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”

End of August Link Assortment

Events

In early September, inkJam will be running to encourage new games written in Ink.

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

Meanwhile, Interactive Fiction Jam #2 is running today 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 September 3. This will be a hybrid event, so you can attend in person if you’re in the area – or online if you aren’t.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to submit an entry to IFComp this year, you can register your intent to participate as an author by tomorrow, September 1, and make sure you’re getting email and updates about the competition as the deadline approaches. Actual games will be due September 28.

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

Releases

Cover art for Noblesse Oblige, showing art of several characters gathered in the sitting room of a manor.

Noblesse Oblige is the latest Choice of Games release from Hannah Powell-Smith, part of their ongoing Crème de la Crème universe.

Tool Releases

Inform version 10.1.1 is now available: this is the open source release of Inform, but now out of beta. This release includes updated Mac and Windows IDEs. (In other words: if you looked at the open source release in April but did not want to deal with command-line work, there is now a downloadable app for Mac and Windows, as with previous Inform releases.)

The intfiction forum also offers some discussion on particulars of using these IDEs, and (if you prefer) setting up to use Inform with VSCode and command-line compilation instead.

Meanwhile, if you’re more interested in hypertext tools, Twine has also had a new release, and is now on version 2.5. This version includes a number of bug fixes, and some feature changes to make it easier to see when there are empty passages in a project that still need filling in.

Mid-August Link Assortment

Events

The next virtual meetup of the Seattle/Tacoma IF group will be on Sunday, August 21, from 2 – 4 PM PDT via Discord. (This month they’re playing Pytho’s Mask.)

In early September, inkJam will be running to encourage new games written in Ink.

The SF Bay IF Meetup will convene again on September 3. This will be a hybrid event, so you can attend in person if you’re in the area – or online if you aren’t.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to submit an entry to IFComp this year, you can register your intent to participate as an author any time between now and September 1, and make sure you’re getting email and updates about the competition as the deadline approaches. Actual games will be due September 28.

Crowdfunding

Wade Clarke is raising funds for Andromeda Acolytes, a parser-based text adventure set in the Andromeda science fiction series.

If you’d like to check out the project before contributing, he’s got a demo playable online. My take: it’s polished, invested in its world-building, with a hard-SF flavour.

Videos

NarraScope talks are being released on YouTube, so if you missed attending, you can catch up anyway. You might for example like Aaron Reed’s keynote, Manda Whitney’s talk on narrative tabletop games based in physical objects, or Tanya X. Short’s talk on the tools used for Boyfriend Dungeon – but there are many other excellent and cool things to check out, and more coming out.