Still not really a real post

Because I am very tired. Worked all day, hung out with my mom which was awesome, then went to NERT training class #5 which was also fun as we did disaster simulation exercises where we filled out FORMS, which i fucking loved, then walked home via Rock Bar which has delicious strong cocktails, and had a drink and a half and talked about 1 million things, now quite tipsy, also grateful to my past self for making a huge pot of chicken congee 2 days ago and how nice warm rice porridge is, just like Noah’s amazing plan for an artisanal porridge restaurant called GRUEL where people would pay 16 bucks for a wooden trencher of oats, rice, groats, or whatever, then more leaping several levels of nested conversations deep with Danny and so to bed. Did you know that in class 5 of 6 of the NERT training they ask you to sign a loyalty oath!?!!!!! I think that’s strange and wrong. Some of us had to text Seth. Others of us are a particular sort of pragmatist. Dammit, we forgot the free glass which was so beautiful, for Fort Point IPA. Danny is the best person to have conversations with, ever.

Books inhaled lately

I’m still pecking away at the Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and still recommend them! If you like Regency romances, or anything Napoleonic War related, Master & Commander, or whatever, you might like this series a lot. It has solid historical research behind it, which I find very satisfying and also alluring (It leads me to fall into giant Wikipedia sinkholes.) I’m on #16, The Devil’s Horse, which is very exciting as railways (tramways really) are just starting to be a Thing. There are more scenes in Manchester & some mention of Castlereagh (and his wife Emily or Lady Castlereagh, who you may recall from your Regencies was a Lady Patroness of Almack’s who could get you vouchers) and Canning. Lady C: “Her own parties were considered dull, and her manner was somewhat eccentric: guests described her conversation as an endless flow of trivial information delivered in an oddly detached manner.” I like her already. I hope she had a lot to say about trains.
There are lots of scandalous and miserable events – affairs, deaths (maybe murders – I have THOUGHTS about Flaminia).

Also reading How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, which is great! More details when I finish it.

I also re-read Archivist Wasp and the sequel to it, and T. Kingfisher’s Swordheart. Not reading quite as much as usual lately because I’m thinking about Inform7 so much.

Actual work work

I should mention my actual work while I’m blogging about stuff. “My” Firefox release is now in beta, Firefox 66. We have a team of release managers so can rotate ownership of upcoming releases. Usually this means you’re in the hot seat every 3 releases, about every 4 months. We have a bigger team now so there is more breathing room and we can support each other more; basically that means we’re less burned out. Yay! (A couple of years ago there were like, 3 of us and one was the team manager.)

The feeling of ownership is somewhat silly since it is an enormous collaborative effort, but it helps in the job to follow one version closely, you care about it and are able to filter out & not pay so much attention to the other versions in development. (In practice, that is a lot of email I can skim and archive when it isn’t for “my” release.) The release engineers also rotate through version ownership. It’s a good system.

If you’d like to see all the bugs fixed for Firefox 66 so far, between its birth as Firefox Nightly last December and now, here’s a Bugzilla query which you shouldn’t click if you’re on your phone or a slow connection because it’s going to take a while to load – it will show a list of the 3000+ bugs already fixed. Probably don’t click that unless you really want to wait a minute and a half for the page to load.

While Firefox 66 is in beta, I’m watching for fixes in the version right behind it, Firefox 67, that we might be able to bring to users more quickly. We backport, or uplift, between 200 and 400 issues while a version is in beta. Here’s what I’ve approved to uplift so far, patches from about 40 bugs. It’s helpful when looking at these lists to sort the information different ways (by clicking on the column headers.) These next few weeks till March 19 (the release date) will be my crunch time.

Today I did about one million different things. Hilariously, as so much of our work is right out in the open, you can see some of those one million things (in 68 bugs), at least the bits of it that were me reading a lot of bug reports and figuring out what to do with them (poke someone from another team, engineers, QA, etc, add relevant tags or other info, and while I’m looking, decide how important it is for it to be in Firefox 66.)

Exploring multisensory descriptions in Inform7

Over the past week I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make an interestingly playable game where the player’s point of view can be multisensory in various ways. So, for example, a character who is hearing and sighted would experience visual, sound, touch, and scent based room descriptions, while a Deaf character would not get the sound descriptions.

One way is to use Touchy Feely extension by Quantum Games. I ended up forking this and adding a few things to fix a couple of errors in the extension, and then adding more options as default descriptions for items. This extension builds in some commands like smell, touch/feel, listen, and taste. You can set the sound of a room, a person, or an object very easily just like you set the (visual) description.

