Strayed (Adventure Cow)

Strayed.png

Out today for Android is Strayed, an interactive fiction game by Adventure Cow. It includes writing by Gavin Inglis (known around here for Hana Feels, Eerie Estate Agent, several Fallen London stories):

You’re only fifteen miles from home; but those fifteen miles are a lonely road through woods drenched in mystery, that many locals dare not enter. Rain batters your windscreen; your radio reports an aggressive beast, lashing out against passers-by; and there is something — something — waiting on the road ahead. Your decisions will matter in this game; perhaps more than you think.

As this is currently an Android release, I haven’t had a chance to play it myself.

In Case of Emergency (A Door in a Wall)

icoe-cube-min

I’ve been hearing about A Door in a Wall for a while, and reading the rave reviews they get from escape room and immersive theatre review blog The Logic Escapes Me. This month, we decided to hire them to run a game for the London IF Meetup — one of their smaller pieces, suitable for 15-25 players rather than being performed in a whole pre-set house. They sent out a facilitator who gave the story background, MC’d, scored and awarded prizes at the end; and a suitcase full of clue and puzzle items. Our 20-odd group divided into teams of 1-4 people apiece, and we were off.

Continue reading

Chris Crawford’s Encounter Editor

Yesterday, Chris Crawford put up a post with the following plea:

I’m asking everybody to consider an important post I have made at erasmatazz.com/library/intera…. There’s 25 years of work hanging on this.

He also emailed me the same message directly. So I had a look.

The basic premise is as follows: Chris’ long-running Storytron system, designed to make interactive storyworlds, needs a lot more content in order to show off its hypothesized strengths. In particular, it needs content that feels handcrafted to some degree, to go with the procedural descriptions of characters gossiping, falling in love, and fighting. Or, as Chris puts it,

After many years of trying, I have learned the hard way that the procedurally intense interactions provided by the Storytron technology lack the color that most people expect from traditional storytelling. There’s a repetitive, mechanical feel to those interactions, and while they are dramatically more intense, more significant, they are like the skeleton of the story, the core elements, in need to fleshing out with muscle and skin. That’s the purpose of Encounters. They provide a more data-intense form of interaction that is shallower in dramatic significance, but more colorful.

To build this, he created an encounter editor. The Encounter Editor lets people design encounters that:

  • are locked or unlocked by certain prerequisites consisting of other encounters
  • start with a description of a meeting with another character
  • let the player make a choice in response
  • provide several possible reactions for NPCs, including some variable-based probability around which of those reactions they’re most likely to choose

In other words, the encounter bears a strong resemblance to storylets in StoryNexus. The editor looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 8.15.50 AM.png

It’s a little more constrained than StoryNexus about how prerequisites work — they can only depend on what other encounters the player has run into, not on the whole range of variables in the world state.

Continue reading

feelies.org and other odd recollections

Tonight (June 20), the London IF meetup is going to play In Case of Emergency, a game delivered mostly through the format of physical props.

The prospect of this has me thinking again about narrative told through objects, a topic I sometimes come back to here: everything from the work of the Mysterious Package Company through to the story-in-a-suitcase designed by Rob Sherman.

Infocom, of course, had its tradition of “feelies,” part copy-protection device and part souvenir, distributed with games: these consisted of printed manuals, letters, evidence dossiers, coins, pills, letters, and whatever else they could think of. Wishbringer came with a plastic glow-in-the-dark “stone” which represented the eponymous magic object of the game, and let me tell you that when you are eight years old a glowing plastic rock is pretty special. Jimmy Maher frequently mentions them in his Digital Antiquarian writeups on these games. For a while in the 90s there was a tradition of sending people feelies as a reward if they registered shareware interactive fiction, but shareware also died out as a way of distributing IF.

This captured my imagination, and for Savoir-Faire, I made a limited feelie run just for people who pre-ordered via rec.*.int-fiction:

feelies02

It consisted of some supposedly historical documents and some modern ones:

  • a customized-to-the-recipient letter about the history of the objects, from a modern professor at the University of Pennsylvania (where I was at the time supposed to be finishing my PhD, but was actually procrastinating with projects such as this one);
  • a reprinted pamphlet about the Lavori d’Aracne, the magic system in the game;
  • a letter from one of the game’s characters to his daughter, sealed with sealing wax and designed not to be read until the end of the game; and
  • a scrap of paper carrying what was supposedly a magic machine design by another character:

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.09.36 PM.png

By the standards of, say, Punchdrunk, these weren’t impressive objects (you can see a scan of the full set in this PDF), but given my skills and abilities at the time, they were the best I could do. The pamphlet was based on some reprints I’d found of little etiquette manuals from the late 18th and early 19th century. The letter was handwritten with a fountain pen that I bought for the purpose — an expensive investment given my grad student poverty — and I tried to school myself in contemporary handwriting styles, though as you can see, I am not destined for a career in forgery any time soon.

As for the machinery design, for the very earliest purchasers, that was written on actual period paper that I bought from an online ephemera reseller, and I’ve always felt slightly bad that I tainted real 18th century paper, a limited resource no doubt salvaged from some antique desk drawer, with my very much 21st-century scribbling. (Later on, I handwrote on more boring paper, and later still I digitized and printed the thing with a suitable font.)

Continue reading

Mid-June Link Assortment

Events

June 15 in London (tonight) I am speaking at Strange Tales to introduce interactive fiction to the group there.

