GDC 2019 Previews

GDC is coming up, and I will be there! If you’d like to speak, please do get in touch. (And if you’re interested in learning more about Character Engine from me or one of the rest of the Spirit team, please drop me a line about that too.)

Also, if you’re an IF person coming to GDC for the first time, I’ve written previously about GDC survival strategies (scroll down), and most of the advice there still holds. This year, there is also a GDC 101 event for people who are attending their first conference.

I am one of the advisors for the AI summit this year, so I’ll be in that room pretty constantly Monday/Tuesday, and especially: participating in the Ethics panel and the AI Devs Rant session, as well as MCing the Experimental AI Workshop. I’m very excited about that session, as we’re bringing together some exciting projects from several different corners.

Below the fold I’ve pulled out my picks of things that might interest readers of this blog. As usual, there are too many talks I wish I could go to, many of them scheduled opposite one another, so I’m going to have to rely on the Vault for a few things…

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Oxford / London IF Meetup in 2018

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We’re putting together a cool selection of craft and design talks as well as tool workshops for next year — starting with a talk on story and mechanics from me in January, and a workshop on using ink with Unity in February. I’ve also got some very cool speakers who have expressed interest in joining us later in the year, covering a range of choice and parser IF, commercial and hobbyist work.

That’s all possible in part because we have a new, regular venue: Karlien Van Den Beukel is kindly hosting us at London South Bank University, which means we can afford to do more London events in 2018.

Work has me traveling a lot these days, so I am looking for support in a couple of areas to keep Meetups running regularly.

– volunteer co-hosts for London events in 2018 (multiple). Co-hosts promise to come to one or more specific events, do announcements, introduce the speaker, close the meeting again afterward, usher folks on to the pub at the end, and be on hand in case any issues arise. This is a limited time expenditure (mainly the event itself, and you can volunteer for as few as one). But it is a position of trust — please volunteer only if you’re committed, and willing to chat with me first about how we keep Meetups safe and welcoming.

– volunteer A/V assistant. I get requests to record our talks and make them available to people beyond London, but I don’t have equipment or experience with this. If we have someone who can take responsibility for recording and uploading talks, I’ll figure out which of our speakers are open to having their presentations captured.

– workshop presenter on an IF tool (other than ink and Tracery) in Oxford. Time of year is open, but I’m looking especially at early March, May or October, as students would be around. I’m in conversations with an Oxford maker-space that might host. This role pays an honorarium; if you’re new to running tool workshops, I’m also happy to offer coaching and suggestions.

If any of that sounds like you, please drop me a line at emshortif@gmail.com.

IF and Other Media

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June 14, the Oxford/London IF Meetup had talks from three speakers. First up was Tory Hoke of Sub-Q Magazine, who Skyped in from Los Angeles to talk about the process of founding and edition for Sub-Q. She gave us some background on how she got started, how she decided on the pay rate they currently use at Sub-Q, and a bit about the collaborative process.

Next we heard from Derek Moody, whose whodunnitmanor project is designed to facilitate multi-player mystery games, where the author has created clues and information for each player to discover at each turn. Different characters have different expertise, as one might expect in a mystery dinner party set-up, and they can decide what to share with one another during any given turn. When the players think they’ve figured out who is guilty, they can vote — which makes this partly a game of persuasion, like Werewolf, in which the guilty party is trying to pass off attention to everyone else.

Moody also talked about how his system is designed to support players who might not feel sure what they want to do, and how automated features take over if a player disconnects or skips out on the game — always issues in a multiplayer IF context.

Both Derek and Tory are currently seeking writers.

Finally, we heard from Nathan Penlington about his Choose Your Own Documentary project. Penlington is a collector of CYOA-style books — his blog documents many choice-based artifacts of all kinds — and at one point he bought numbers 1-106 of the original CYOA series in a single lot on eBay. When his set arrived, he found that the books contained notes from a Terence Prendergast, and several handwritten diary pages. He became fascinated with the question of what had happened to Terence and where he was now, so he made a documentary about the process of trying to track Terence down. The documentary itself was then performed in front of a live audience equipped with voting clickers so that they could respond to choice points in the story. So, to recap: Choose Your Own Documentary is a choice-based performance that is itself about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, as well as several people who became fascinated with them.

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Notes on New and experimental IF Tools

Last night the Oxford/London IF Meetup had a session on three tools, and I promised to write up some notes for the benefit of the people who weren’t able to attend.

inkle’s ink, the open-source, Unity-compatible language used by inkle for 80 Days and other projects. If you’re curious about ink and missed the session, there’s always Joe Humfrey’s GDC talk on the subject; but Jon also talked to us about The Intercept, the new free and open source ink/Unity game.

