End of October Link Assortment

Events

Promotional art for the IF Comp. It shows a person in a green t-shirt apparently playing a text-based game, with a background of images suggesting an adventure. The bottom of the image reads IF Comp 2022.

IF Comp is still running, now through November 15. There are lots of games to play; you need only vote on five to participate as a judge in the competition. (Though you’re very welcome to vote on more than five, of course!)

And as if the bounty of IF Comp were not enough, October also always sees EctoComp, for spooky Halloween games. It’s run as a jam on itch.io; games are available from Oct 31. EctoComp invites games in English, French, and Spanish.

Tomorrow, November 1, the Oxford/London IF Meetup is playing through some of those Comp games together online.

November 12 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Group.

December 1 is the opening of the Winter TADS jam for games written in the TADS language.

And a note: I do my best to pull together events people announce publicly in certain spaces, or things that they email me about – but I don’t always get everything, and my time for blog maintenance also varies a bit from month to month. However! There is now a calendar section on ifwiki, which you can check out or add to.

I’m not planning to stop mentioning events on my blog, but the ifwiki calendar is a useful place to go if you’d like to make something known to the IF-playing public. You can also post about things in the Events section on the intfiction forum.

Other Releases

The Marino family has a long-running series of Undum stories about Mrs Wobbles and the Tangerine House, which takes a fantasy perspective on the experiences of children with foster homes and adoption. Lucian Smith wrote a lovely review of one of the previous episodes that spoke to this theme in some depth.

The eighth(!) entry in that series, “Action Figures”, is live today.

Work

UC Santa Cruz is hiring an Assistant or Associate Professor of Computational Media:

While this is not a position focused on teaching frameworks/engines or programming (which are covered elsewhere in the curriculum) an understanding of processes and tools used to create computational media work is desired.

The successful candidate will develop and teach courses within the graduate and undergraduate curriculum; continue their work in creative, technical, and/or scholarly practices of computational media; and participate in shaping our diverse, interdisciplinary department. 


Mid-October Link Assortment

Promotional art for IF Comp. It portrays a person in a green shirt looking at a computer screen, with imagery suggesting different types of adventure. The words IF COMP 2022 appear at the bottom.

IF Comp is currently in full swing. This annual competition has been running now for nearly three decades, and continues to showcase interesting new work in the field.

The IF Comp website has gotten some sweet upgrades to help judges find the games they’ll like the most: you can have the website serve you a personally randomised list (to help distribute judges and avoid situations where games by well-known authors or those at the top of the alphabetical list get way more attention). Alternatively, you can set filters and look only for, say, parser-based games with an expected play time of half an hour.

If you’d like to judge, you need to submit scores on at least five games (out of the total of 71).

If you’d like to get a sense of what’s in the mix before diving in, you might check out reviews by other players – one of the cool things about the IF Comp is that it has a very long tradition of in-depth reviews, shared on the intfiction.org forums, on IFDB, or on private blogs.

The Short Game podcast also provides coverage of the comp games, often over the course of several episodes.

This year the comp is looking to draw in more judges, more discussion, and more attention from the wider world – so please do join in if this sounds appealing, and let your friends know as well.

Other Events

October 21October 28 is the AI and Games Jam, which is for games built using AI techniques, and organised by Tommy Thompson of the AI and Games Youtube channel (which I also recommend). Text-based and PCG games are welcome:

What do you mean AI? If you’re implementing artificial intelligence of any kind, be it for decision making, pathfinding, character behaviour, player modelling, level generation, animation, you name it.  It can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  You can use classic/symbolic AI or machine learning as well.   Submissions are not judged on the complexity of the AI implemented.

So PCG as well? Yup, procedural generation for levels, art, characters etc. is relevant.

Roguelike Celebration is coming up October 22-23, and will be running online: this is often a great place for talks about procedurally generated content. Not all of it is necessarily narrative-heavy, but typically at least some is interesting to interactive story folks.

The next People’s Republic of IF meeting will be online, October 25.

October 26, the Unnamed IF Bookclub will meet to discuss IF Comp games.

And as if the bounty of IF Comp were not enough, October also always sees EctoComp, for spooky Halloween games. It’s run as a jam on itch.io, and is open to new submissions through October 31; then the games will be available to play. EctoComp invites games in English, French, and Spanish.

November 12 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Area IF Group.

And a note: I do my best to pull together events people announce publicly in certain spaces, or things that they email me about – but I don’t always get everything, and my time for blog maintenance also varies a bit from month to month. However! There is now a calendar section on ifwiki, which you can check out or add to.

