Downfall (Caroline Hobbs / lessthanthree )

downfall_cover.pngDownfall is a story game about creating and destroying a culture with a tragic flaw. During the creation portion, you choose a characteristic that is going to be the defining aspect of this new society… and is going to lead to its ruin.

The world-building portion is extremely satisfying — Sam Ashwell’s post gives a good overview of the general concept and functionality here.

In the session I played recently, we started with the flaw of Egalitarianism and a couple of related images (water, lakes, towers), and fairly soon had sketched out Titan Prime, a colony of turrets on an otherwise inhospitable moon. The original colonists had come from Earth generations before, but further ships never arrived, and the colony was now operating more or less independently, recycling all of its water and conserving its resources.

In the next stage of world-building, we established traditions of public and private fashion (everyone always wore uniforms in public); funerals (people were dehydrated for their water, then buried anonymously); justice (judge and jury roles were assigned by lottery, though once you’d been lottery-drafted you did receive some training); family (children were always fostered to someone other than a birth parent); and relationships (there was a complex system to make sure that you didn’t date your birth-sister even despite the fostering scenario). This is a fairly detailed place to get to on a half hour or so of gameplay, and I could easily imagine blending this with other campaign styles, or going over to a game of Microscope here to flesh out the historical events around the story.

The play of actual scenes, I found less tightly constructed.

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Mid-February Link Assortment

February 17, the London IF Meetup is doing a Saturday afternoon workshop on using ink and Unity together. This is one of the best methods for creating professional-looking standalone IF applications, and we’ll help you get started with the tools you need.

February 21 is the next meetup of the People’s Republic of IF, in Cambridge MA.

March 1 is the deadline to register if you intend to enter Spring Thing 2018; April 1 is the date to actually submit the games themselves. Spring Thing is the second largest annual IF competition, and runs on slightly different terms than IF Comp in the fall. Among other things, there is usually an option to submit experimental, unfinished, or unusual works in the “Back Garden,” meaning that they are distributed but not ranked or given prizes. It’s a great way to get involved without the actual competition part, which isn’t ideal for all authors or all works.

March 3 is the next meetup of the SF Bay IF Meetup group.

March 4, Dublin Interactive Fiction Writing Meetup convenes for an introductory lunch.

March 5, there is a reading of procedural literature at the Harvard Book Store (Cambridge, MA) with Nick Montfort, John Cayley, Liza Daly, and Allison Parrish, at 7pm.

March 7, Oxford/London IF Meetup hears from Greg Buchanan on writing for games from IF and indie to AAA projects.

The Opening Up Digital Fiction competition runs through March 15, 2018. (Previously announced as February.) It offers cash prizes and the possibility of future publication.

March 17, Queer Code London holds a workshop on graphical uses of Twine (co-sponsored by the Oxford/London IF Meetup).

March 20, Sunderland Creative Writing Festival offers a workshop on writing choose your own ending stories (looks like it’s focused on craft and choice design, and might be non-digital).

I will be at GDC March 19-23, speaking at the AI Summit and present at the Spirit AI expo floor booth.

Through March 21, the MIT Rotch Library (77 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor) is running an exhibit about computer-generated books called Author Function.

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Articles

Anya Johanna DeNiro wrote about my ancient game Pytho’s Mask for sub-q magazine.

Bruno Dias writes about controlling scope in your game.

Joey Jones has a manifesto on puzzle design and incorporating puzzles effectively into narrative.

Releases

amulet.jpgMike Gentry’s 1998 classic Anchorhead is now available in an updated, illustrated version on Steam and Itch, with some new puzzles. Bruno Dias writes about the release for PC Gamer. Mike is even doing a new batch of feelies for the game, including the nifty pewter charm (shown), and a map of the town. A word of warning about this: apparently the contents of the game have changed just enough that walkthroughs for the original version may be unhelpful. But if you want to get hints, you may be able to find help from the good people on the intfiction forum.

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Mailbag: IF Candidates for Porting

What IF story would be best for someone with limited time and resources to re-create as a 3D and even VR game? It would have to be under some license such as a Creative Commons license, where derivatives are allowed and preferably a license that allows commercial derivatives.

