Seltani Jam

At a recentish Oxford/London IF Meetup, some participants expressed an interest in writing for, and playing with, Seltani.

If you’re not familiar with it, Seltani is Andrew Plotkin’s multiplayer choice-based narrative platform. It lets players explore a shared environment, view each others’ actions, and change the world in ways that will affect others — in some respects like a MUD — but unlike a MUD, it’s navigated through clickable links.

Seltani is themed around the worldbuilding of Myst — hence the names and a lot of the imagery of Seltani’s hub space. But there’s nothing to force you to write your individual contribution to be Myst-related at all, and various experimenters have done Seltani projects with a different focus and feel entirely. Jason McIntosh’s Barbetween, for instance, is an evocative art installation piece about making contact with the emotions of strangers.

So the Meetup is hosting a jam. On September 19, we’ll get together and play some Seltani games together — starting with any new games that have been submitted for our consideration.

If we don’t get a lot of contributions, that’s fine, and we’ll play some of Seltani’s existing content together. But if you’re interested in building a Seltani game and then seeing it actually experienced by a multiplayer crew, this is one way of doing that. (The meetup page will let you sign up for the Zoom call and the other interaction here.)

Below the fold, a little guidance on getting started with a new Seltani writing account, and a few other links.

Continue reading “Seltani Jam”

Mid-August Link Assortment

Events

The People’s Republic of IF, the Cambridge MA-based IF group, meets August 31 at 6:30 PM online.

September 1 is the deadline to register as an author for IF Comp, and the games themselves will be due September 28. This year, unusually, there is a move so that authors participating in the competition may also act as judges: this rules change may not be permanent, but it’s an experiment this year to help accommodate the growing number of authors and make sure games are getting enough voters.

Those entering IF Comp may also be interested in this best-practices discussion of how to write a walkthrough for the competition.

September 4, the SF Bay IF Meetup has its next meeting.

September 23-27 is the Game Devs of Color Expo, which is online this year — check out the awesome lineup of speakers here.

Talks and Articles

Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games has now covered King of Dragon Pass, which I strongly recommend reading: the game used techniques that we’re still very much exploring and discussing now, including elements we might now refer to as storylets with casting (that is, storylets that assign characters to particular roles). Well worth a look if you’re interested in the structure, code, or writing process of that game, or storylet games in general.

He has also done a lovely article on Galatea, getting into the context of its original creation and much Marnie Parker’s IF Art Show influenced the game in both form and content.

Hugo Labrande is offering a free monthly newsletter on retro text games called >REMEMBER. It offers histories and post-mortems; discussions of stripped down tools like tiny libraries for Inform 6 that will allow modern authors to write games that will still play on older systems and emulators; and discussions of text adventures in languages other than English, which often don’t get enough coverage.

In a completely different space: via @doougle , I ran into this article on The Missing Producer, discussing the problems that arise when indie game companies try to make do without a producer’s involvement, and a look at the types of sometimes-unacknowledged work that nonetheless must be done by someone.

Podcasts and Videos

The Dark & Stormy Nights podcast talks about Robin W. Bailey’s Zork novelisation The Lost City of Zork — and also some later interactive fiction pieces — with guest Rachael Jones.

Meanwhile, the Foundations of Digital Games conference has been in progress, and has been posting a bunch of talks and talk-related material to YouTube.

Competitions

ParserComp is over and the results announced. Brian Rushton’s Grooverland was the winner; he’s also written a postmortem.

Releases

If you like casual mobile games with a narrative element, roughly in the territory of Lily’s Garden — and if you live in the Canada/UK — you might also like Switchcraft — a match-3 game about girls at a magical school.

The story is a bigger component than usual for this kind of game, with a bunch of actual branching choices to make. I believe the title is not yet out in the US, but is expected to launch there later.

Last Kid Running is a gamebook series written for middle-grade readers by Singaporean author Don Bosco. The second book in the series is now out. Despite the physical gamebook format, Bosco is developing and testing his stories in Twine.

Mailbag: Plot. It’s a Problem.

