Mid-June Link Assortment


download.jpgThe Narrascope games conference is currently taking place in Boston, MA, June 14-16.  Both Graham Nelson and I are there and speaking; I’m on a panel about Bandersnatch, and Graham is updating people on the current status of Inform.

NarraScope is also the Boston IF Meetup for the month of June.

ICCC 2019 takes place on June 17-21 in Charlotte, NC.  The event is in its tenth year and is organized by the Association for Computational Creativity.

logo_CIS_front.pngFor those interested in the IEEE Conference on Games (CoG)June 30 is the deadline for early bird registration.  The conference itself will be August 20-23 in London.

July 2-5 will be the ACM IVA Conference, taking place in Paris.  IVA 2019’s special topic is “Social Learning with Interactive Agents”.

July 13 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF meetup (there is no meeting in June due to NarraScope). The discussion will center around The Missing Ring from the 2019 Spring Thing competition.

July 16-17 is set for the symposium Ludic Literature: The Converging Interests of Writing, Games, and Play. The two-day event is funded by the Scottish Graduate School and takes place in Glasgow, UK.

icon.pngThe SIGIR Conference is taking place in Paris from July 21-25.

DiGRA 2019 is being held August 6-10 in Kyoto.

New Releases

Final_Export_Text_01_Square.pngBack in October, I mentioned that the folks at StoryFix Media were working on a project called The Pulse. That game now has a release date right around the corner, and will be available on June 25 on Google Play.

The Pulse was written by Christopher Webster, developed by Gareth Higgins and Arthur Lee, with original score by Auto/Reflex. Check out the trailers here and here.

Electric Sleep, a recent release from a small team including artist Matthew Weekes (Kynseed, Freedom Planet) and Jack Sanderson-Thwaite (theatre writer with Bristol Old Vic) is currently available on Steam.

Rock Paper Shotgun gave it a very positive review in April, and GameGrin followed suit with a 9/10 rating.

Announcements, Articles, & Links

This interview with Hannah Powell Smith, on plotting, Choice of Games, and writing about ghosts.

A little more backstory on the development of Return of the Obra Dinn (and how it nearly didn’t happen.)

The possibility of further Black Mirror episodes à la Bandersnatch.

The IF Technology Foundation has published its report on accessibility in IF tools and games, with recommendations for how to make IF experiences work better for more people.

Playing Text-adventure Games with an AI by Prithviraj Ammanabrolu records some new experiments with TextWorld.


Ninepin Press is publishing a story told on those folded fortune-teller toys, funded via Kickstarter. This is the same press that did The Family Arcana, a story told on a deck of cards.

Mailbag: Knowledge-driven Dialogue in Inform

I am doing my first steps in Interactive Fiction and your work has helped me a lot. I have been working on an idea, that requires dialogue based on “knowledge”, in other words, the character and the NPCs will initiate dialogue in order to fill out their gaps in knowing the other person. Firstly, I was wondering if Inform7 can do something like that, and if it can which dialogue system would be the best to serve as a basis. Secondly, I was wondering if Inform7 can implement AI, without falling back to Inform6. Thank you in advance and most importantly, for your work in the community! Sorry for the annoyance of my question but I was kind of lost among the many different dialogue systems that are out there…
[and then on confirmation that the asker was okay with a mailbag post]:

First of all let me clarify that I am not asking for mentorship, with this question. More like pointing to the right direction, if there is such a direction. There is a strong chance that there is not something similar implemented, so in this case, don’t let me take your time.

My question is if there is a dialogue system in Inform7 (or in some other framework) , that is based on knowledge of a predefined set of data. For instance the protagonist to be able to query for any one of that data and to store that information in such a way, that the next answer to reveal even more data. Or the knowledge itself to enable the protagonist to make more specific questions. The answer I would like, is not how to implement such a system, of course, but only a reference of the type  “have a look at this extension of Inform7” or “there is no such thing implemented” or “there is no such thing, but you could draw inspiration from this”. Nothing more than that! I have thought of a potential implementation, treating data as things that are visible or not, and the knowledge to be treated as “possession” of those things, but I am not certain it is the right approach.

First of all, re. the Inform 6/7 question: Inform 7 is a full programming language, and you do not need to drop to Inform 6 to code behavior. In the early years there were things that were hard to express in Inform 7, especially mathematical things or elements that accessed files or manipulated on-screen behavior, but most of those elements do now have an Inform 7 wrapper available. Occasionally people still choose to insert Inform 6 chunks inside an Inform 7 program for various reasons, but it isn’t required.

Likewise, when you say “to implement AI,” this is such a big and fuzzy question that it’s hard to answer without more of a breakdown.

Inform 7 is good — and indeed much better than Inform 6 — for handling rule-based decision-making and firing off character interactions within the model world; the main issue here is performance if you’re driving a large number of characters or asking them to plan over complex world state. The rule-based aspects of Inform 7 in fact have influenced other approaches to game AI in larger game applications, as Elan Ruskin discusses in one of his GDC talks.

