Upcoming live IF Meetups and events:
May 7, 1:00 PM, the SF Bay Area IF Meetup gets together at MADE.
May 11, 6:30 PM, Boston/Cambridge, the People’s Republic of IF gets together to talk and also to attend a presentation of student IF.
May 26, 10 AM – 1 PM, Oxford. I’m doing an Intro to IF workshop based around inklewriter. It is primarily aimed at Oxford humanities people, but I may be able to arrange for a few non-University people to attend; feel free to get in touch.
June 2-4. Feral Vector is a game design conference in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. It’s explicitly designed to be affordable and accessible to indie/altgame types, especially those not ordinarily in reach of London events. I went last year and had a great time. This year I will be presenting, and of course will be up for chatting about narrative games in general. (Ordinarily I list events only a month or so in advance, but you should get your tickets for this sooner rather than later if you want to participate.)
Worthy Things. Choice of Games is auctioning off cameos in a few of its upcoming games; proceeds benefit homeless youth. If you’ve ever wanted to appear in a Max Gladstone story, now is your chance.
The XYZZY Awards are running now, and anyone familiar with IF is welcome to vote. (We’re just at the transition between first and second round voting — if you hurry, you might be able to sneak in a first-round vote to determine nominees.) In addition, the XYZZY website is running essays on last year’s nominees in each category (the “XYZZYmposium”), starting with Gabriel Murray on Best Story. Murray’s article starts with a useful enumeration of the qualities he’s personally looking for in Best Story games, which makes it useful even beyond its careful analysis of the specific pieces he covers.
If you liked my bibliography of IF history, you might also enjoy this Blind Panels podcast with Andrew Plotkin, in which he presents his own oral history of the evolution of interactive fiction. He goes into a bit more depth than I did both about his own work and how it fits into development, and about technical innovations in different periods.
I also did a bit of an overhaul on my IF community participation page. Probably still imperfect, but it is now less stuck in 2012.
New Releases. These are by no means all the new releases in the past month, just things I happen to know/have heard a reasonable amount about. TinyUtopias is an accidental game jam — I mentioned the idea on Twitter and several people immediately participated; eventually I wrote a small thing for it as well. Cat Manning has a write-up collecting the entries and explaining a bit more about the backstory.
Lynnea Glasser’s new Choice of Games piece The Sea Eternal is now available, along with a sizable developer diary. (If you’re interested in design issues around ChoiceScript stat management, as I am, she has a whole post devoted just to that.)
Elixir is a Ludum Dare Twine about trans experience by way of fantasy and monstrosity — borrowing a page from Monsterhearts — and it also incorporates its own constructed language you gradually and partially learn in the course of play.
Porpentine has a miniature museum site with exhibits that you can only view at certain times of day. (At the time of writing, it appears to be open just after midnight in Pacific time.)
Reference and Representation: An Approach to First-Order Semantics is a new parser game by Ryan Veeder, even though it sounds like the PDF of a thesis. I haven’t had a chance to play yet.
The illustrated IF game Lifestream is now available, and is an attempt to do commercial IF that emulates trad parser IF but with a button/menu-driven interface and illustrations. I haven’t played, but Hanon Ondricek has written up some impressions from the demo.
Tools. Here’s an article from No Time To Play that argues that the proliferation of IF authoring tools is not a problem, and takes a close look at Undum, Ramus, and Squiffy.
Here’s a Gamasutra write-up on ink and why inkle decided to open-source the tool; you can also see the video of their GDC talk. And, of course, I’ve written up some notes on the Oxford/London Meetup and our recent tools-focused meeting.
Yarn is a new tool designed for putting choice-based games onto mobile devices. It currently features some ports of existing Twine games, especially ones that aren’t too heavy on the hypertext features.
GDC Vault coverage of IF-related topics. I highly recommend the Narrative Innovation Showcase, and maybe also this article about interesting use of AI in recent games including Ice-Bound.
All Choice, No Consequence is the slide set from a GDC 2016 Narrative Summit talk I didn’t actually attend, but talks about branching narrative design for Pocket Gems’ Episode series.(They are hiring, incidentally.)
As a matter of art, I tend to disagree with some of the suggestions here, or at least feel that they’re not universally applicable: they recommend minimizing the number of important branches and planning for a single through-line plot before considering any branches at all, which is certainly a valid approach but discounts a lot of opportunities to use mechanics to communicate. They also recommend that you make sure the choices you give players are being picked roughly equally, whereas I find that it’s sometimes fun to have one choice in a set that’s obviously a bit of an outlier or even that’s designed for players who are intentionally willing to play suboptimally. (See also: the Mr Eaten storyline in Fallen London.)
