Welcome to part 2 of JOMG’s ASCIIpOrtal launch-day interview with programmer Joe Larson. We’ve still got lots of things to cover, including Slashdotting, level editing, ASCIIpOrtal Online & more…
(If you haven’t already read part 1, you’d better do that first.)
Joe, the big “discovery” of ASCIIpOrtal came via a tweet from Erin Robinson on July 7…
The day after my birthday…
Well, it’s one birthday you won’t forget. Now, if JOMG readers don’t know Erin, could you tell us a bit about her, her games & how you discovered her?
I discovered her when she was featured on an episode of Bytejacker. She’s big in the adventure game community and produced the excellent game Nanobots among others. When she was featured on Bytejacker she was just starting to make money doing these games.
The bigger question… is how she discovered me! Erin saw the video I made when I posted it on TIGSource’s “What are you working on” thread. She tweeted about it, Boing Boing (Offworld) saw it, the rest of the internet saw it. Then, TIGSource “front paged” it… citing Erin and Boing Boing, but not their own thread… where it was pretty much unnoticed by them.
Oh, and speaking of Offworld, the editor helped with beta testing the Mac build and discovered the last bug I fixed… before the release of the game.
Now, it’s time for a bit of “THIS IS YOUR LIFE”. (Cue the music) Joe’s friend Devin Watson was online when the Slashdot post (about ASCIIpOrtal) went up. I asked Devin about the events of that night…
Devin: I’ve been reading Slashdot since around 1999. During that time I had seen many a site fold under the heavy traffic load. When I saw the article on the main page I knew what was coming. Traffic would be low at that moment (as “America was asleep”) but in a few hours it would hit the roof.
I sent Joe an e-mail since he does check that when he gets up, but I also sent him a tweet with a link to make sure he saw it. By that point Retro Remakes (the site that was hosting him) was going to get hammered.
Once he was awake and aware of what was going on we got on IRC and apologized for killing the RR server. The RR guys were really cool about the whole thing once we told them where all of the traffic was coming from. In-between spikes in traffic we managed to get into the system and turn caching on to help take some of the load off.
Devin, what else can you tell me about ASCIIpOrtal, or about Joe himself?
I remember when Joe first asked me about working on ASCIIpOrtal about a year ago. At the time I was writing a book and couldn’t help out on it, but I did find some time to make a small contribution to Cymon’s Games. When he explained ASCIIpOrtal to me, though, I grokked the concept. He has that ‘teacher gene’ in him.
The original concept was much simpler compared to what you see now. We had some informal brainstorming sessions about what would be really cool to see in there, some of which I think made it in… like text triggers.
Other ideas we tossed around were… more about what we’d like to see in Portal 2. Things that would really screw with player’s heads like using graviton beams to bend things around corners or through portals to trigger other things, variable-sized portals, time-delay closing/opening portals on enemies, and so on. The kind of things that would be either very difficult or impossible to represent in text but would perfect for 3D.
Thanks very much Devin. 🙂
Now, back to you Joe. What was the nicest thing you read, that was written about the project?
Joe: Mostly I’m just overwhelmed by the response. I mean, I thought this was cool, and I was hoping that other people would like it. I think my favorite comment was Anthony on Bytejacker who wiped a tear from his eye as he said “He always said he’d make a text game work… I didn’t believe him.” Second favorite is you, Gabe. Even before you saw the portal mechanic in action you were impressed simply because of my use of the heart character as a companion cube. That’s vision.
Thanks Joe. Now, after the initial publicity, you had lots of people offering to be beta testers. Can you tell us about that?
That first 24 hours was pretty intense. I’ve kept about a dozen people in the loop at any given time. But I’ve dropped people if they were just mooching, because they wanted to play the game early. There were a lot of those. It was tempting to just do it all myself, but then there were a lot of things that I wouldn’t have found on my own. I just had to trust people and there were many disappointments, but then… there were many successes too.
You were going to get people to make their own levels via “text files” but then Mads Lund made a level designer for the game. What impact has – and will – this have on the project?
I want to see lots of people making their own levels for this game. Easy levels, hard levels, funny levels, amazing levels. Some of the best innovations in the game didn’t come from me. But the thing is, I’ve only made levels using text files, I’m totally used to looking at the maps that way, and I’m probably the only one who is. My plan… was if ASCIIpOrtal took off after release I was going to make an updated version with a map editor built in. Hopefully, Mads’ editor will give that effort a jump start.
That’s an excellent idea. At the moment it’ll just have to be feedback in the forums, but I think a system of storing levels online and voting on them would be an excellent idea for the future.
Peter Nitch is making an online version of the game. How will it differ from the standard one?
Alchemy, Adobe’s way of turning C/C++ into a flash program, has some major bug related to strings that’s preventing the port from working. So the online version will have to wait for now. However, this gives me an opportunity to make the online version a big update. When I finally get ASCIIpOrtal online working, I may implement what you suggested with the finding/voting system, as well as a built in map editor. Maybe I’ll take a page from Fantastic Contraption and setup a pay model for special content. I’m still experimenting with ideas.
You’ve said you’re doing your best to make ASCIIpOrtal cross-platform compatible. What’s the latest regarding Linux & Mac builds?
Mac and Linux 64 builds are compiled and will be available for download. Linux 32 build… I need someone to provide me binaries, but it should be possible as-is.
You’re including the source code with your release. What is your thought behind this, and what do you hope becomes of it?
I want to have access to other people’s work so I can learn from it and make my own stuff, so it’d be ungrateful and wrong of me not to release my source code. Every time someone keeps their code a secret they limit the life of what they write. In 10 years when “whatever they have then” stops working with “whatever we’ve got now” that’s *IT* for your project. Think of the back library of great games that would be awesome to see running on modern systems and we can’t… because someone decided they didn’t want anyone to know “how they did what they did”. It’s a crying shame.
You’ve said previously that you wanted to make an “ASCII” game first, and a portal game second. Do you feel you’ve achieved that?
I pretty much feel I’m achieved everything I set out to do and way more. Well, except for making it small enough to be a type-in.
Let’s say the original Portal developers (& other Valve staffers) are reading this interview. What would you like to say to them?
No, seriously, I’d say to the folks who made Narbacular Drop and Portal.. Great job… making something so awesome seem blatantly obvious and “why-didn’t-anyone-do-this-before”. And to the Valve folks… I’d say great work… spotting great talent and giving them health benefits. I assume working at Valve has health benefits, I don’t know.
Finally, you’re a fan of the Portal/Half Life universe, and I read recently your interesting prediction of what might be unveiled in Half Life: Episode 3. Could you please share it with us?
My theory goes like this. Chell, the person you’re playing in Portal, isn’t testing the portal gun at all. It’s complete and works pretty good. Maybe Chell is just a part of the machine, a clone that is produced and ran through a set of constantly changing test chambers, and her responses to the changes are monitored, recorded, sorted, and stored in GlaDOS’ AI components. Then the aggressive ones are plugged into combat androids so they can fight better.
When I played the map pack on the PC based on the flash version called TFV map pack they also seemed to think Chell was a clone and there was a bit where you load a bunch of AI units on the Borealis, so maybe I’m not the only one thinking along those lines. Maybe the Borealis has a whole portal wielding android army with passive aggressive voices to help fight back the combine.
Mostly – I just want to see the game come out. Been hanging on this cliff for a while now!
Joe, thanks so much – and good luck with your future projects.
Thanks for spotting this a mile away and being impressed with it.
ASCIIpOrtal is now available to download.