For other AI approaches, you’d have to do quite a bit more work; for instance, it isn’t really designed to make use of any natural language processing methods outside of its own rich and complex parsing mechanism, and if you wanted to do something that for instance tried to guess what the player meant by words that weren’t in the game’s dictionary but might be similar to ones that were, you’d more likely use some kind of special pre-processing layer or a call out to an external script, because it doesn’t provide ways to e.g. access WordNet or a word2vec model. Likewise, it’s not designed to plug together with SpaCy or Google NLU or any of the external tools that have come into being over the past decade+ to help interpret the semantic structure of a piece of input. It might be interesting to explore how that would work, but that doesn’t exist currently.

Inform plus machine learning is a slightly more interesting point of conversation, because the TextWorld project exists, and there are researchers who are exploring how to use an Inform-based world model as a sandbox environment for training ML agents to solve a text-based game.

That’s different again from the idea of an ML agent designed not to solve an IF game but to be a companion or competitor within an IF game, for the sake of enhancing the player’s experience. There are relatively few IF games in which it would even really be meaningful to talk about a competitor character within a game, because most IF doesn’t have mechanics designed for competitive play (though Kerkerkruip might work). My old game When in Rome 2 also featured an NPC with dynamically selected characteristics who might work counter to the intentions of the player, and it was possible in some cases to be bested or even killed by this creature, if you went up against a clever one and it got resources ready faster than you could.

Now, on to the main question.

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Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope)

Return of the Obra Dinn is probably already familiar to you if you follow indie narrative games at all: winner of both the Grand Prize and Excellence in Narrative at the most recent IGF, the creation of Papers, Please designer Lucas Pope. I’m only getting to it now because I’m seriously behind.

The game puts you in the role an an insurance inspector, trying to work out what happened to everyone who used to be aboard a ghost ship. Thanks to a supernatural pocket watch, you’re able to revisit the time-frozen moment of death for every body you find, allowing you to explore one disturbing tableau after another to figure out who died, in what sequence, and why.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a very good game, one that achieves spectacle, surprise, and even some comedy within its confines. It’s worth playing with as little spoiler information as possible, so I’ve put less than usual above the fold. More design thoughts follow below, but they assume you’ve either played the game or read enough of a synopsis to be able to follow references.

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Storytelling in Video Games: The Art of Digital Narrative (Amy Green)

Starting in mid-2017, I’ve used the first Tuesday of the month for reviews of books about game writing, and occasional books about other writing in general.

As of now, I’ve gone through about two dozen — including everything from self-published Kindle ebooks about interactive fiction to acclaimed classics of screenwriting advice — and that doesn’t count the books I read, or started to read, and decided they were just too unhelpful to cover on the blog at all.

I feel like this project is drawing to a natural close.

While there are a handful of good writing books left unreviewed on my shelves or my ebook collection, I’ve talked about pretty much all the ones that had a strong bearing on interactive work; and I’m finding there are diminishing returns on reading more of the same. But it’s been useful for me, seeing what is out there, and I hope it’s been helpful for some of you as well.

So I’m shifting process a little. I’ve started instead to cover academic work that might interest IF authors and narrative designers — trying to make it a little more accessible and curate some of the stuff that might not be easily found. (My article on Max Kreminski’s work is part of that).


Today’s book, meanwhile, is a piece that straddles the line. The title, Storytelling in Video Games: The Art of Digital Narrative, sounds like it could easily belong to authorial how-to piece. But this is a piece of scholarship in digital narrative, rather than a craft guide, a speculation on experimental narrative creation, or a how-to book about getting on in the industry. The subtitle “Studies in Gaming”, is an important clue here. After a general introduction on why her topic is important, Green goes on to look at concepts of agency, immersion, and worldbuilding; and then to dig into how different long- and short-form games deliver their narrative experiences. She ends with a chapter on games studies in the classroom.

Green is interested in talking about how game narratives work, but from the perspective of a critical reader. She covers Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to the RaptureFar Cry Primal and Fallout 4 — and any number of others — via Baudrillard and Benedict Anderson. The rest of the time, much of the text consists of summaries of the various games and their features, and some the critical insight about them as games is pulled in the form of quotes from game critics.

Relatively little of her own critique struck me as new information, and — ironically — in some cases her desire to communicate the emotional impact of things like complicity and immersion produced descriptions that to me felt both hyperbolic and obscure. For instance, she writes about the climax of Last of Us:

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I puzzled a little over this — is she claiming that the player is more embodied or more present in the narrative here than at other, less tense moments previously? — but I think she means that at this point in the story the player, enacting the protagonist’s grim choices, cannot escape feeling both complicity and an intimate physical awareness of the acts.

