QuestComp is back, and Evan Williams is once again organising the competition.
For details - rules, dates, guidelines and the all-important theme, see the new QuestComp blog.
To get a feel for the competition, check out the games from last year’s QuestComp.
Quest 5.5 is now out of beta:
For details on what’s new in Quest 5.5, see the beta announcement blog post.
Changes since the beta:
Thanks once again to everybody who has contributed to this release: Pertex, Jay Nabonne, The Pixie, Guillaume Poulain, Katzy and Mauricio Díaz García, and also to Phillip Zolla for sponsoring the new drawing features in this release.
The Windows desktop version of Quest 5.5 Beta is now available for download.
This is a relatively small update, with a focus on refining the player interface, and a few other tweaks and enhancements here and there.
Improving the player interface
This version features some enhancements to make it easier to create games that look a little more elegant. The location bar and screen border can be toggled off, and you can set a custom display width and padding. There are new display themes, so you can easily change from the Quest Standard theme:
to the simpler “Novella” theme:
And there are a few more fun bonus themes too.
In gamebook mode, the new default is to not to clear the previous page when clicking a link - instead, new text is added to the bottom. (The option to have the screen clear between pages is still available).
Support has been added for drawing SVG graphics in the custom drawing layer. There are new functions for drawing arrows and arbitrary many-sided shapes. The automatically generated grid map now works when multiple player POV objects are used.
Various tweaks have been submitted by Quest users:
I’ve been building Quest and working on textadventures.co.uk full-time for a couple of years now, on and off. Despite my best efforts to turn this into my living, I can no longer continue to work on this basis. As of January, I’ll be moving on to work on something else, with interactive fiction becoming a side project once again.
Unfortunately we are not one of the 7 or 8 that have been selected to join the programme.
We would like to thank you for taking the time to apply to and interview for Emerge Education '14. Places are limited and the applications were excellent. It was difficult to select participants from such a strong group. Unfortunately on this occasion, we are not in a position to offer you a place in Emerge Education '14. We hope you will apply to our future programs. We include below a brief summary of how we arrived at this decision and hope this is helpful to you:
- Your product was more developed and had more traction than that of any other applicant to Emerge Education and we were impressed by the user demand it has received;
- The selection committee's main concern was a lack of clarity around whether your team had the strategic intent to take ActiveLit from an (already) successful product to a high-growth business;
- In addition, applicants that did better in the selection process tended to have more business experience as part of the co-founding team.
I find it difficult to understand the logic here, and in fact this email makes less sense every time I re-read it. The highest traction product of all applicants, but a question mark over our “strategic intent”?
Whatever. You can’t expect too much from rejection emails. Any “reasons” given are always post-hoc justifications of the decision made. I expect the most typical would be “your product is not sufficiently developed”, so at least it’s novel to be turned down because our product is too developed.
It would only require one reason to say yes - “we think there’s a good chance of making money if we invest in you”. At least in this way it’s a more straightforward and honest process than awarding grants - it’s refreshingly simple compared to working out why, say, a government body won’t award funding. Any rejection from an accelerator is fundamentally because they couldn’t find this reason to say “yes”, rather than any reasons that may be given for saying “no”.
This is the feedback we’ve been waiting for, then - the simple yes/no answer to the question “Can we convince people that know about money and business and stuff that what we’ve been working on is viable?”
And the results are in, and the answer, at least from Emerge (and also Wayra), is “no”. And that’s fine.
They say that it takes grit to succeed, but what if you never give up on an idea that is fundamentally never going to work? Maybe it simply makes more sense for Quest, textadventures.co.uk and ActiveLit to be run as side projects. I’ve sunk a lot of time into these now - 2 years of full-time effort. I’d be much richer now if I hadn’t done this.
Of course, I’d be unhappy. I’m really pleased with what I’ve achieved. I used to sit at work, seething in frustration, because there were things I wanted to do with interactive fiction that I didn’t get time for. That’s changed now - I’ve built a lot of software, explored a lot of angles and spoken to a lot of people, trying to work out how an interactive fiction business might succeed.
And what I’ve discovered is, I can’t make it work. Not right now anyway. Maybe it just needs to live and grow organically for a while. Maybe something external will change, as more and more people discover interactive fiction, or as more teachers use Quest and text adventures in the classroom. I’ve got nothing left to “push” from my side, and I’ve run out of money anyway.
And even if nothing external changes, and it never grows beyond what it currently is, it will still have been worthwhile. I don’t regret anything. I’ve built what I wanted to build. I’ve scratched the itch. I’ve created software that is being used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things. Children are learning programming, being engaged with reading and writing. More and more people are playing and creating games on the site. I’ve met some great, interesting people. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been totally worth it.