Before I answer this, I feel I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t ask why you want to attempt this, and whether you’re sure you’ve thought it through.

Text adventures are good at evocative sense of place (and other events) on a budget; at allowing a huge palette of verbs; at geographical exploration and large game spaces; at (if desired) long play times, sometimes extending over months; at capturing a character’s interiority and viewpoint; at creating a very complicated world state that can offer persistent consequences for the player.

VR is good at intense, 10-20 minute experiences. VR works tend towards limited and simple controls, and require intense asset work for every setting. On many (especially budget) VR systems, they induce the least nausea if the protagonist doesn’t move around that much. Meanwhile, IF levels of world state in VR are a pain, because either that state isn’t visible (in which case, how does the player know?) or it is (in which case, you have to make variations on your assets in order to represent those state changes). Cut scenes and branching narrative outcomes, also cheap(ish) in text, may be very expensive in VR in that they may require animations or additional assets.

Not only that, but any game with a complex parser-based experience is going to be untenable: no one wants to type in VR; you could hook up voice-recognition but it’s likely to multiply the parser errors that are already irritating on the screen ordinarily. There are lots of great one-room IF games, from Rematch to Aisle, that rely heavily on the inventiveness of the player’s input. These would also be a poor match for VR in most instances.

Some similar things are true of 3D games in general, though less so. In a text adventure, you can write a randomized “[The character] is [one of]whistling a jaunty tune[or]staring out the window[or]playing solitaire[at random]” sentence, and you’ve just accomplished something that would take days of idle animation work in 3D.

So that raises the question of what you’re hoping to get by adapting a text game to a very much non-text medium, and whether it wouldn’t make more sense to come up with a new story suited to the affordances of your target medium. The best piece of advice I can offer here is just “don’t do this.” VR is really, really very much its own beast and even 3D console gameplay doesn’t always map at all well to that space.

But, okay. Let’s say that for some reason you don’t want to take the easier route and write a story customized to the storytelling possibilities of VR. What would be the least-awful IF game to port to VR, given minimal development resources?

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Instead of Power

CarrieThis is part review, part essay. There are light spoilers for Naomi Alderman’s The Power and N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and major spoilers for The Last Jedi.

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I wrote previously about my hopes for The Last Jedi: that I wanted to see a movie about Leia as an older female leader, a woman of command. I felt the need for that movie badly. I wasn’t at all sure I was going to get it.

So I went to the cinema in a spirit of apprehension and hope.
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Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games (Giglio/Bryant)

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Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games (2015). This book builds from the following thesis statement:

The story has to involve the player. The player has to want to do and see cool things in the game world… the game mechanics (such as dragon slaying) should enhance the story, and vice versa. They have to work in concert. We’ll guide you through the coming pages so you understand how to tell your story through gameplay in an integrated fashion. (26)

The book is aimed at film writers who want to get into games, at game writers who want to improve their skillsets, and at enthusiasts who are into narrative games in general. Helpfully, the authors provide an overview (33-35) of which chapters to read if you’re coming from a particular background. There are also quite a few exercises for the user of the book, starting with designing a narrative board game and moving up from there.

In contrast with Steve Ince’s take, Bryant and Giglio are optimistic about where story is going in games and excited about the possibilities. While AAA games and development processes get plenty of attention, that’s not their only point of interest. They call out successes in the independent game space (for instance profiling all the best narrative IGF nominees from 2014) and even in IF. (In the spirit of full disclosure: this blog gets a mention.)

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Next-Generation Design Tools for Narrative Content

This Friday I had the pleasure of speaking to the AAAI workshop Knowledge Extraction from Games, which focused on gathering information from games and putting that information to use: for instance, studying level design in a platformer in order to find standard rules about platformer design or to propose alternative level designs that the creators might not have considered.

I was invited to talk about this topic from a designer’s perspective, looking particularly at how these techniques could be valuably applied to narrative games. And the problem, as I outlined it, was as follows:

Games that aspire to offer a lot of narrative agency often face the following challenge: they need a number of distinctive, hand-authored units of content (whether those are dialogue lines for Character Engine, storylets in a quality-based narrative system, or choice nodes in a ChoiceScript game) where each individual unit may both affect and be affected by the underlying world state.

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