Mid-August Link Assortment

IF Comp intents to enter are still open through the beginning of September, so if you’d like to write for the comp this year, you can sign up.

August 14-17, Cape Cod, MA is the Foundation of Digital Games conference, including a workshop in procedural content generation.

August 17 is the next meeting of the People’s Republic of IF in Cambridge.

WordPlay, the annual festival of word-based games that came to London in 2016, is this year returning to its native Toronto on November 18. If you’d like to submit something, you have until August 25 to propose a talk or workshop, and until September 30 to submit a game.

New Releases

Mid-September, Anya Johanna DeNiro is releasing A Bathroom Myth, a story whose proceeds will go to the Transgender Law Center.

Elizabeth Sampat has written 8 Vignettes from the Tech Industry, a Twine piece about her reactions to the recent leaked Google menu about the role of women in tech.

Nanobots is a Twine anthology based on the They Might Be Giants album of the same name. It is still seeking entrants to cover some songs, but others have been filled in; for instance, zarf has contributed Nouns.

Joey Jones’ Choice of Games piece Trials of the Thief-taker is now out. Joey is a participant in the Oxford/London IF meetup and the author of a wide array of parser IF; this time he turns to a choice-based historical about being a sort of bounty hunter in London before there was such a thing as an organized police force. I’m completely a sucker for historical IF, especially when it’s supported by some loving research, and we had a good time playing an in-progress version of the game many months ago. I’m looking forward to seeing how the finished version came out.

Xalavier Nelson, Jr. (of SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD among others) has released Replacement, a Twine anthology about body modification. The portion I’ve read so far is quite linear, using links for pacing and to dramatize the text in dynfic fashion.

Introcomp games became available this month; there are eleven unfinished entries of various kinds of IF, and the aim is to vote on which pieces you’d most like to see made into a finished project. Introcomp is also an opportunity for authors to get feedback on works in progress, so responses from reviewers are especially valuable here.

Paying Work

Choice of Games has started a new, romance-specific line of interactive novels, called Heart’s Choice. This is the first time CoG has branched out genre-wise beyond their Choice of / Hosted Games distinction, which is more about quality and brand-adherence guarantee than anything else. The Choice of series contains a number of different genre titles, including romance but also superhero stories, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers and adventure of various types. I’ll be particularly curious to see how their structural requirements change (if at all) to support narratives that are more about relationships rather than the development and expression of an individual protagonist’s powers.

See their description of the line for more information about what it is and how to pitch for it.

Worth Reading Elsewhere

Sam Kabo Ashwell has a detailed writeup of the story-focused board game T. I. M. E. Stories, which I’ve been wanting to play for a while and just haven’t had time for yet.

Also on Sam’s blog, this writeup of Inheritance, a Viking-themed LARP that sounds pretty engaging.

Timothy Samoff has written a masters’ thesis about the use of real-time mechanics in IF, taking examples from 80 Days, Breakers, Border Zone, The Martian, and others.

Digital Antiquarian has been doing a fascinating sequence on game development in the USSR, including the saga of how Tetris came into being, and what happened afterward.

And here’s a history of the writing of Tales from the Borderlands. From those who were around at the time. TftB is one of my favorite Telltale experiences.

Procedural Generation and AI Topics

Using Electricity is a collection of computer-generated works, mostly poetry, edited by Nick Montfort.

Been Kim gave a talk on interpretable machine learning: how do you make the system’s decisions comprehensible to human onlookers? I didn’t see the talk itself, but the slides are easy to follow.

IntroComp 2017

IntroComp is a yearly IF competition for just the beginnings (or, in this case, just an excerpt) from a longer work, allowing authors to test the waters and get feedback about how well their concept is playing. You too can participate, if you wish, by trying out the games and then voting before August 31.

Of the intros I’ve had time to sample, these are the ones that most intrigued me:

Onna Kabuki by Victor Ojuel had the best story hook of the intros I tried: a protagonist with a clear identity, in a dire situation, with lots of reasons to have strong feelings about what happens. As the name suggests, this piece is set in Japan, among warring nobility and traveling monks. In parser IF, feudal Japan is a rarely used setting with just a handful of examples.

The implementation was a bit rockier, unfortunately: I several times got the game into a state that didn’t seem to be anticipated, and in one case that prevented me from making progress at all and I had to restart.

So the introcomp version is not in a very high-polish state. But fans of Ojuel’s historical settings and large-scale plot concepts will probably share my interest in seeing this finished and more deeply tested.

Meanwhile, for mechanical inventiveness, two contenders:

The Adam and Eve Project by Brian Kwak (How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors, among others) is a dual-protagonist game with the option to switch between viewpoints and command either PC. This is an intriguing approach for parser IF, allowing for characters who describe the same environments in different ways (Suspended, ExhibitionCommon Ground) or who have to collaborate somehow using different powers or tools (Max Blaster…, the Earth and Sky series). In this variant, the protagonists are in constant communication after the very beginning of the game, so you always have the other character commenting on what you run into.