But I can’t do this for a living, so it will have to become my hobby again. There are plenty of other things I can do - there are loads of opportunities for software developers at the moment, and there are some great companies out there doing interesting things which I can contribute to. It’s an exciting time, and I’ve now got some great experience that will hopefully prove useful in whatever I move onto next.
The first alpha build Quest 3.0 was released in March 2000, and fixed one of the weird design flaws of previous versions by unifying “items” and “objects”. Objects now had to have unique names, but they could have aliases, which would be displayed to the player instead of the code name. This version also introduced a disambiguation menu to allow the player to distinguishing between different objects which had same the alias. This is fundamentally the same approach to object handling that Quest still uses today.
That first alpha of Quest 3.0 also added timers. The second alpha in July 2000 added support for a truly experimental feature that never quite took off - online multi-player play. This allowed Quest to connect to a new bit of software I was working on, which started out with the name “QX3” and was later renamed “QuestNet Server”.
The idea was that the game ran entirely on the server, and players would connect to it using the Quest software. This would allow multiple players to connect to the same game world, where they would each have their own inventories and be able to interact with other players.
You can get some idea of how it worked by looking at some screenshots for the basic “Arena” demo. Multiple players would appear in the same room, and they could pick up objects, give them to each other, and even hit each other. For example, here’s what Bob might see if he joins Alex in the room:
And here’s what Alex sees while this is happening:
I thought this was rather nifty, myself, and although it got a reasonable amount of interest from Quest users, it ultimately failed to really get anywhere. I’ve come across a forum post from 2002 by MaDbRiT which sums it up:
Questnet is a good idea that is kind of struggling to get off the ground. There are no games because there are no players and no one wants to spend aged writing a game if there are no players. What came first, the Chicken or the Egg? The technical demands of hosting a QuestNet game are out of realistic reach of most of us too - even if I wrote a QuestNet game, I couldn't "serve" it - I just don't have the facilities.
In the days when most of us were still using dial-up, the idea of running a server on your home internet connection just didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
QuestNet Server would hang around for a while, never getting much use or ever seeing its full potential. I still think there’s something in the idea of multi-player interactive fiction, and maybe it’s something to revisit some day. Watch this space!
The second alpha of Quest 3.0 also got rid of the separate concept of “characters” - they were now just objects too. It added support for arrays, and arbitrary object properties allowing any kind of data to be attached to an object (although these were separate to the built-in properties or “tags”, which meant that you couldn’t easily read or update data like an object’s “look” description - this flaw was resolved when Quest was rewritten for v5.0, when all object data was finally stored as properties).
A third alpha build followed in September 2000, which added object types - allowing object properties to be inherited. This also added support for creating rooms on-the-fly via script.
In October 2000, I moved to London and started university, so progress with Quest slowed down quite a bit.
In March 2001, Quest 3.0 reached its first beta release. This added support for dynamically creating objects and exits, and added script properties (“actions”). The second beta followed in April, featuring various minor tweaks to get it closer to a releasable version. Quest 3.0 was finally released in September 2001, and QDK was updated at the same time to get a cleaner interface and to support all the new Quest features. It also gained a new script editor.
The new-look start screen allowed you to load a game file, or connect to a multi-player network game:
The new Script Editor presented a plain English way of editing scripts. It’s not dissimilar to Quest 5’s script editor, although it did involve opening a pop-up window every time you wanted to edit any individual command, which some people found a bit tiring:
A few bug-fix releases followed very shortly afterwards, and then I started working on v3.1. This added support for MOD music files - something I was into creating myself, but a feature I think was never actually used by anybody. There were various other tweaks, including improvements to the parser. Libraries gained the ability to add panes to QDK (here again is an example of a feature that was added which is now a core part of how Quest works - as of v5.0, all panes in Quest’s editor are defined by libraries). Quest 3.1 was released in June 2002.
The next update was version 3.5, released in December 2003, featuring the ability to translate the player interface (although not on a per-game basis - it was a player setting), plus support for text-to-speech and opening ZIP files. Following slightly later in January 2004 was the first non-beta release of QuestNet Server - although, as it would turn out, it would never get another significant release after that, simply keeping pace with features as they were added to the single-player version Quest.
The pace of change was clearly slowing down, as I was keeping busy with my Physics degree. It got even worse after I graduated in 2004, and started working - I didn’t really touch Quest for almost two years. But when I finally came back to it, I dived into it in a big way. More on that next time!