With those rules, and a few others, I started writing rooms like this:

The Bedroom is a room.
The description of the bedroom is
"[if the player is sighted]A small room with white walls and some posters hanging up. The bed has a colorful striped bedspread and paisley sheets. The doorway is in the west wall.[end if]
[if the player is hearing] There is an air filter humming loudly in the corner.[end if]
[if the player is not sighted and the player is not hearing] A small room with a bed in it. The west wall has a wide doorway.[end if]"

The sound of the bedroom is "A loud air filter in the corner fills the room with white noise."
The scent of the bedroom is "The air in here seems very clean and fresh."
The bed is scenery in the bedroom. The description is "A soft, comfy bed. You give it an experimental bounce."
The pillow is scenery in the bedroom. The description is "A nice, soft, squishy pillow."
The bedspread is scenery in the bedroom.
The bedsheet is scenery in the bedroom.
The air filter is scenery in the bedroom.
The doorway is scenery in the bedroom.
The walls are scenery in the bedroom.

Things that are scenery aren’t described until you examine them. I wrote a general search command called (explore, or tap ) which conveniently lists all these “scenery” aspects of a room for non-sighted characters. Sighted characters have to examine them one at a time.

The problem with this method is that it is clunky and I’m repeating various elements of the room description. Ideally, I’d be able to replace a bunch of Inform7 behavior so that:
– Each room (and thing) can have a visual, sound, etc description.
– The game checks if the player has those senses
– The game concatenates the various sensory descriptions appropriately

This turns out to be difficult. I got into reading the Standard Rules (which, from the Inform7 IDE, you can see as an extension) and then realized what I wanted to do was basically happening in the Carry out looking (this is the room description body text rule): section of code. I thought maybe I could hack in a check on the sound of the room and print that.

But! This code refers to the Inform6 core of the game, with

To print the location's description:
(- PrintOrRun(location, description); -).

I tried copying THAT and doing something like PrintOrRun(location, sound), which didn’t work because location and description here are constants from Inform6, I think.
Not sure how to pursue this further. Maybe in future as I get more familiar with the guts of Inform.

So, I tried another way. I suppressed the room description body text rule like so:
The room description body text rule is not listed in any rulebook.
And copied it and pasted it into my example game with a slightly different name.

Carry out looking (this is the room descriptions body text rule):
if the player is sighted:
if the visibility level count is 0:
if set to abbreviated room descriptions, continue the action;
if set to sometimes abbreviated room descriptions and
abbreviated form allowed is true and
darkness witnessed is true,
continue the action;
begin the printing the description of a dark room activity;
if handling the printing the description of a dark room activity:
now the prior named object is nothing;
say "[It] [are] pitch dark, and [we] [can't see] a thing." (A);
end the printing the description of a dark room activity;
otherwise if the visibility ceiling is the location:
if set to abbreviated room descriptions, continue the action;
if set to sometimes abbreviated room descriptions and abbreviated form
allowed is true and the location is visited, continue the action;
print the location's description;
if the player is hearing:
say "[sound of the location][paragraph break]";
otherwise:
say "[feel of the location] [scent of the location] [taste of the location] [paragraph break]";

Because I’m not using the “print” function the sound and other sensory qualities of the room are described under the actual room description. That might be OK but now I need to learn how to elegantly write a room description that is broken out into visual, sound, and other qualities. I also need some kind of bare bones description that doesn’t show to the player unless the player character is deaf-blind. This will take some practice to learn to write well, and some more refining of how I show which bits of the descriptions.

Note that I will probably be adding in low vision and hard of hearing (by taking the visual and sound descriptions and munging them a bit.)

Frivolous Friday night post

Some things that I own are extra satisfying beyond spark of joy into soul bonded dragon telepathy. Current favorite object, my tibetan wool poncho in shades of soft blue, purple, and brown, with a hood and wooden buttons and a front pouch pocket, long enough and wide enough to go halfway down my legs while I’m sitting down, over both arms of my wheelchair, and covering my backpack on the back of the chair. Pouch is ideal for phone and a handkerchief and even my notebook and pen (for my observations in and around BART stations.) It is like having a cozy tent in the rain, and, if not too rained on, excellent to wear in the chilly mornings on the couch while I drink my coffee. I got it for 35 bucks in the tibetan hippie stuff store in Berkeley.

