Mid-December Link Assortment

Events

December, man. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do not foresee having any time in the second half of December for IF-related events where you have to actually move your body to a new location in order to participate. This space left blank and possibly snowy.

Craft

Adam Strong-Morse from Choice of Games writes about how to do effective end-game structures:

An arm-and-fingers structure is a game with several different final chapters where the player’s decisions determine which final chapter they experience on a given playthrough. Most of the game is the arm, with chapter leading to chapter more or less automatically, but the structure of the end of a game is like a hand, with entirely distinct and separate fingers branching off in each direction. Kevin Gold pioneered this structure in Choice of Robots to great effect, and Lynnea Glasser also used it well in The Sea Eternal. It can maintain a manageable structure that does not require writing thousands of different branches, while still creating the feeling that the end of the game depends on the player’s choices, not just in determining a final outcome, but in determining the entire feeling and plot of the game’s climax.

Josh Giesbrecht has shared a current-Inform implementation of my Waypoint Conversation concept. He welcomes submissions from other people, especially upgrades to the sample content.

No Time to Play has an article on the space between parser and choice games, and how the middle ground has opened up in interesting ways this year. I disagree with some of the article’s points — particularly about how much agency is available in Twine work, where I agree with Juhana Leinonen’s assessment the there’s typically far more narrative agency in a choice-based game than in a parser-based game — but the article makes a pitch for the newish Elm engine and makes some other suggestions you may not have seen elsewhere.

New Releases

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 6.21.18 PM.pngIn Ben Chill’s Horrors Anonymous, you’re a therapist specializing in the problems of assorted demons, monsters, and zombies. Though inwardly impatient, you nonetheless dispense assorted advice about how to manage their new, often undead lifestyles. The end features an extensive epilogue montage sequence where you see all the various monsters carrying out the advice you gave, and how their lives turn out as a result. For my tastes, Horrors Anonymous ran a little bit long relative to the amount of joke. But if you felt there just weren’t enough puns in SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!, you may find the extended mummy riff to your taste.

Sub-Q brings us The Tunnel from Natalia Theodoridou: a brief, bleak metaphor for the kind of depression that can’t foresee any ending.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 7.23.50 PM.png

The author deploys several clever mechanics: stretchtext in several scenes lets you access one character’s viewpoint, then another’s; some of the lettering responds to the passage of your cursor, in a way that makes sense in context; and I don’t quite want to spoil the final scene, but I like what it does. Twine and its ilk offer an impressive poetic vocabulary these days — text effects, timing, fades, wiggles and jolts for communication. Sometimes authors go way overboard with this, and I don’t always have a lot of patience with the goofier text-jiggles, but I like what Theodoridou has done here.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-07-41-10

This Cory Doctorow piece was billed to me as a piece of interactive fiction. (The art and blurb give a pretty good sense of what it’s about: “our cars drive themselves, but we all know that software is foolproof, so what could go wrong?“) The interactivity in this case consists of periodic opinion quizzes that ask the player what they think about various ethics and policy decisions relating to self-driving cars, and at the end of the story you can sign up to get a report on what other people have also chosen. (I didn’t do that.) There’s no narrative agency over the course of the story itself.

Light as this interaction is, I think it performs an interesting function, in that it reminds the reader of the collective decisions we all have to make as a society any time we introduce significant new technology to our lives. I’m not sure whether or not it’s likely to serve as a remotely accurate view of people’s beliefs and decisions about self-driving cars, though, simply because we’re so susceptible to immediate context that I imagine the story will strongly color what people choose. It would be kind of cool if it were possible to chart a change in the reader/player’s car-related attitudes just over the course of the narrative, as a kind of meta-experiment in the mutability of human opinions. As I haven’t actually seen the poll results, though, I can’t say whether they’re considering that kind of thing.

Eaten by a Grue is a new Infocom podcast by Kevin Savetz.

Articles

Hanon Ondricek shares a postmortem of his IF Comp 2016 game Fair.

Related

timepiece.jpgFans of Heather Albano’s Choice of Games IF might also be interested to know that she’s kickstarting a non-interactive steampunk novel.

Meanwhile, Christopher Huang‘s Peterkin mystery Murder at the Veteran’s Club is also still collecting pre-orders at inkshares. The protagonist Peterkin also appears in Huang’s series of logic-puzzle IF, Peterkin Investigates, of which there are now three episodes.

Those who benefit from euphoria’s &if space may be interested in supporting the euphoria Patreon to keep its operating expenses covered.

8 thoughts on “Mid-December Link Assortment

  1. Two things I’ve wished for in Texutre: One is an option to tap a verb to highlight relevant targets, then tap the target. I love the concept of dragging but there are situations where your elbows can become ungainly when trying to land the verb where it goes – for example while siting in a seat next to someone on an airplane.

