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Amberstar and Ambermoon source material released

For some time I had thought all of the source code of Amberstar, Ambermoon, and Albion were lost or inaccessible.

Back then we simply didn't do rigorous backups after finishing games. The shipping data and source code of Ambermoon were on my Amiga 2000, the shipping data and source code of Albion were on my 486 PC, I put both of those on a shelf at Blue Byte, they were moved to the office basement, I quit the company, now they are effectively lost, much to the regret of myself and fans who were interested in working on fan projects and remakes.

I did have some data here and there from the 90s. For instance, I had what looked like the source code of Amberstar, but sadly it was saved in GFA Assembler's proprietary tokenized .IS file format. I was able to find tools that convert GFA Basic's similar format, but nothing for assembly. I started rolling my own but at some point I would have needed a functioning ST emulator with GFA Assembler to generate the token table, and that's when I abandoned the process for a while.

After recording a podcast episode on Ambermoon, I decided to dig into my 90s backups again. And lo and behold: I found things.

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Interview about Ambermoon on Stay Forever

German retro-gamed podcast Stay Forever interviewed Karsten Köper, Erik Simon, and myself about Ambermoon, as well as its predecessor Amberstar, and Thalion Software in general.

Karsten was the designer of both Amberstar and Ambermoon, I was the main programmer, Erik was project manager and content designer, and he made some of the graphics as well.

This was a particular treat because Karsten and I hadn't spoken since around 2007 or 2008. I couldn't imagine talking about Ambermoon without him. We had a great time reminiscing about the development of Amberstar (which started much earlier than I realized) and then Ambermoon.

Now if only we could contact some more team members for an even bigger oral history!

You can listen to the podcast, in German, here.

Interview about Albion on DOS Game Club

DOS Game Club interviewed both Erik Simon and myself about Albion.

Both Erik and I and have individually spoken about Albion in the past, but this was actually the first time we were both interviewed together. It was a lot of fun! We talked about the whole history of Albion, starting with its links to Amberstar and Ambermoon, at Thalion. You can listen to it here.

DOS Game Club also recorded a podcast about the game itself, which you can listen to here.

Incidentally, another podcast, RMC Retro, heard the interview we did, and mentioned both Thalion roleplaying games and Albion, as well as Pyrdacor's Ambermoon remake (which deserves its own blog post eventually).

Interview on Game Dev Advice Podcast

I first met John Podlasek almost 30 years ago when we both worked at Blue Byte Software: he in the U.S. office, me in Germany. We lost touch a bit over the years, but last year he contacted me and asked me to be interviewed for his Game Dev Advice podcast.

It was a fun interview! I talked about how I got into the industry, and how I almost removed the sex and violence from GTA Vice City that one time. I hope I was also able to give some advice.

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Which video game character do you want to be?

Back around 1993 I was asked as part of an interview which video game character I wanted to be.

I answered:

"I'd like to be a stone from Tetris, because it is such an accurate yet subtle metaphor for human existence: we fall, rotate frantically to try and fit in with the others, and once there are too much of us we get wiped out."

Not bad, Jurie from 30 years ago.

My Marvel Snap MODOK deck

I've been playing Marvel Snap quite a bit since it came out, and I'm currently using a deck based on MODOK that I'm quite happy with.

This is what that deck currently looks like: My Marvel Snap MODOK deck

It's built to have multiple ways to deliver a ton of power in rounds 5 and 6.

It's not built to react to an opponent. I have a reactive deck, and it's fun, but I tend to lose because I can't generate enough power with it.

I don't win every single game with this and it has its vulnerabilities, but it works well, and I've never quite seen anyone use MODOK this way against me.

Here is a detailed explanation.

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Revamp! 2023 edition

If you're reading this, I finally finished converting my WordPress blog to a statically generated website, built using Nikola, and hosted on Netlify.

I started this whole process in September 2021, worked on it off and on - mostly off - and now it's good enough to turn the switch, and then tinker with it some more.

I am still trying to figure out what blogging means to me these days, but I do want a personal website I control and can update.

WordPress was fine, but I got a bit tired of having to update it and all of its plugins, and I suspect that during some PHP or WordPress or MySQL update by my hosting provider, it ate all of the special characters.

