Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood (Andrew Schneider)

title screen.jpgOut today for iOS is Nocked, a Robin Hood adventure story by Andrew Schneider, which ran a successful Kickstarter back in December. Here’s the blurb:

Rob from the rich and give to the poor, cross swords with the Sheriff of Nottingham, and above all, lead Sherwood through the turning of the seasons and into a new age.

By your actions, gain gold, renown, followers, and even a measure of grace. Then spend those resources to fortify your forest home, accomplish special missions, and change the course of Sherwood’s destiny. Will you save your plundered gold to rebuild the walls of your home, or send it to the poor and dispossessed to increase your renown and attract Merry Men to your cause? And what of the rising bounty on your head?

Consider your choices carefully, for the consequences of your actions are not always readily apparent. For better or ill, in ways both small and large, you will change the course of history.

 

In story terms, Nocked! shares some of the features of a Choice of Games piece: it starts at the beginning of Robin’s career as an outlaw and allows the player to build up his (or her) resources and personality, then play out subsequent adventures. And rather like a Choice of Games work, Nocked! advertises itself on the strength of its size and massively branching narrative: more than 400K words! Five distinct backstory options! Fifty possible endings!

iPhone Nocked Knight Screen

Note the “Remaining Daylight: Sunset” feature at the bottom of the screen.

The “true tales” subtitle or title extension might seem to suggest that this is going to be a particularly historically accurate rendition of Robin Hood. It’s… really not. Early in your adventures you may encounter a unicorn, a talking wolf, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s mystically enormous hounds, and/or a lesson in archery-related spell-casting. Likewise, the game lets you be the long-lost heir to the throne of England whether or not you’re male (and there are other male contenders; this isn’t a Queen Elizabeth kind of situation).

Gold, men, and renown accrue when you do useful or clever things (or, like, steal stuff); you can then spend these again to get out of problematic situations. Meanwhile, certain chapters of the story have their own special timing stats: for instance, you can be wandering in the woods and have an indicator at the bottom of the screen of how much daylight time you have remaining — a reminder of your current limits and constraints.

All this makes sense to a degree, though I found myself bothered by the use of Robin’s men as an expendable stat, especially given how freely the resource is given out in play. One of the very first actions I took gained me something like 55 men; another action took away 80 again. Maybe this makes sense as a representation of how frequently the player is expected to be deploying manpower, but it felt dissonant with the fiction when it happened — partly because it’s hard to imagine suddenly accruing 50-odd followers without significant effort, and partly because the protagonist’s easy-come, easy-go attitude to said followers made it hard to believe in him as a legendary leader.

The storytelling is packed with event — battles, fires, chases, magic lessons, unicorn sightings, ambushes in narrow ravines, misplaced royalty — and the writing is rather less concerned with developing a coherent personality for the protagonist. The prose style is sometimes actively clunky:

A horse with a sparkling horn that rises from its forehead grazes on a nearby hilltop.

It’s not mostly quite so awkward about its noun phrases, nor so Lisa Frank in its imagery — I’ve cherrypicked. But I did sometimes feel that the whole thing was creaking a bit under the strain of those 400,000 words, which perhaps did not have time to be thoroughly edited.

What you get in exchange is a huge amount of narrative consequence for your choices. I played a good bit, but I haven’t talked much about the plot because I can’t be sure that your plot experience will be anything like mine.

Nocked! is built in an engine that brings Twine to mobile (not, I should add, the only such engine — there are other commercial IF games that are Twine under the skin). This variant displays mostly text, but with a strip of illustration at the top to establish setting, and a menu / status bar area at the bottom. I thought this worked pretty well, while keeping the majority of the screen for the text.

Strayed (Adventure Cow)

Strayed.png

Out today for Android is Strayed, an interactive fiction game by Adventure Cow. It includes writing by Gavin Inglis (known around here for Hana Feels, Eerie Estate Agent, several Fallen London stories):

You’re only fifteen miles from home; but those fifteen miles are a lonely road through woods drenched in mystery, that many locals dare not enter. Rain batters your windscreen; your radio reports an aggressive beast, lashing out against passers-by; and there is something — something — waiting on the road ahead. Your decisions will matter in this game; perhaps more than you think.

As this is currently an Android release, I haven’t had a chance to play it myself.