    The other thing that might improve it is to be able to define a list of action verb phrases that are persistent on every page, which would appear along with the special case actions that only appear on a specific page. It would simplify some pieces if the author could set up that common actions like “examine” “take” “talk to” are consistent on every page, similar to the SCUMM graphic adventure interface.

    • Good point about Texture. Drag-and-drop has an even bigger problem, though: it’s a gesture many computer users find hard to master. Especially with a poor quality mouse and/or touchscreen, like I have. And I somehow doubt it gets along well with screen readers, either.

  2. Hey, thanks for the shout-out! To clarify, I think Twine games have the potential to give players considerable agency. But in practice, it can be hard to figure out how to write a good choice-based story, and even harder to execute on the concept. Hence all those quasi-linear Twines people complain about all the time.

  3. Huh, so I read the Leinonen piece you linked to and it didn’t seme to make any points at all about the relative potential for agency between choice-based games and parser games. The only mention of choice-based games I saw was a line about how they haven’t been very successful at solving the problem either. What am I missing here?

    I’m nowhere near an expert in this field – which is dangerous becasue it’s a field full of people who have already thought quite a lot about these topics – but it seems to be that there’s a fuzziness to some of these terms that is muddling the question. For example, before we can evaluate how difficult or easy it is for Inform or Twine or whatever to aid in the design of a branching narrative, we have to agree on what counts. Leinonen seems to suggest that if ultimately there’s only one ending then there’s not really a branching narrative. I’m not sure this is obvious — certainly the journey of a good IF game is more important than the ending moment.

    And Emily has linked this article for a point she’s making about agency. But this seems like a totally distinct topic. I’ve played single-room IF games that have imbued a sense of agency without having a narrative at all. Or without having more than a single, linear narrative. Plus, I’m not sure narrative isn’t inherently at odds with agency since narrative refers to the part of the story that is – by definition – being imposed (to some extent) on you.

    I think that the sense of agency that arises out of a parser game comes – in part – from the space of available actions *independent* of whether those actions are important to finish the game. Leinonen calls this world exploration but what has more agency and is more of an alternative narrative than choosing to explore the world as you want? Moreover, since it’s hard to know which actions matter and which ones don’t before you’re finished, the illusion of agency is stronger than it might seem in retrospect. When every action I take may or may not reward me with a change in the state of the world then every action I take contains purposed and has intent.

    Again, though, i’m not well versed in what the state of the IF community right now so I could be way off mark here.

    • The point of Juhana Leinonen’s article was that for all their exploration component, parser-based works tend to feature a linear chain of events triggered by solving key puzzles in the right order. In other words, a linear story that at best gives the illusion of agency (whether a beloved pet is dead at the end or not doesn’t really change history). While CYOA allows for branching more readily — indeed, it all but prods the author to add branching, which mean the player can read a genuinely different story each time.

      Which is all correct in principle, but in practice writing a branching story is still way harder than it seems, for two reasons: 1) good old combinatorial explosion means that the amount of writing required can quickly surpass an author’s time/ability to do it, and 2) the whole reason why people tell stories is to explore a particular event of chain or events — to try and understand why something that happened, or could happen, would take place in that particular way and no other. (Much like the whole point of cinematography is focusing the viewer’s gaze on the most important thing to see at any one time, from the most interesting angle. Being able to walk around a movie just means you can miss the look on an actor’s face that’s key to the entire story. Which is why interactive video, where you can choose your camera and such, was quickly abandoned.)

      And this is why, as many enthusiasts of the form discovered to their dismay, many Twines end up being (all but) completely linear — often, I suspect, to the author’s own disappointment. At least the visual novel crowd recognizes the issue, accepting kinetic novels, with no branches or choices at all, as a valid subgenre. Whereas we in the interactive fiction world still struggle with the concept of interactivity after all these decades.

      In our defense, so does the entire game industry. But that’s small consolation.

    • So the term I used here was *narrative agency*, which I at least use specifically to mean “ability to alter (even if only temporarily) the course of the plot.” Many players of IF and other video games do value narrative agency, and will often talk about it in terms of their ability to “make a difference” or “change things”. Narrative agency also seems, anecdotally, to affect player perception of replay value. (I have not done a quantitative study.)

      Obviously, that is not the only kind of agency that exists, nor do I think interactive stories with significant agency (narrative or otherwise) are the only interesting kind. But there are a lot of people in the IF community who will describe Twine pieces as stereotypically linear, and I wanted to point out that that is not necessarily the case, and from a storytelling perspective, often *less* the case than with parser games.

      “I think that the sense of agency that arises out of a parser game comes – in part – from the space of available actions *independent* of whether those actions are important to finish the game. Leinonen calls this world exploration but what has more agency and is more of an alternative narrative than choosing to explore the world as you want?”

      Traditionally I’ve tended to refer to part of that quality as freedom, following an article by Andrew Stern on Grand Text Auto at least a decade ago: https://grandtextauto.soe.ucsc.edu/2003/10/22/that-darn-conundrum/

      This also gets into your story-vs-agency point.

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