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Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, second edition (Chris Crawford)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 10.07.49 PMChris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling (Chris Crawford). Long ago, I wrote about the first edition of this book. Since then, I got to know Crawford a bit, and attended one of his Phrontisterion sessions; he solicited IF community input on a second edition; he kindly sent me a review copy of the second edition, but I was too busy to get to it (this feels like my permanent condition of existence); I then failed to write anything about the second edition. I also wrote recently about Chris’ Encounter Editor project. But now, as I’m going back and looking at the variety of writing available on this topic, I’ve taken that review copy down so I can finally do what I should have done a couple years ago. Apologies, Chris.

In the interests of getting a fresh perspective on the book, I have read it without referring back to the first edition or even rereading my review of the first edition.

This lead to some thoughts like: was this in the first edition? I don’t remember it from the first edition. I feel like I would remember if I’d read this before:

“Your designs should aspire to the ideal of metaphorically having sex with your users.” (37)

especially as it is followed a few pages later by

“The overall quality of an interaction depends on its depth as well as its speed.” (40)

But these moments aside, the second edition is — as I remember from the first — opinionated, sometimes correct and insightful, but also at times reductive, patronizing, or willfully indifferent to work done outside his own sphere. Crawford is passionately committed to the procedural power of computers, and so pays even less attention than usual to related art forms like immersive theatre, tabletop RPGs, LARPs, or other rules-based interactive story structures. Indeed, he thinks that if you don’t share his emphasis on procedurality, you don’t belong doing computer-based interactive storytelling, or you are, in his words, “prostituting your Muse.”

He also doesn’t have much time for standard video games and largely ignores their contributions. Unlike many of the other contributors to the advice-for-interactive-writing genre, Crawford is no longer actively engaged with the game industry and has no interest in perpetuating industry norms, outfitting readers to become professional games writers, or staying on good terms with potential employers. He sees himself rather as a prophet unappreciated in his own era, a quixotic seeker who may not have time to find what he’s looking for before he dies, and his aim is rather to inspire and instruct the next generation on a quest for the holy grail of storytelling. He tends to assume that the reader of his book is technically very ignorant, and talks down on a regular basis, including little admonitions to get over one’s fear of elementary algebra, even if one does not in fact experience such a fear. And his view on women, expressed at several points in the book, is that they are socially gifted but nervous of math and possibly logic in general; and will need to be bucked up a bit in the numbers department in order to make the contribution to interactive storytelling for which they are otherwise destined.

At the same time, there is much that I recognize. Chris shares my own desire for a future of interactive storytelling full of dynamic, persuasive characters who react to the player in rich ways. In that pursuit, he’s brought passionate commitment and dedication over the course of decades, and made many attempts, both paid and unpaid, to build what he wants to build. We are very different in temperament, style, and our approach to projects. But the purpose that underlies this book speaks to me much more than the purpose underlying a lot of game writing manuals about how to keep your game cheap and appeal to the broadest audience. The latter considerations are valid, to be sure, but I wouldn’t be in this business in the first place if it weren’t for the thing I want to achieve.

So I read through a haze of mingled familiarity, sympathy, and exasperation. I don’t think any of that reaction will surprise Crawford himself: the review copy is inscribed to me with a wry note acknowledging both my help and the fact that the finished product isn’t likely to be universally pleasing to me. Here is what I found.

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End of July Link Assortment


August 5 is the next SF Bay Area IF Meetup. The proposed agenda is to look at the games released for Introcomp this year.

August 7 is the deadline to apply as an exhibitor at November’s AdventureX. This is an application to demonstrate your game(s) at a table during a two-day narrative games conference in London. Both textual and graphical games would be suitable; you will need some kind of working demo to apply, even if it’s not finished.

August 10, Nottingham, UK, the Hello Words IF writing group meets at the National Videogame Arcade.

August 17, Cambridge, MA is the next meeting of PR-IF, the people’s republic of interactive fiction.

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.

Paying Work

I found out about this one a little too late to include it in my list of paying opportunities in IF, but the Hand Eye Society is looking for IF authors to be artists-in-residence in Toronto, and is paying $50/hour for the person(s) selected.

New Releases

Felicity Banks’ “And Their Souls Were Eaten,” published by Tin Man games, is now complete at 380,000 words; the app in question has now been named Choices That Matter. The app can also be used to access two other stories: “And the Sun Went Out”, and a new piece called “And Their Heroes Were Lost” by Phill Berrie.

Veteran parser author Christopher Huang (Muse, Sunday Afternoon, An Act of Murder, and the Peterkin mysteries) has written a Choice of Games piece called The Hero Unmasked, which looks to be a superheroic romp with twins and mistaken identities.

