one of the games I was going to create with Wander, “The Eye in the Forest”, I kind of stumbled into a stupid trap of game design.  Fortunately, I think I stumbled back out of it.  I’d come up with a particular puzzle I was fond of, involving the player’s reaching a certain platform, but then later on it occurred to me that, given some of the available objects in the game and their possible interactions, there was another course of action that logically should also allow the player to get to the platform.  Of course, I already had a solution in mind for the puzzle, so I wrestled for some time with the question of how to rule out that unintended alternate solution. It wasn’t until the next day that the answer finally occurred to me, and when it did it was obvious:

Don’t.

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Three Kickstarter Successes

Three Kickstarter Successes

Well, I have a bit more to say about the Wander game I’m creating, but I want to break things up a bit and I said my next post would be about game creation systems on Kickstarter, so… let’s do that.

As I said in a previous post, I hadn’t been actively looking for game creation systems on Kickstarter until a tweet by a friend let me know about Super Tony Land (which now at the time of this writing has just passed its goal with 21 days still to go and has accordingly just added a stretch goal). But then that got me wondering how many other such projects had been on Kickstarter, and how they’d done.

As it turns out, the answer to the first question is not nearly as many as I expected, and the answer to the second is… well, probably about what I’d have expected.

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Many Unhappy Returns

Many Unhappy Returns

So, once I started reimplementing the Wander interpreter in Javascript, it quickly became obvious where that limitation on synonyms comes from that I mentioned in the post on the limits of the Wander language.  Basically, the interpreter stores each word as a structure (that in, in the C code, a struct) with four fields: one holding the word itself as a string, one holding an index to the “root word” of which it’s a synonym (or 0, if the word is a root word), one holding the flags described in the Wander language overview post, and one holding the location of the object referenced by that word.  (Naturally, these last two fields don’t apply to verbs.)  The problem is that in the C code the index to the root is of type char… which means it can only hold values from -128 to 127, which means, since the index is never negative, that only the first 128 words in the word definition list can have synonyms.  (In practice, that means the number of words that can have synonyms is a lot less than 128, because for all but the last the synonyms themselves also have to be among those first 128 words.)

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