I found myself pulling away from this book, and I think I’m just severely not the target audience. Going via Tzvetan Todorov to conclude that stories need an opening hook and that Last of Us has one — this feels like coming up with an itinerary that includes two hours on the Eurostar but the only destination is my corner shop.

For someone who comes from a humanities academic background but who knows relatively little about games, it might be a different story; though I’m afraid probably few people who meet that description are reading this blog with any regularity.

End of May Link Assortment


June 1 will be the next San Francisco Bay Area IF Meetup, exploring games from this year’s Spring Thing competition.

June 8 and 9, the London IF Meetup has talks (the 8th) and a workshop (the 9th) on interactive fiction designed for audio devices. We’re welcoming some out of town guest speakers for this one, one of our most ambitious events yet.

download.pngJune 9 is the deadline to apply to exhibit a game or to speak at AdventureX, which is taking place November 2-3 at the British Library.

June 11 is the deadline for submitting Game Industry talk proposals to the IEEE Conference on Games (CoG).  The conference itself will be August 20-23 in London.

June 10-12 in London is the CogX Festival of AI and Emerging Technology, where I will be speaking about the work we’re doing at Spirit.

https___cdn.evbuc.com_images_57512733_293295238101_1_original.jpgNarrascope is set for June 14-16 in Boston, MA.  This is a new games conference that will support interactive narrative, adventure games, and interactive fiction by bringing together writers, developers, and players. Both Graham Nelson and I will be there and will speak; I’ll be on a panel about Bandersnatch, and Graham will be updating people on the current status of Inform. More information can be found on NarraScope’s home site.

NarraScope will also be the Boston IF Meetup for the month of June. It’s worth noting that if you’re a Boston local and you missed the registration date, you might still be able to attend by volunteering for the event.

logo_0.pngICCC 2019 takes place on June 17-21 in Charlotte, NC.  The event is in its tenth year and is organized by the Association for Computational Creativity.

July 2-5 will be the ACM IVA Conference, taking place in Paris.  IVA 2019’s special topic is “Social Learning with Interactive Agents.”

July 13 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF meetup (there is no meeting in June due to NarraScope). The discussion will center around The Missing Ring from the 2019 Spring Thing competition.

July 16-17 is set for the symposium Ludic Literature: The Converging Interests of Writing, Games, and Play. The two-day event is funded by the Scottish Graduate School and takes place in Glasgow, UK.

New Releases

web408.png“What manner of fool are you: the shrewd knave ever ready with a venomous quip? The renowned artiste at pains to stay above the political fray? The bawdy buffoon known as much for off-stage antics as on-stage mirth? Or the clever counselor whose real audience is the noble ear they whisper into? …The kingdom itself will be shaped by your choices!”

The latest offering to come from Choice of Games, Fool is a 420,000-word interactive novel by Ben Rovik. Play as a talented young court fool, navigating the scheming and treacherous world of the court of Breton.

Oslo-based independent game-developer Red Thread has just released Draugen, an ambitious first-person mystery set in 1920’s Norway. Described as “Fjord Noir,” players take on the role of an American traveler, searching the coastal Norwegian town of Graavik for his lost sister, and accompanied by a young ward.

Announcements, Articles, & Links

Starting on June 1, the IntroComp 2019 contest will be accepting “intent to enter” submissions, through June 30.

download.pngIntroComp is an annual contest that aims to give designers feedback on as-of-yet unpublished works that are not completely finished. Entries should be far enough along in the development process that they are playable, and all entries should also be interactive fiction. Cash prizes are available for the top few games (more information can be found on the site.)

raidersmariners_thumb-764d30a47f98a9fc19120f02be0ec454a9d175a39a5de0ec26809ec984022796.pngOn June 2, Fire Hazard Games will be launching The Extraordinary Voyage, a new immersive game at the National Maritime Museum.

The Extraordinary Voyage blends mobile games with interactive theatre, putting the player in the exciting world of seafaring and ocean exploration. Over the course of 90 minutes, players will explore objects in the museum, solve puzzles, and interact with real-life characters to create their own personal narrative.

The game is family-friendly and suitable for children 8 and up. Currently scheduled to run through July 7, although you’ll want to check the schedule for specific dates and times.  More info can be found here.

Failing Forward: Bruno Dias discusses the topic of failure in storytelling, and the forms it can take in interactive narrative.

Olivia Wood and Jessica Krause appear on the ScriptLock podcast, talking about topics such as their favorite choices in games and what makes for a good NPC.

On his blog, Jason Dyer journals his trip into the classic 1979 game Kadath.

Curating Simulated Storyworlds (James Ryan) – Ch 6f

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 1.14.45 PM.png

This is the third of several posts about James Ryan’s dissertation, Curating Simulated Storyworlds. We are now reading chapters 6 and following, in which Ryan describes his own projects in the curated emergent narrative space.

After the first five chapters, this piece becomes considerably more narrative in its own structure: Ryan is (consciously) telling the story of his own artistic development and practice, and the particular works to which it gave rise.

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