Meanwhile in the Hosted Games category, Lewis Manalo has released The Spy and the Labyrinth, a story told entirely through documents and journal entries (an unusual format for Choice of Games pieces). The premise involves an archaeologist from Miskatonic University lost in the Amazon. Given Lovecraft’s well-known racism and poor handling of indigenous cultures — and the way that sometimes comes through in other writing in the Lovecraftian tradition — I’m cautious about that premise. On the other hand, CoG as a brand works intentionally to avoid sending racist messages in the works they create or host, and I feel like the editors there would flag a work if it were displaying those tendencies. So I’m not entirely sure what to expect here, and haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Reviews, Play Reports, and Post-Mortems

craiglocke/mathbrush has completed a year-by-year retrospective on IF Comp, identifying trends and influences in each year. The sequence makes a useful comparison point for some of the other histories of the amateur IF scene. Here they all are linked: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 20152016

If you’re looking for more reviews on gamebooks and interactive fiction apps, Gamebook News covers them. Among other things, they have recent in-depth review of Nocked!, and an interview with Cubus Games, who made The Frankenstein Wars. Gamebook News’ back collection of articles also includes coverage on Choice of Games and inkle works among others.

Bruno Dias writes for Waypoint about themes of imprisonment and escape in BronzeSpider and Web, and howling dogs.

Touch Arcade profiles a few popular mobile interactive fiction pieces.

Adam Cadre’s Radio K podcast takes on three new games: Finding Martin (Gayla Wennstrom), A New Life (Alexandre Owen Muniz), and Chancellor (Kevin Venzke).

Jon Ingold and Meg Jayanth talk about writing for 80 Days in this recording.

Lucian Smith has a particularly powerful three-part play report from a session playing the LARP “Storm Cellar,” about how the story’s themes intersected with his own life.


XYZZY 2016 award results are out: congratulations to best game winner Superluminal Vagrant Twin by CEJ Pacian.

The Independent Games Festival is open for submissions. Typically interactive fiction, especially pure text IF, doesn’t do particularly well in the IGF, which is a large, pay-to-enter competition with many other entrants. But there are a few pieces that have picked up visibility this way.

Related Articles and Writing

Julian Togelius offers advice for journalists writing about artificial intelligence. The article provides some good perspective even for people who aren’t writing articles, but just want to some context for all the reports they’re seeing in the news.

Perhaps you will enjoy this Markovian tumblr about programming plus the KJV.

Second Person Storytelling in ASMR

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but it’s well off the normal path for this blog, so a little bit of background first.

Some people experience a pleasant tingling sensation in the head when they listen to the right trigger noises: sometimes whispering, sometimes soft clicking noises, sometimes the sound of brushing or of crumpling paper. The effect also seems to have a psychological component and arise most effectively when the listener feels they’re being personally cared for, as well.

Until the internet, presumably people with this response just assumed that they were individually weird and nothing more came of it.

Post-internet, however, the phenomenon has been named autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). There’s an inevitable reddit group dedicated to ASMR enthusiasm. You can go on YouTube and find many, many, many videos of people making ASMR-triggering noises, or whispering into the listener’s ear. Some of these are random whispers — here’s ASMR Glow whispering words such as LOLLIPOP and BUBBLE over and over again.

But because of the personal care aspect, a lot of others actually take the form of detailed skits about scenarios where someone might be looking after you or offering you some kind of assistance. Spa roleplay. Haircut roleplay. Roleplay of having a doctor clean your ears, or a therapist talk about your anxiety. What appears to be an entire subgenre of ASMR mad scientist roleplay. Softly whispered “tutorial” videos on every subject from towel-folding to the works of Carl Jung.

Phoenician Sailor does takeoffs on existing IP, like this Westworld riff or this soothing Voight-Kampf test. A handful of ASMR shows even have a bit of a twist ending: this one (by Gentle Whispering ASMR), the scenario starts out as a generic suit-fitting session, until it becomes clear that the viewer-protagonist has a specific identity. Continue reading

Montage, Narrative Deckbuilding and Other Effects in StoryNexus

empressshadow_smallIn a previous post, I wrote about design considerations for quality-based narrative systems, and mentioned that there was probably room for a standalone article about frequently-used patterns here. (This article in many ways mirrors one I wrote years ago about scene types in parser IF.)

When I write for Fallen London, I find myself using and reusing a couple of standard structures.

Straight choices tied to a progression quality: the storylet is available as step 1 (or 4, or 10, or X) of the story; there are two or more things you can do within that storylet; when you’re done, the narrative advances to step X+1. Maybe some of the things you can do in the storylet depend on secondary qualities, but this is basically recapitulating a fairly tight branch-and-bottleneck CYOA structure.

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