Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Plover Presentation at Pygotham

Well, Pygotham was fantastic, and I think the presentation I gave went pretty well. I haven't reviewed the video of it (though hopefully that'll be up in the next week or so, captioned with Universal Subtitles, natch), but from what I remember, the people who attended seemed intrigued by the idea of steno and asked lots of interesting questions. I've uploaded a PDF of the slides I used in my talk, so if you're interested, feel free to give them a look-over. They include the other faux screenshot for Hover Plover that I commissioned, pictured below:

Hover Plover Pixel Art by Derek Sneed

This is a top-scrolling space shooter. As I mentioned in the presentation, it's mainly a dictionary building game, as well as a way to reinforce muscle memory after defining each stroke. The enemy ships are coded to the number of strokes required to write the word sitting on their tailfins. So easy one-stroke words like "snails" (STPHAEULS) or "antidisestablishmentarianism" (SPHAEURPL) are the little green ships. The yellow ships are two-strokers, like "guardian" (TKPWARD/KWRAPB). Orange ships are three-strokers, like "bemusement" (PWE/PHAOUS/PLT). The big scary red ship should properly be a three-stroker, since it's "frangipani" (TPRAPBG/PA/TPHEU), but the player's dictionary doesn't have "frangipani" in it, so it appears as an "undefined", the fearsomest type of ship in the enemy fleet. The player can fingerspell the word, which will shoot it down once, but will force them to fingerspell it again the next time it appears. But they can also call up the Plover entry definition window, fingerspell it once, then stroke out the steno they'd like to apply it to, hit the enter key (which in the Plover default dictionary is R-R), and the ship will revert back into whatever type it should be. In this case, it'll go from scary red to slightly less scary three-stroke orange. Unfortunately Plover doesn't yet have this pop-up definition feature; it's the last big improvement we need to implement before Plover can be considered truly complete. But when that gets done, and when we're able to start developing Hover Plover, this is gonna be loads of fun to play, and tremendously useful practice. A debt of gratitude is owed to Typestriker, which gave me the idea of a top-down space shooter, though it's a qwerty game, so it doesn't have any of the steno-specific functionality that the Hover Plover version will have.


My dear friend Martin has already gotten to work on the overarching plot of the game, which he posted in the comments. I thought I'd paste what he's come up with in the entry itself, since it amuses me greatly. Keep in mind that this isn't officially sanctioned Hover Plover canon yet, but it's definitely a start!

"Okay, work with me here, I have a vision:

The year is A.D. 2101 - and war was beginning! On the distant planet Chordos 10, the peaceful (but fast-moving!) Ploverian civilization is under attack from the vicious Qwertons.

You play as Ensign Stino Plover, a new recruit in the Ploverian Space Force. You start off in your ill-equipped plovercraft in the side-scrolling New Chord City, and you have to get to Cape Stenaveral to launch and join your PSF comrades in orbit to defend against the incoming Qwerton attack. That level is basically the beginning level you described in your last post. As the ground-based levels progress, your plovercraft gets more and more of the equipment it'll need to fight off the Qwertons - but the challenges also get harder and harder (take away the steno hints, etc).

Once you get to Cape Stenaveral and successfully input the launch code (a few lines of random text you have to stroke in at a certain speed and level of accuracy) you launch your newly tricked-out plovercraft into space to fight the Qwertons. This is the intermediate space shooter level you describe here. If you get shot down, you crash-land back on the planet, where you can repair your plovercraft by repeating part of the beginner level and then relaunching.

If, on the other hand, you manage to fend off the invading Qwertons, you must face a final boss challenge so advanced, so terrifying, that I haven't even thought of it yet. Muahahahaha!"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hover Plover Artwork!

Hover Plover Pixel Art by Derek Sneed

In preparation for my presentation on Plover at PyGotham this Saturday from 1:15 to 2:00 in room 5 (check out the whole schedule! It's gonna be a fantastic conference!), I've commissioned some pixel art to demonstrate what Hover Plover will look like once I'm able to get it developed. This is a faux screenshot from the intermediate level game, a 2D platformer that displays both English and steno while you try to keep your broken plovercraft from crashing into the rooftops of an unnamed metropolis long enough to make it to the  repair shop on the edge of town. In this game your plovercraft keeps moving forward at a constant pace, and you're only able to control it in brief vertical bursts by typing the steno stroke on the screen, which lifts it briefly  away from chimneys, greenhouses, water towers, stray cats, et cetera, before it starts sinking dangerously close to the buildings again. After a while, you'll be able to toggle off the steno hints and just write the words themselves. I think it'll be incredibly fun to play. Now I just need to figure out a funding source so we can get the thing made! But I've already got a couple of irons in that fire. More news on that later. Meanwhile, I've got to finish putting together the PyGotham presentation and also start coordinating some bugfixes with Plover's programmer so that it's in good shape for the next phase of development.

My main steno machine malfunctioned the other day (every stenographer's nightmare), and though I was able to fix it that evening with 15 minutes and a couple of screwdrivers (I think the calibration on a few keys had spontaneously gotten wonky, so the "all keys lifted" state wouldn't register), I didn't have time to tinker with it; I had a class to CART. So I fired up my Filco Majestouch with Plover, set the font size on Gedit to 28, and got through the next two hours. It was a struggle; the Majestouch requires harder keypresses than my proprietary machine, so I'm afraid my speed and accuracy suffered a bit. Plover's translation engine also needs a little more sophistication; it made some spelling errors that my proprietary software wouldn't have made. But it was worlds better than it would have been if I'd had to qwerty the class. Being able to carry two steno machines in my bag at all times really gives me peace of mind, and now that the worst has happened, I know that all is not lost if my main machine ever breaks down again. (Though, of course, I'm going to be getting it serviced in the very near future, so hopefully this was a one-off.) Let's hear it for Plover!