Also bonded thoroughly with my Jafa boots (style 2159) with buckles, side zippers, blue jean blue with shiny black toes and heels, and special orthopedic inserts. Jafa and Naot shoes (particular soles) and crocs are the only things my feet and ankles can currently tolerate. And, these boots are so natty, so dapper, lots of joyous detail, no weirdly unnecessary femmy touches just like, fancied up with straps and buckles. Obtained from Citi Shoes on Irving in SF, where I swanned in fresh from powerchairing Golden Gate Park like a tiny hurricane, and experienced a funny moment. The people just leaving were somewhat taken aback by me, my hair, my chair, and my magnificent poncho (cannot blame them).

“I LOVE YOUR HAIR” one of them gasped. The shoe clerk zeroed in on what struck her most. “I love your NAOTS” she said, raising her eyebrows at my amazingly neat, detailed, grey and darker grey boots with businesslike, yet also punk, buckles. As if to imply she — unlike those yoiks — appreciated the finer things in life, and the finer points of my personality. “I’ll be RIGHT WITH YOU.” Sometimes I get followed around stores for bad reasons, like the grocery store security guard suspects I’m going to abscond with a whole mop and some Tide squirreled away in my undercarriage, but in this case I was sized up more correctly as a shoe connoisieur, in other words a good mark. I gazed about me with awe. This was a store to nearly rival Astrid’s Rabat on 24th. Someone understands my painful feet and my desire to have cute as fuck shoes, all at the same time! Oh joy!

The other shoe clerk, a callow youth, approached me. “Can I ummmm help you with ummmmm anything,” he said, rolling his eyes like a nervous horse, wondering if I was about to add some sweet sandals to my hoard of shoplifted under-poncho goods and probably also wondering why a crippled lady needs shoes anyway and if he was going to have to take my shoes off for me or something weird like that. “I’ve GOT THIS. I’m on it. Nope, nope,” said the first shoe clerk lady coming out of the back with a hiss and an eagle eye for her commission. The callow youth melted into the back, whimpering. What can I say. The amazing Jafa boots fit perfectly, she got me the most crazypants german orthopedic soles I’ve ever experienced which also cost the damn earth but, whatever it’s my feet; and also polished up and weatherproofed the boots before I got out of there.

Both the poncho and the boots gave me very good service today in the drizzly cold rain. Huzzah!

Building accessible infrastructure into writing and coding style

As you may be aware by now, faithful reader, I am obsessed with my game, which is set in the Bay Area on and around the BART train system. It is science fictiony and magicky, with time travel and weird stuff abounding. I set out with the intention that the player should be able to pick a mobility level and sightedness, possibly in elaborate gradations but for now, at a minimum viable level, the player can choose to be walking or a powerchair user, and blind or sighted, in any combination. For the powerchair character, they can’t do stairs and that’s about it. The blind player (simulated at this testing phase by providing the player a pair of wraparound mirrorshades) will have the “look” command replaced by listen *(maybe) or all room, object, action, and NPC descriptions will have non-sight-based descriptions.

Just as a note, I have not written the system yet for cane tapping but that will likely be integrated.

I am finding it interesting to try out the alternate description route. For example here is a super easy case where the description is written to make it very flexible, with only one word difference in the description:
The description of Calle 24 Northwest Corner is "A busy corner at a busy intersection. You can [if player is blind]hear[otherwise]see[end if] a steady stream of cars, buses, and people passing by."

Or, a little bit longer example,

A flower seller is a person. In Calle 24 Southwest Plaza is a flower seller. The description of a flower seller is "[if player is sighted]A short, smiling woman in a baseball hat and a red checked scarf pushes her wheely cart full of roses and carnations. Her jacket has a ladybug pin.[otherwise]You can hear a short woman just next to you, fussing over a metal cart.[end if]".
Every turn when the player can see a flower seller:
say "A flower seller [if player is sighted][one of]beams at you with a huge happy grin[or]watches the people passing by[or]smiles as she stops to talk with a friend[or]offers you a little bunch of carnations tied with string, saying 'Flores para ti?[otherwise]calls out, 'Flores!'[or]'[or]shares a coffee with a friend, chatting[or]fusses over her bunches of flowers, arranging them nicely[end if][as decreasingly likely outcomes]."

It becomes clear to me that I have to train myself to structure the experience of the reality of the game in particular ways. I might establish a convention (enforced with tests) where each thing defined in the game is required to start with a description for the blind point of view character, then have a description for the sighted. Each clue for the puzzle needs to be playable both ways, as well, and both should have a richness and depth of experience that makes the game fun & action compelling, hinting at possible avenues to explore. So, it will affect how I design the puzzles and clues as well as just some sort of “layer of extra text” to think through. One result is that talking with other characters will likely be more important than it might have been otherwise.

