The last couple of days have brought some interesting reads that weren’t announced on RAIF, so I’ll mention them here:
Trotting Krips’ review of Planetfall. I’ve never gotten around to playing this one myself.
Nick Montfort’s dissertation on nn, an IF development system he designed in the course of getting his doctorate at Penn. The dissertation runs to several hundred pages, so it’s not a light read, but I’d recommend a look to those interested in IF theory. Some of what he writes is fairly technical discussion of how his system works, and it’s difficult to judge its merits given that there aren’t any actual games written in it (as he admits himself); on the other hand, he also does a lot of theoretical definition of the different aspects of IF games.
One of the main points to be taken is his argument for the separation of the world model from the processor that describes this to the player. Some of our early discussions about this did affect suggestions I made to Graham about I7; nn goes much further, though, making it easy during play to switch viewpoint characters and to change the person of the narration, to change the tense in which things are narrated, to narrate events out of order or backwards, and to separate the viewpoint character from the person who is being given commands (something only a couple of IF games actually do — Nick cites “The Beetmonger’s Journey”; I seem to recall that “Bellclap” does a similar trick; but it’s not at all common). My feeling about nn so far is that it’s clever but also doesn’t go far enough: the sample output created tends to read as though still very mechanically generated, and it would be nice if the system went further in choosing which reports are most important on a given mood; collating related events together into a single description (which he does some of, but not as much as I’d like); etc. Still, this is hard stuff.
What I found more immediately useful to my own work were the analyses of narrative techniques in IF. Nick is very interested in looking at the different functions of text output by a work of IF, giving each of these different voices. Most obviously, he separates the narrator from the voice that handles meta tasks like saving and restoring and asking the player whether he really wants to quit; somewhat less obviously, he identifies a “suggester” voice, which is the source of clues and hints such as “You see something shiny in the corner” or “You could probably break down the north wall, if only you had something heavy enough to hit it with”. Generally IF authors tend to roll these things all together into the same collections of hand-written text; but what happens if we distinguish them? Might we want to write games in which the suggester can be set to be more or less explicit? or to react to the player’s progress so far? How much of this is worth modeling explicitly?
These are just a couple of points from a long text. Worth a look.