Procedural Generation in Game Design

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.10.14 AM.pngProcedural Generation in Game Design is out! Kate Compton of Tracery fame writes about generative art toys; Mike Cook (PROCJAM, Games by Angelina) writes about ethical generation and also about the procedural generation of game rules; Harry Tuffs (A House of Many Doors) writes about procedural poetry generation. Jason Grinblat and Brian Bucklew (Caves of Qud) each have a chapter. Gillian Smith (Threadsteading, plus lots of cool research) writes about evaluating and understanding what’s been generated. Ben Kybertas (Kitfox Games) covers procedural story and plot generation.

The whole volume is edited by Tanya X Short (Moon Hunters) and Tarn Adams (Dwarf Fortress). And I am leaving out a lot of cool people and chapters here, but you can check out the full table of contents on the website.

My contribution — drawing on experiences from Versu, my character-based parser IF, and assorted other projects — is a chapter on characters: how generating dialogue and performances can help realize an authored character; approaches to generating characters; considerations about what is even interesting to auto-generate.

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And in a related update to a previous post: I’m happy to say that the PROCJAM Kickstarter has succeeded and has now put out a call for artists to make art packs for procedural work, together with a call for tutorial authors. If their funding goes even higher, they’ll be able to commission two art packs; translate the tutorials they build into additional languages; and hit some other cool stretch goals.

Voyageur Launched

The Descent Device: faster-than-light travel at speeds no human should go; an alien mystery. But it only goes one way, falling from star to star towards the centre of the galaxy. Voyageur is a literary RPG where you take the helm of a trader-vagabond vessel, looking for adventure, wealth, and answers in an infinite galaxy full of procedural cultures and civilizations.

I’ve occasionally mentioned here Bruno Dias’ development work on Voyageur, a text exploration and trading game through procedurally generated worlds and spaces. It launches today for iOS and Android! Here’s the launch video:

IF Only column on Rock Paper Shotgun

I’m pleased to say that Rock Paper Shotgun has invited me to do a fortnightly column on interactive fiction. For those who aren’t familiar with RPS, they’re a gaming site focused on PC games. They’ve often given coverage to interactive fiction in the past, listing Comp highlights or tucking some IF releases into larger lists of freeware games. They decided to go bigger, though, so they’ve given me a pretty broad scope to cover whatever IF works, authors, and events might interest RPS readers. This is awesome of them.

In practice, that means that I’ll be writing about the same amount as before, but that some news, reviews, game lists, and analysis will wind up at RPS rather than on this blog — and thus in front of a much larger readership.

But you can still expect to see fresh material appearing here, including link roundups, craft and technique discussions, IF Meetup event reports, reviews of mobile IF that wouldn’t be a good RPS fit, and so on. And I’ll link across from here to my IF Only content, in case you find that an easier way to track what I’m writing.

The Mary Jane of Tomorrow

mj_of_tomorrow.jpgFor IF Comp 2015, I offered as a prize to contribute a piece set in the same universe as the author’s game. Steph Cherrywell chose this prize for Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, which was exciting, since I’d enjoyed Brain Guzzlers a lot; and also slightly daunting, since Steph obviously didn’t need any help in coming up with art or feelies. Originally I was going to write a short story, but as I replayed the game and reviewed transcripts, I was hit with an idea for something more interactive. The result is The Mary Jane of Tomorrow, a not-too-difficult parser puzzle game set a few months after the events of Brain Guzzlers. (Estimated play time roughly 45 minutes, give or take.)

In the tradition of fanfic, it focuses on the relationship between a couple of the characters in the original game, Mary Jane Minsky and Jenny Yoshida. In canon, their closeness is demonstrated in various ways but never given center stage.

Gameplay-wise, The Mary Jane of Tomorrow is about training a robot to demonstrate certain personality and knowledge traits. To do that, the game makes extensive use of procedural text, borrowing the text generation library and even some of the corpora I used for Annals of the Parrigues. After the fold, I’ll talk about Mary Jane as a procedural text project, but it’s spoilery, so you probably want to play it first if you think you might enjoy it.

Steph decided she wanted to share her prize with the public, so The Mary Jane of Tomorrow is now available to play — and she even very kindly made some cover art for it, to match up with the rest of her work.

The game’s been uploaded to the IF Archive; in the short term, there’s also a Dropbox link for it, which I’m hoping will hold up until the file moves out of Archive Pending.

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