I’m not planning to stop mentioning events on my blog, but the ifwiki calendar is a useful place to go if you’d like to make something known to the IF-playing public. You can also post about things in the Events section on the intfiction forum.

Articles and Talks

From my Failbetter colleague Chris Gardiner, here’s a narrative postmortem on Sunless Skies, offering a deep dive on what was required to make that project work.

End of September Link Assortment

Events

The SF Bay IF Meetup will convene again on October 1. This will be a hybrid event, so you can attend in person if you’re in the area, or online if you aren’t.

IF Comp games are also scheduled to become available tomorrow, October 1. This annual competition has been running now for nearly three decades, and continues to showcase interesting new work in the field. Judging is open to anyone able to submit scores on at least five games.

In a change of rules, authors may participate in rating other games, as long as they refrain from rating their own submissions.

October 9 is the next Seattle IF Meetup, which will again be held via Discord.

October 11, Dan Hett is running a free introduction to writing interactive fiction in Stockport (outside Manchester). Hett’s IF Closed Hands was nominated in 2022 for an IGF narrative award.

Roguelike Celebration is coming up October 22-23, and will be running online: this is often a great place for talks about procedurally generated content. Not all of it is necessarily narrative-heavy, but typically at least some is interesting to interactive story folks.

Articles and Talks

Here’s a Guardian article that does a deep dive on the Discworld MUD.

Meanwhile, GDC has published Jon Ingold’s talk on the detective mechanics on Overboard! – if you missed Jon’s presentation to the London IF Meetup, you might like to watch this instead.

Joey Jones has an academic article forthcoming on how IF authors manage the complexity of their work, and a preprint verison is available free online.

Mid-September Link Assortment

Events

Interactive Fiction Club Jam opened August 26 and is running through tomorrow, September 16. It’s open to IF of any genre, as long as it’s safe for work.

September 18 is the next meeting of the Seattle IF group.

September 27 is the next meeting of the Boston/Cambridge PR-IF group; this meeting will be remote, so people are welcome to join from a distance.

IFComp games are due September 28 – though authors should already be registered to participate. It’s also a good time for contributing to the prize pool, if you’re so inclined.

If the Interactive Fiction Club Jam’s deadline is (very reasonably) too soon for you, Interactive Fiction Jam #2 is currently running through the end of September. This jam welcomes several genres of story-focused game; a Halloween theme is recommended but not required. Authors may use a tool of their choice, as long as the resulting game is playable on Windows.

The SF Bay IF Meetup will convene again on October 1. This will be a hybrid event, so you can attend in person if you’re in the area, or online if you aren’t.

Roguelike Celebration is coming up October 22-23, and will be running online: this is often a great place for talks about procedurally generated content. Not all of it is necessarily narrative-heavy, but typically at least some is interesting to interactive story folks.

Talks and Articles

Cardboard Computer’s Patreon is offering a series of workshops, with past episodes visible to watch on YouTube. The first workshops in the series dig into questions of what it means to write or program, approaches to existing tools, and processes in developing new design systems.

Meanwhile, Jacob Garbe offers an article, condensed from his dissertation (and based on quite a bit of real-world experience), on how to manage scope on dynamic narrative projects. I suspect many readers of this blog will be interested in projects like these:

games driven by deeply reactive character dialogue, system-driven games whose narrative is closely tied to game mechanics, open world games whose narrative deeply responds to player actions / game state, and much more!

…and sympathise with issues like this:

Creating content for dynamic narratives, compared to static ones, comes with some design challenges that often make shipping games with them difficult or infeasible. Many times the task of solving these problems falls on narrative designers and writers. And when they can’t move mountains, things get cut…

Games

Since last roundup, I released an updated version of my 2012 game Bee, and also did a post about the process of revising it for this release.

That process was only possible because of help from Autumn Chen. Autumn has extended the Dendry toolset, an open source tool for writing games like Bee that rely on storylets; and the Dendry source for Bee is available through her Github as well.

Autumn has also written a couple of games of her own with Dendry. Pageant tells the story of a Chinese-American girl who is struggling with the final years of high school, college applications, and her parents’ insistence that she enter a beauty pageant in order to make herself stand out to the MIT admissions board. I found it fascinating to play because it shares some structural features with Bee – and a similar interest in balancing academic success with other goals – but portrays a different family, culture, and texture of life.