Now I have to update Nikola and Python and remember the workflow... but hey.

A ton of external links are broken. I did a reasonable amount of work to keep incoming links working, but seeing how many external links no longer worked, I lowered my standards. Still, I expect most links from the last version of the WordPress hosted version of this site to still work. On the back end, I had a big redirect list for even older links, but, well.

All comments have been restored - they were also broken on the WordPress version. However, I have not activated any kind of mechanism for anyone to comment here. Link to my post, or use social media, I guess.

Quick update (2016-2021)

I have been much more active on Twitter than here over the last few years, but I never intentionally decided to abandon my blog. So, in attempt to catch up, here is a list of some of the things I've done in the last 5 years, which I've not previously managed here:

I'll be writing more about each of these over the next few weeks.

The reason I haven't blogged as much: moving to Canada was a big life change, working on Legion was intense (not in the crunch sense, it just took a lot of my energy), and working at a big AAA company sadly meant fewer extracurricular activities, especially public ones.

So why am I blogging now? Because I recently quit Ubisoft to work on something exciting. Announcement soon!

Elision in generated interactive stories

I've been thinking about generating interactive stories as choice-based IF for a while, using that format as a liberating constraint, a reasonable and minimal model for many other forms of interactive entertainment, and as a tool to focus on interesting player choices. I wanted to do something for Procjam in 2014, but got overwhelmed by the problem. I was planning to tackle thing again in a similar but smaller project for ProcJam 2017. That is not going to happen in time, for personal reasons, but last night I realized that a) the problem I was stuck on with was the same problem that overwhelmed me back in 2014, and b) it might be possible to solve it by splitting it into two simpler problems. So I thought I'd write down some notes here.

Choice-based IF, with its focus on scenes over systems, allows you to do something that is very rare in other forms of interactive entertainment but common in non-interactive storytelling: arbitrary focusing and eliding of events and elements. In a novel or TV show, being able to focus on some things and hide other things is crucial. I want to show the detective noticing a detail about a possible suspect, I want to hide the long drive she took from the police station to the suspect's house.

This is something that we barely do in most games. The most common forms of focus and elision in games are diegetic - we've arranged space so the boring travel time is not too boring - and systemic - we always skip, or allow the player to skip, certain parts, for instance by always hiding the transition between selecting a mission and actually starting it.

(Whenever I bring this up, people mention 30 Flights Of Loving and Virginia. Focus and elision are bigger than what these games do, but it's interesting that these are the only two examples people come up with, and both are fairly recent games.)

This is a huge subject to me, which I've been struggling to express since 2010, so I'm not going to dwell on this. But I'm convinced we could be creating a broad range of new interactive experiences by doing more intelligent focus and elision.

In choice-based IF we are not bound by the rules and conventions of other game formats. We can slow down or speed up the experience as we see fit. Which is great! Except that when I tried to think about generating a story with interesting choices and good use of elision and focus, I got stuck. And while thinking about my current side project, which involves generating diary entries, I hit the same wall.

The approach that occurred to me last night is to separate the event generation from the rendering into text. This is more appropriate for diary entries than for a playable IF game, and there are reasons why you want the two to be linked, but my hope is that separating the two will allow me to advance with my side project (time and energy permitting) after which I should have a better understanding of the problem.

(I haven't yet read this article on rendering Skyrim in text, but I'd be surprised if it were not related.)

Anime series recommendations

For no particular reason, and without claiming to be an expert at all, I thought I'd list some anime series I like. In no particular order:

Paranoia Agent. Coherent weirdness by the late master director Satoshi Kon.

Cowboy Bebop. Very stylish science fiction noir. Great characters. The movie is great too.

Samurai Champloo. Very stylish samurai action by the director of Cowboy Bebop. Flash forwards into the current day? Beatboxing samurai? Check. Amazing fight scenes.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (aka GitS:SAC). More like the second movie  Both series are excellent. There is a SAC movie and a new series, all good.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. A story about an annoying high school girl. Saying more, including the genre, would be spoiling things. The episode order has been randomized because why not tie one hand behind your back? Touching, hilarious, exciting, coherent.

Serial Experiments Lain. Twin Peaks meets 90s cyberpunk.

That's it. I've seen other series, but… I didn't like them as much as these ones.