This shows very clearly how important it is to design an environment (whether it is a game, a novel, a class, a web site, software, a real life building, or a city street ) with the point of view of different people in mind. Having written only 6 sample rooms and couple of NPCs and objects and their behavior, I’m very glad that I’m doing this now, and not trying (as so many designers, programmers, and architects do) to staple on a half assed ramp or some probably flat braille a month before finishing a 2 year long project.

Soothing voyage into San Francisco Bay

I am now a subscriber to “SeaTube”.

Best place to watch the ships coming in and going under the bridge, maybe Cliff House if it’s cold but otherwise, at Land’s End where there is a little paved overlook and bench to sit on, MarineTraffic app open to see what each ship is carrying and where it’s from and under what flag. I used to like taking pictures for the wiki of cargo ships when we lived on the houseboat!

Happy Discardia!

I did some decluttering today, setting out some clothes and books on the free shelf outside and throwing a bunch of things away. There are also several bags of things to go elsewhere (to friends, to my sister, birthday presents for birthdays coming up, stuff that needs some sort of errand to deal with it) so that those things aren’t on the living room floor.

From underneath the bed I hauled out a box the size of a couple of shoeboxes full of junk that had been cleaned out of drawers probably years ago. More than half of it was trash and the rest is now put away.

Cleaned out under the kitchen sink where it smelled funny and was full of junk. Cleaning supplies are more organized now. Half the paper bags stashed down there are now recycled.

I also ironed my handkerchiefs, which I find oddly satisfying, and laid them neatly into a tiny cherrywood drawer.

Huzzah!

Danny just came in, looked around, and went, “Holy shit! Low level defragmenting, reformatting!” (Very true. That’s exactly what it’s like.)

In game progress, I added a ticket reader and BART ticket. The ticket is a device, which may seem odd, but swiping it turns it on and off to signify if you’ve paid or not. There are “switching on” and “switching off” actions in Inform7, and they’re separate, so they needed some extra logic to handle a new more generic verb (swipe) that flips the state from one to the other, depending, while not giving any weird extra messages about it.

So many good ideas in the last few days – I have a big file of ideas to stuff into the story and its infrastructure.

It’s helping to scope out issues to work on in github, with milestones, so that I can bite off small things to work on when I’m tired or only have half an hour. The complicated stuff has to wait for the weekend.

While reading the Standard Rules defined in Inform7 I came across this amazing line of code:

The darkness witnessed is a truth state that varies.

Kind of spooky, isn’t it?!

Pacifica side trip

After work I went off with seelight to have a sandwich and catch Pokémon at the beach. We looked for whales (none) and discussed geography, geology, clouds, games, and she told me there is a novel about magical BART. Or something. I only found this decolonized BART map so will ask her later about the book.

A woman standing by us at the cafe counter when “Funkytown” came on the radio sighed and said “You just want to put on those roller skates!” and I had just been thinking the same thing and remembering myself swinging about the roller rink with my feathered hair, my blue eyeshadow, my metallic weave buttondown shirt, white jeans with my name embroidered on the pocket, and a skinny stretchy gold metal belt (you know what I mean? sort of snake textured, like a cord where one side is flat). The belt buckle was a green roller skate. Probably, I was also drinking a “suicide” which was getting a soda with all the soda flavors mixed together. The junior high mocktail of my people. You felt badass skating up to the counter, like the fucking Continental Op but 3 feet high and on skates, leaning on one elbow to mutter to the bartender, “I’ll have a suicide“. I had mentally put the lady at the counter in a “older person” category as she had long grey hair and was leaning on a cane; go figure, we are likely less than 5 years age difference; my hair is half grey and I’m in my wheelchair. I enjoyed the moment of our gentle mutual reminiscing. The song is so perfectly evocative of a specific time.

A walk down the pier, where we watched fishermen, the sunset, the waves, the fog, the stripey layers of clouds that looked like both Jupiter and lasagna when photographed with my phone camera up to one lens of my binoculars.

sunset through a rounded lens

On the way back to land, Claire was like omg there is a … Grundleoot or …. I’ll be damned if I know what it was, but some powerful pokemon I had never even heard of, as the pier debouched into the street. We decided it was too tough for the two of us. But right around the corner a little knot of people were under the streetlights in a familiar configuration, a half circle, thumbing their phones with fervent concentration – they were catching the whatever it was, in a raid. We joined the stragglers and caught it too. The group then went off to reconvene at a church somewhere to the south to get a Kyogre, hitching rides with strangers and timidly Friending each other on the app. Tempting but…. I was tired. Yay now I have, well, one of those. Grundhorn? Groundlarg? I don’t want to get up and look at my phone.