2016 Retrospective

(As mentioned yesterday, this is about my own work in 2016, since I’ve already posted a year-in-IF overview at Rock Paper Shotgun. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s over there.)

The Empress’ Shadow is my latest story for Fallen London, and it is now available for purchase if you’re a player of that game:


Teach at Sinning Jenny’s Finishing School! Recruit students and train them in important skills, such as deportment and maiming. Then send the class to plunder the secrets of the Empress’ Shadow – Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, who is visiting from the surface!

Unlike some of my other recent Fallen London pieces, this one doesn’t require you to be an Exceptional Friend. It’s playable at any skill level, though at least a little initial familiarity with the world will make it more enjoyable.

I had a lot of fun writing this one, and it’s been warmly received by the first batch of players.

deceased_promoI’ve written several other pieces for the Fallen London universe this year: the three ports of Anthe, Aigul, and Dahut for the Sunless Sea Zubmariner expansion, a Sunless Sea officer storyline about the Cladery Heir, and an Exceptional Friends story called The Frequently Deceased. As always, Failbetter is a huge amount of fun to work with.

I’ve also done a lot of work on other commercial projects. Most of those pieces are not out, and several are not even announced as yet, so there will be more to share in the first part of 2017. One thing I can mention: my Choice of Games project Platinum Package has grown to a dauntingly large word count.

For much of 2016, I’ve been working on conversational and emotional NPC behavior for Spirit AI. It’s too soon talk much about the internals of that project, which is why I have kept this comparatively quiet, but I’m very excited about it. I have the pleasure of working alongside Aaron Reed of IF fame; Toby Nelson (who has done lots of AAA game work but is best known to this audience for his work on the Mac Inform app); Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris (whose work includes Redshirt and this terrific GDC talk on designing games for social simulation); and James Ryan (some of his awesome work on social modelling and dialogue generation is written up here).


Since roughly June, I’ve had a column with Rock Paper Shotgun called IF Only. Because RPS is specifically about PC gaming, I don’t cover the rich range of IF for mobile there — but there’s been plenty else to say. It’s great to have the opportunity to present interactive fiction to a bigger audience in that venue.

That’s moved a little bit of content off this blog, though I still do write here about topics that I think are too niche or specialist for the RPS audience. I figure that’s probably a net gain for the IF community, though: the audience for Rock Paper Shotgun is several orders of magnitude greater than the audience for this site.

I gave over a dozen talks or workshops in 2016, for a range of audiences from high school students to professional game developers to general audiences.

I also worked on improving the Oxford/London IF Meetup a bit — securing more central and accessible meeting spaces when we meet in London, and doing more to reach out to speakers. I hope to do more of that in the new year, and I have some possibilities in mind; as always, if you’re a participant or would-be participant in that group, feel free to let me know about things you’d like to see happen. I will almost certainly do another tools-focused session sometime in the first half of 2017, though probably not before GDC. Tools sessions are intended to let creators of new tools to share their work with interested IF authors, collect feedback, and ideally even let people do some hands-on work.

Since April when I talked about this last, I’ve made a few process changes to how I do IF community support, and I’m especially grateful to those who took over maintenance on Counterfeit Monkey, which is now open source and has benefitted from assorted debugging and improvements that I did not have the bandwidth to take care of. I’ve become much more rigorous about tracking my time usage and establishing priorities. I’m still not accomplishing what I would like to accomplish in this area, though, and I’ll be bringing on a part-time assistant starting next month. Some of that will be for paid-work-related reasons, but some will be to help balance community-related load.

This year I backed off my IF Comp reviewing process and did not attempt to review every beta-tested game in 2016. That was a good idea: this year was even bigger than last year, and I had more paid work on at the time, so the juxtaposition would have been entirely unworkable. But I think it was also a helpful move from a community perspective as well. I did still write some content about the competition but was able to focus on outreach to Rock Paper Shotgun and on giving blog coverage to specific work where I felt I particularly had something to say.

Finally, there were a few brief exceptions this year to the no-personal-projects rule:

maryjaneI wrote a parser-based game called The Mary Jane of Tomorrow, set in the same world as Steph Cherrywell’s Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! and as a competition prize for her. It does extensive procedural text variation in order to allow the player to train up a robot in various styles of dialogue. She was kind enough to make some cover art for that piece, too.

I also put together a tiny Texture piece called Endure, where the interaction is about translation as a primary focus.

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