I used to publish questions that people have asked me either by email or on Twitter. That went on a hiatus for the past year-and-a-bit, as I’d stepped back from blogging for a time. To kick off something similar again, I asked Twitter folks what they’d be most interested in seeing me write about.

One of the requests was an article on how to provide NPCs with enough agency that they’re not place holders for plot points.

Despite the terms here – NPCs, agency – this is not necessarily a question about AI, character modeling, or even game design generally.

This is fundamentally a plot question. If you want active, agency-holding characters, that means knowing which character wants what – or which character fears what; how they’re trying to get it; and what incidents happen as a consequence. Only sometimes do game mechanics or tech come into it at all.

Plotting is one of the most invisible kinds of work you can do on a story. Beautiful sentences, funny dialogue, worlds with striking and memorable setting ideas: readers can often identify what they’re looking at when they see those things, and aspiring writers have lots of comprehensible examples to work from.

But plot’s harder to see in that way. It’s structure, not surface. It’s everywhere and nowhere.

Continue reading “Mailbag: Plot. It’s a Problem.”

End of July Link Assortment

Events

The competition for games with a classic text parser, ParserComp, is just winding up now, so the results should be visible either now or in the very near future. And if you haven’t had a chance to play yet, you may enjoy checking out the range of games here.

August 2-6 is the Foundations of Digital Games conference, which is happening entirely online.

August 7 is the next SF Bay interactive fiction meetup.

August 22, the Seattle/Tacoma IF group meets from 2 PM to 4 PM PDT via Discord. It features Astrid Dalmady as the special guest, presenting some of her past work including Tangeroa Deep.

Programming Languages and Interactive Entertainment is a 2-day workshop running alongside the AIIDE conference. Jon Ingold will be giving an invited talk about ink.

Paper submissions are due by August 12, and the event itself will be October 11-12. This workshop also has a “conversation starters” track, where people are encouraged to submit materials to spur discussion groups. Demos of languages are also welcome. If you’re working on a domain-specific language for interactive fiction development, this might be a place to share what you’re working on.

September 1 is the deadline to register as an author for IF Comp, and the games themselves will be due September 28. This year, unusually, there is a move so that authors participating in the competition may also act as judges: this rules change may not be permanent, but it’s an experiment this year to help accommodate the growing number of authors and make sure games are getting enough voters.

Kickstarter

A Compendium of Lesser Known Cryptids is a non-interactive anthology but with some gamelike aspects, bringing together work by several game and interactive fiction writers:

A 50-75 page illustrated anthology of unique or “off-brand” cryptids compiled by the Seldom Valley Cryptid Society (SVCS). The SVCS documents its sightings with a variety of articles, diagrams, interviews, and photographs courtesy of more than ten independent researchers and consultants as well as a variety of field artists.  Compiled like a research file, the compendium is a valuable source for any cryptozoologist looking for something new.

Talks, Articles, Books

A bunch of talks from the Everything Procedural conference are now available online, including talks on procedural character and prop generation; Oskar Stålberg on Townscaper, a generative toy using the wave function collapse algorithm; and procgen storytelling for Wildermyth.

Aaron Reed’s ongoing series 50 Years of Text Games has now reached 1998, and covers Photopia.

Those who liked my GDC talk “Sigmoids for Storytellers” — or those who didn’t see it but just thought it sounded interesting — might also be interested in Bruno Dias’ article A Bestiary of Functions for Systems Designers.

Twining: Critical and Creative Approaches to Hypertext Narratives by Anastasia Salter and Stuart Moulthrop is an approach to Twine as a tool and various Twine games in particular. Its introduction speaks of teaching Twine as part of an undergraduate course in interactive narrative, and documents, in a quite accessible form, the experience of teaching that class specifically during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, and the ways that student projects reacted to the moment.

The chapters alternate between theoretical and practical discussions (with chapter headings marked T and P for clarity): the book is designed to help people interested in writing their first Twine story/game, but also to provide some historical background on the development of the tool and the surrounding communities, and to offer readings of both text and code from well-known Twine works.

The book is available as a free epub download.

