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.

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Failbetter is Hiring a Writer/Narrative Designer

My employer, Failbetter Games, is currently hiring a writer and narrative designer. We’re all working remotely right now, so we can potentially hire from outside the UK, though the ability to overlap with our core 11-4 UK hours is still needed.

The job description covers the key points.

If you’re interested in the things I typically blog about — narrative design, choice construction, structural thinking, the intersection of numbers and stories — this may be very much your kind of job. We have multiple kinds of interesting challenges to work on, a very supportive studio, and some really excellent colleagues.

If you think this might be you, please please do apply.

Joining Failbetter

As of today, I’ve joined Failbetter Games as Creative Director.

Failbetter is a company very close to my heart: I’ve written for them many times as a freelancer over the past decade, and they provided key assistance when I was starting the Oxford/London IF Meetup. I have great respect for their focus on quality prose and storytelling, as well as their pioneering work exploring what storylet-driven narrative design can do.

I have a certain amount of freelance work ongoing from the past couple of months, with FBG’s blessing; and will have some pre-defined bandwidth to keep my hand in consulting. So if you see me out and around doing a few other things, that’s why.

I’m very excited to be on this team, and looking forward to what we build together!

Career-related News

I’m excited to say that as of Friday, I’m Chief Product Officer at Spirit AI. (The company website hasn’t had time to catch up with this yet, I know.)

I’ve been managing Character Engine for a couple of years now; I’ve been on Spirit’s board, and thus increasingly involved in the business side of the company, since the middle of last year. The promotion means that from here on I’ll also be directly involved with Ally, our product for detecting and responding to toxic interactions in online communities.

I am still doing a lot that’s directly tied to interactive narrative. (In fact, I’ve got a couple of blog posts lined up for this month about some of the interactive storytelling implications of Character Engine, for those who are curious about what we’ve been working on all this time.) And both products draw heavily on how we understand language, both its literal meaning and the social implications of words. Spirit employs some awesome talent in data science, natural language processing, and computational linguistics.

Meanwhile, Ally addresses a problem of how to build and protect healthy communities. That’s extremely important, and it’s an area where we need good technology and careful thought about the ethics of what we’re building. (And we’re hiring.)

So this continues to be a compelling job, and I’m working alongside some really terrific people. If you count the time I spent contracting before we had investment money, I’ve been working with Spirit in some capacity for nearly three years now — here’s hoping the next three years are as amazing as the last.

Sunless Skies: Carillon, Sky Barnet, et al

Failbetter Games’ Sunless Skies is out, as of January 31, and I contributed: Carillon, a port in which Devils work to refine the souls that come their way; Sky Barnet, the gateway to the Blue Kingdom; and the Repentant Devil’s officer quest. There was also some nightmare content, a story that you can fall into if your terror grows too great.

I’m going to talk a bit more about those stories; this will be light on any actual specific spoilers, but it will touch on the general lore of Sunless Skies and the Fallen London universe.

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Cragne Manor

cragneCragne Manor is now available!

Considering the number of authors on this game, it feels possible that every person who is interested in parser-based interactive fiction is already part of this project. But I know there are a few exceptions, so for those who aren’t already familiar:

Cragne Manor was organized by Ryan Veeder and Jenni Polodna as a 20-years-later tribute to Michael Gentry’s classic 1998 Lovecraftian horror game Anchorhead. They put out an open call to the IF community for authors to write one room each — without being able to see each other’s work — and they themselves would stitch the results together.

I think it’s fair to say this succeeded more thoroughly than they anticipated. More than 80 authors created rooms for Cragne Manor — some of them small, atmospheric rooms like mine; others packed with story or constituting ingenious set-piece puzzles; still others brief and elegant vignettes. There are some individual author contributions in Cragne that would make respectable IF Comp entries in their own right. Not only that, but Ryan and Jenni did an epic amount of work, with great ingenuity, to come up with a puzzle structure that would make all of those disparate pieces contribute to a functional, enjoyable gameplay flow.

I haven’t finished it — a reflection partly of my supply of free time, but also the fact that this game is huge. But I can tell you already that if you like parser IF, you want to play this. It’s sometimes scary, sometimes disgusting, sometimes funny, sometimes weird, and sometimes all of those at once — but I’ll let you find the horse for yourself. And somehow all that surreal adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts.

Thanks, Ryan and Jenni. This was really, really fun.