June 20, the London IF Meetup is gathering at the Eaton Square Bar to play In Case of Emergency, a mystery storytelling game assembled and run by A Door in a Wall. Atypically for our events, there is a small fee of £5 to participate.

June 28-30, I will be speaking at Gamelab XIII GAMES & INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT CONFERENCE in Barcelona, about artificial intelligence and games.

IntroComp is under new management but is still running this year, an opportunity to share the opening section of an IF piece with players and get feedback. Intents to enter are accepted through June 30, with the intros themselves to be due July 31.

July 1, IF Comp 2017 opens for intents-to-enter.

The British Library is running an Interactive Fiction Summer School as a weeklong course in July, with multiple instructors from a variety of different interactive narrative backgrounds. More information can be found at the British Library’s website.

July 6-9 is the convention of the national puzzler’s league in Boston; this is kind of peripheral to IF, but might be of interest to some readers.

July 13 is the next meeting of Hello Words in Nottingham.

Polar Jam continues through July 15, if you feel like creating some adventure IF and/or implementing a room with multiple SOUTH exits. (See also The Northnorth Passage.)

July 19, the London IF meetup will get together and talk about writing IF for money, with speakers on both side of the “looking to sell” and “looking to buy” divide.

August 14-17, Cape Cod, MA is the Foundation of Digital Games conference, including a workshop in procedural content generation. The PCG workshop has a theme this year:

What do our generators say about the underlying systems we have designed and the designers who create them?  Our theme aims to explore the biases inherent in PCG and the potential with which to subvert it.

Registration will continue to be available through August, but the ticket price goes up to “late registration” rates on July 4, so participants will save $100 by booking before that deadline.

Competitions

The XYZZY eligibility list for 2016 is now available. (Yes, this is a bit late in the year — often the XYZZYs are wrapped up in the first few months of a year — but the process is now coming together.) Now is the time to mention to the organizers any concerns you may have about things on or off the list before first round voting officially opens.

Fundraising

As already mentioned, PROCJAM 2017 is Kickstarting funds for supplies: reusable art, tutorials, documentation, and other features that support the event. Those who support the campaign for at least £10 will receive a mixtape of various procedural goodies, including an Annals of the Parrigues-related treat from me.

New Releases

ChoiceScript is getting a new IDE, providing authorship support in a centralized way. In fact, it might even be available already now. (I put these link assortments together in advance, but the announced date is June 15.)

Demon Mark is a new release from Choice of Games, focusing on Russian folklore.

Articles

Here’s an interview with Porpentine about her recent work.

Here’s a take on iOS games about archaeology. There’s a small amount of IF included, Choice of Games’ To the City of the Clouds, but mostly I enjoyed the survey and the general sense of WHY ARE WE SO MISUNDERSTOOD.

Atlas Obscura has a piece on the structures of the original Choose Your Own Adventures series, with lots of lovely diagrams made by ChooseCo itself, and interview input from Nick Montfort.

Christophe Rhodes wrote about the most recent Tool Innovation session at the London IF Meetup.

Kevin Snow writes about design choices in Southern Monsters, including how he responds to and handles failure states.

Hidden Folks is a very cool, though not IF-related, game about exploring an intricate environment, and there’s now a making-of series of articles in progress.

Other Things

Nick Montfort gave a presentation on computer generated books (as seen in NaNoGenMo). The slides are online.

Twine Garden is not new, but I wanted to point it out again: there’s so much cool stuff there.

Twine Gardening

I haven’t published much in Twine on IFDB, but I actually use it a great deal: it’s become a prototyping tool of first resort for a wide range of professional projects, the format in which I deliver content to be converted into some other final presentation. A not-trivial amount of pro-level game story prototyping happens in Twine these days.

Which reminds me to mention that Chris Klimas has a Patreon for Twine maintenance and development, and it would be great to see that get some more support. Twine is usefully free to creators who might not be able to afford it, and long may it remain so — but I use it for industry purposes, so I pay for mine. (He’s also reachable via Unmapped Path, and has developed an engine to bring Twine pieces to mobile.)

One of the most characteristic things about writing in Twine is the business of curating the narrative map. Twine generates this map automatically, making a new passage for content every time you create a link that doesn’t refer to an existing passage, and placing that box somewhere near the originating passage. Which is fine, to a point, but very soon several things happen.

  1. performance drags and Twine takes its own sweet time inserting the box
  2. Twine’s idea of where to auto-place the box doesn’t correspond to my idea of how the contents should be visually arranged
  3. I can never zoom out as far as I want to, because even the smallest-box depiction of the Twine map doesn’t show me the whole monstrosity I’m working on

A really large portion of my time working in Twine consists of clicking back to the map view and dragging boxes around to better convey the story structure I have in mind. Pruning. Gardening. Rebalancing. Trying to make clusters of content stick together and make critical moments visible at a glance. Structuring so that I can recognize certain standard mini-structures.

For instance, both of these passages belong to a narrative that is, at the large scale, a standard branch-and-bottleneck, but the lower-level structure is actually very different:

The first diagram describes an “are you really sure you want to commit to this disaster” sequence: if the player heads down the left-hand path, they have several opportunities to opt out and rejoin the main storyline; but past a certain point, they’ve lost the game and are committed to a losing epilogue. And then, if the player survives that and traverses to the lower right portion of the diagram, there’s a big delayed-branching result with many different outcomes customized to what the player’s done so far: a narrative payoff for earlier choices. There’s some clustering to those delayed-branch results, which the diagram also tries to convey.

Continue reading