The Uncanny Deck: Co-authoring with GPT-2

Artbreeder landscape, developed as an image of Booknesford, from Annals of the Parrigues. Angry citizens threw the last of the Parrigues from the cliff in order to execute her.

Many years ago, I started writing a fantasy story. In the story, there was a culturally important game you could play with friends, which was usually mostly a bit like poker.

The thing was, every once in a while you would draw some totally weird extra card that had never been in the pack before. The Steward of Hearts. The King of Arrows. Both suits and ranks were open to change.

In the story, this was the work of prophetic spirits.

I never finished writing the story because I was really less interested in the plot than I was in the deck itself — the idea of a set of symbols that was mostly known and constrained and human-made, but had an occasional dose of the uncanny.

To me, that dose of the uncanny is also part of the appeal of working with AI — the way it can, at its best, introduce elements that feel both significant and unexpected.

Over the past year or so, I’ve worked on and off on making a text generator that describes fortune-telling cards; where the deck has its own definite imagery and set of meanings; where the generator usually stays approximately on form; but where you sometimes find a card you would not expect at all.

The rest of the article goes a little bit into what I’ve done, what it produces, and why I find this an interesting way to write with a machine.

If you’d like your own experimental output from it: through this weekend (until early July 19), I’m supporting this fundraiser by generating tarot card readings or new Parrigues-style towns with this generator. If you’d like your own, donate any amount, then ping to let me know what you’d like. (More about that offer on Twitter.)

Now, the article:

Continue reading “The Uncanny Deck: Co-authoring with GPT-2”

Mid-July Link Assortment

Thanks

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that over the last year and a half, a lot of these posts have been signed “Mort Short” rather than “Emily.” This is because, for a lot of the pandemic, I haven’t had the time and energy to guarantee that the link assortment would happen on time twice a month.

But knowing how much it mattered to me to maintain the community support, my brother stepped up to help draft and schedule posts. He worked with me to keep the load as light as possible: often I’d forward him email or point him at items of interest online, and he’d pull together event dates, images, links, and summary text for me to review before it all went live.

He’s now stepped back again for the time being, but I wanted to acknowledge the kindness.

Events

July 28 is the next meetup of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction.

July 31 is the deadline to vote in ParserComp. There are a bunch of people currently writing reviews of these games.

August 7 is the next SF Bay interactive fiction meetup.

Programming Languages and Interactive Entertainment is a 2-day workshop running alongside the AIIDE conference. Paper submissions are due by August 12, and the event itself will be October 11-12. This workshop also has a “conversation starters” track, where people are encouraged to submit materials to spur discussion groups. Demos of languages are also welcome. If you’re working on a domain-specific language for interactive fiction development, this might be a place to share what you’re working on.

September 1 is the deadline to register as an author for IF Comp, and the games themselves will be due September 28. This year, unusually, there is a move so that authors participating in the competition may also act as judges: this rules change may not be permanent, but it’s an experiment this year to help accommodate the growing number of authors and make sure games are getting enough voters.

Articles

Here’s a fun interview with inkle about the development of Overboard!

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I know I’m constantly linking these, but Aaron Reed’s series 50 Years of Text Games continues to be excellent, and is now up to 1996 with Andrew Plotkin’s So Far.

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Mr Pages, from the Mask of the Rose art (Failbetter Games)

This month, I also published a blog post on Failbetter’s blog about character behaviour development for Mask of the Rose.

The game is built in ink, and doesn’t have the programmatic sophistication of something like Versu. But Mask does have its own notion of a social model, used to resolve how characters respond to the player and whether they’re willing to do as you ask.

That response-resolution plays out in the immediate performance as well as the long-term outcome. Even where the lines of dialogue don’t change, the system’s ability to distinguish between “hesitant cooperation” and “happy cooperation” may feed into character expressions and pacing of delivery (since we can do things like automate a brief pause).

These are nuances that could be scripted by hand, in theory, but in practice we just wouldn’t have time to do it.

Books and Games

Not new in general, but new to me: this week I came across A. M. Sartor’s illustrated interactive work, including a couple of hauntingly-depicted poems and storybooks.