Screenshot of Curious Fishing, showing a level with pixel art seaweed and squid.
A screenshot from Curious Fishing

Speaking of memoir narratives: fans of freeware puzzle games may enjoy Curious Fishing by Connor Halford, and perhaps also like his detailed dev diaries.

…and a screenshot from WIP, a playable short memoir about developing Curious Fishing

I heard of this game because Connor is a coworker; it really pulled me in when I tried, as a lovely, elegant piece of puzzle design. All of the puzzles are written with specific playability and accessibility constraints in mind.

If you’re only here for narrative games, though, check this Bitsy piece about the making of Curious Fishing. I liked the way it uses space to narrative effect, and the way it blends real world spaces with explorable re-renderings of the gameplay space.

Rebalancing Bee

A couple days ago I mentioned the rerelease of my game Bee, and promised a follow-up article about some of the technical aspects.

The Project

Key things to know about the game:

Varytale had a Twine-like diagram of the internal structure of each storylet.
  • It was a piece of storylet-based interactive fiction originally designed for the Varytale platform.
  • Each storylet describes a vignette in the life of the main character, ranging from a couple of paragraphs to (at the extreme) a couple of pages. There are usually additional choices to make within the storylet, so the storylet’s internal structure is like a short branching narrative.
  • The game cycles through the months of the year. Every half-month, the player can pick one storylet to play, out of three options. A standard playthrough covers three years, though there are circumstances in which you could spend less time, or more.
  • Storylets to populate the option list can have requirements (controlling whether they’re available at all) and also frequency (controlling how likely they are to be chosen). Some storylets are only available in particular seasons or even particular half-month slots.
  • A chosen storylet may change the player’s stats.
  • Within a storylet, the player may experience further choice points with further stat restrictions and effects.

You can also play the new Dendry version here.

The Challenge

Bee was written for Varytale, but that platform went away a long time ago. I still had a dump of the content, and Ian Millington had partially ported it for Dendry, an open version of a Varytale-like system. But the Dendry version was unfinished and broken — the endings couldn’t be reached, the frequency of storylet selection was off, and there was no status readout to tell you how you were doing on various game metrics.

Autumn Chen did the work of making a status readout for Bee and importing to Dendry the content that hadn’t yet been ported over. (Autumn has also written a couple of Dendry projects of her own, so she was familiar already with what’s possible there – if you like Bee, I recommend checking out Autumn’s work.)

Once that was done, I did some testing, and asked Autumn about a few playability issues I was encountering.

For one thing, I kept being offered the same options, when I knew there were more interesting storylines locked in the game’s system somewhere.

For another, I was finding it hard, even playing deliberately and with knowledge of the system, to unlock a couple of the most interesting endings. And that was at odds with what I wanted the player experience to be.

Part of this was a straight-up bug. We had an issue where one-off narrative storylets weren’t given a higher chance of being chosen vs. repetitive storylets, though they had been in the Varytale version. That was a question of updating all the frequencies to match the Varytale frequencies.

But there were some problems that probably existed even in the initial release – problems that I felt better equipped to fix than I had been in 2012, because I had both a) more experience with this kind of system and b) a different set of tools at my disposal.

Continue reading “Rebalancing Bee”

Bee Republished

Bee is a choice-based story I wrote some years ago about being a homeschooled student trying (but failing) to win the national spelling bee.

Initially released for Varytale in 2012, Bee went off-line for a time when the platform shut down. Varytale’s programmer, Ian Millington, then partially re-created Bee for Dendry, a non-commercial platform with similar technical features. He wasn’t able to complete the project, and for some years Bee was only available to play in an incomplete form. 

Recently, Autumn Chen kindly helped complete and update Bee for Dendry: adding missing status views, making the endings functional, and helping with testing and balancing. The finished version is available on itch – and for thoroughness, I’ve also uploaded a copy to the IF Archive.

Many thanks to her: I would not have had the bandwidth to do this on my own.

In the completion process, we also made a few updates to the text itself. These were mainly to address issues in the original game that could make some play-throughs overly repetitive, or make certain endings more difficult to reach. Where that process meant I needed a little extra material, I also wrote a small amount of additional text, and restructured a few storylets. (I’ve got another post lined up about the rebalancing, for people who really like storylet design posts, but it’s a bit spoilery, so it made sense to do it separately.)

A word about content

Bee depicts a child’s perspective on cultural issues around religion and politics in the US, topics that have become even more fraught in the decade since I wrote it. I thought a bit about what it meant to re-release it now; if you’re curious about that, read on.

Continue reading “Bee Republished”