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see: this is a company that doesn’t as far as I know have a huge amount of contact with the traditional IF community, but is doing lots and lots of branching narrative content creation.
If you are more interested in puzzles, here are the slides from Jolie Menzel’s workshop on puzzle design from GDC. Many of these observations will be familiar to long-time parser puzzle creators, but not all; I particularly appreciated the visualization of puzzle complexity in Portal and the way it maps against the development of the story arc. There’s also a nice bibliography, for those who get through the deck and want further reading.
Business of IF and Narrative Gaming. Speaking of GDC videos, here’s a talk on the Indiepocalypse, which talks about Steam and indie game sales, and a slide set on Framed, which discusses their strategy for winning awards and establishing themselves as a quality piece of work. (Personally I wish there had been more to the actual story of Framed; the schedule they followed may have made it harder to come back to content issues.)
Also worth seeing free on the GDC Vault, the #1ReasonToBe panel presents some of the geographical diversity of game design, with designers from Zambia, South Africa, and a number of other countries that aren’t typically able to send representatives to GDC.
R&D, Procedural Text, and Procedural Narrative. In this video, Chris Martens and Lindsey Bieda play Hearthstone while talking about Chris’ research. Chris is doing some really interesting, advanced work thinking about languages and tools that could produce new types of narrative experience.
Here’s Ross Goodwin on procedural narrative generation and the idea that this makes us “writers of writers”. This in turn I found from Liza Daly’s article on training a classifier to distinguish “nice” from “naughty” X-Files fanfic.
Practices in Procedural Generation is another GDC talk I wasn’t able to attend myself, discussing generating mythological backgrounds for Dwarf Fortress and Moon Hunters. The myth generator for Dwarf Fortress then establishes certain spells and functions that are going to work in that world, as well.
Michael Cook talks about how he wrote a bot to come up with punny hamburger names, using rhyming resources and corpora of movie names and common sayings.
Nick Montfort (Twisty Little Passages, Ad Verbum, et al) has a new book out from MIT Press on Exploratory Programming. Among other goodies, the contents include introductions to various ways of manipulating and classifying text, using WordNet, and other techniques that might be of interest if you’re looking into playing with procedural text but aren’t sure how to start. It also introduces visualization techniques, ways of manipulating sound, and more. To go with the book’s launch, he’s also doing a series of workshops.
Criticism. Bruno Dias writes about environmental storytelling and the prevalence of corpses for Giant Bomb, and also appears on the Giant Bomb podcast.
Katherine Cross has a long article on Ice-Bound Concordance, in particular the way the AI character recapitulates some of the experiences and frustrations of female writers.
Education. At the Interactive Pasts conference on gaming and history, archaeologists participated in a workshop in interactive fiction that introduced Twine, Inform, and Squiffy as possible tools for presenting historical settings or other stories teaching archaeology.
Adam Saltsman lists books about design he finds useful.
Adjacent storytelling fields. Escape from Reality is a new podcast about room escape games. The first episode talks about what design expectations are like in this space, about the differences between what room-escape enthusiasts want and what new players want, and ideas for future room escape designs.
VR/AR-curious readers may already have encountered Wired’s article about the tech and possibilities at Magic Leap, and the idea of Mixed Reality, a blend of our own surroundings and the surroundings layered over them by software.
Dan Grover writes a really interesting post about chat apps, what they are and aren’t good for, why they’re a bigger deal in China than in the US, and why possibly bots aren’t the platform of the future. Useful, especially if like me you’ve been curious about the hype surrounding this idea.
Sometime IF author Harry Giles writes about performance art and the artists’ responsibility of care towards the audience (and in some cases vice versa). It’s mostly describing live events, but much of what it has to say is applicable to games as well, especially when it comes to accessibility, content warnings, and the creation of safe spaces. I also appreciated the reflections about how useful it is to have quiet/chill-down rooms available at events.
Sam Kabo Ashwell cowrote a one-shot murder mystery/Monsterhearts LARP, and is blogging about how that went down.
Meanwhile, spooky action at a distance, the SF/IF review, interviews Max Gladstone about writing Craft universe novels and interactive fiction — and the differences between processes, between concepts of genre in different fields, and more.
These are getting really long. I may move to doing link roundups every two weeks instead of once a month — would that be better? Or do you like the once-a-month thing?