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Jon was a bit apologetic about the fact that there is currently no specialist ink runner, meaning that if you want to create (say) an ink entry to IF Comp, you will need to use Unity to build standalone apps. But to me, this is also partly a selling point, in the sense that ink is designed to build custom, professional-looking apps and doesn’t constrain the author to something a bit bland.

Doing this doesn’t have to mean figuring everything out from scratch. What I hadn’t realized about The Intercept until that conversation — and it’s very useful to know — is that the whole Unity project is open-source, not just the ink script that goes into the game. This means that if you want to build an ink/Unity game of your own but you have very little Unity experience, you could download the whole thing and then copy or gradually adapt The Intercept‘s look and feel. (Also worth saying: a personal Unity license is free if you’re not making significant money from your projects.)

Edited to add: on Twitter, I learned about the existence of Blot, a rough and ready alternative Unity project using ink that has fewer genre-specific features than The Intercept. So you have options, even!

Personally I’ve found working with an existing Unity project to mod it into something of my own to be a great route into learning how Unity works, because it means I don’t have to tackle understanding every type of asset at once. So if you’re in the same boat, that might be a way to get an ink game functioning, and then later you could start to figure out things like changing the fonts and presentation. (If you want to! Because it’s open source, you could just keep the way it looks, too.)

Indeed, you may want to play The Intercept even if you have no interest in using ink yourself: it is a short piece, short enough to play through (if not necessarily win) in 5-10 minutes, and it makes interesting use of the conversational options, as in the above example. Especially early in the game, we’re offered the chance to lie without really knowing ourselves what the truth is; and I found myself hesitating over whether I wanted to take the course that seemed safest or whether I wanted to steer towards the option that might reveal most about the story. Did I trust the protagonist, or not?

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Flash Charity Auction: 1, 3, 5 hours of work time

I am auctioning off some work time — 9 hours in total, in chunks of 5 hours, 3 hours, and 1 hour — in support of Donors Choose, a charity that provides educational supplies to underfunded classrooms in the US. Bidding runs through 5 PM Pacific today (1 AM British time) and the work is to be done this weekend.

How does this work?

Between now and 5 PM Pacific time, you can comment here to bid (in dollars, please).

Highest bidder gets the 5-hour chunk, second place the 3-hour, third place the 1-hour. So if you’re the only person to bid, you could wind up with the 5 hours for a super-low price. When time is up, I’ll determine who the winners are and comment with that information. It’s then up to you to fulfill your bid by donating here and letting me know what specifically you have in mind. I will start work tomorrow and will aim to have the tasks done by Monday evening.

That’s very little notice! Hardly any, in fact!

I know. It’s pretty unusual for me to know way in advance that I’m going to have a free weekend, though.

What if no one goes for this?

I make cookies instead. Mm, cookies. (Honestly, I have no idea whether this will produce any interesting results. It’s an experiment.)

What would that get me?

Some things you could have me spend time on include:

  • betatesting your WIP
  • giving feedback on a game design document or concept
  • making some (photo and text-based) cover art for a game
  • revising prose written by a non-native speaker
  • writing a review of a freeware game of your choice (it needs to be short enough that I can both play and review in the time slot, and needs to run on Mac OSX)
  • creating a custom I7 extension to tackle some irritating code problem (again, within limits — something like Threaded Conversation is not a 5-hour project)
  • curating a list of IF specific to an interest of yours
  • writing a short essay about an IF- or game-related topic
  • writing a tiny custom speed-IF (in the 1 hour slot this would probably need to be choice-based)

…but I’m open to other possible uses of time as well, if you have something else in mind.

So basically you’ll do what I say?

Er, within certain limits. Obviously: no illegal activities, no pornography, nothing unethical (such as having me write a glowing review of a work without disclosing the funding source). No hacks that aren’t really labor exchanges (“spend one hour mailing me your laptop”), or that would cost me additional money to perform unless we’ve talked it through first. If you have doubts about whether your request is reasonable, feel free to request clarification.

Why Donors Choose?

This gets long and is not about what this blog is usually about, but if you’re interested:

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Assorted Releases and Events

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inkle has been posting for some time about their Sorcery! project with Steve Jackson, and it’s now available for iOS. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but it looks gorgeous, with fun gamebooky play, a revamped combat concept, and a really attractive map. Here’s more about the making of, including discussions of the combat system and the creation of the user interface. It looks gorgeous, however, and is getting rave reviews at the app store, as well as positive coverage at Pocket Gamer. One unfortunate note: it’s not (yet?) really playable with VoiceOver.

The People’s Republic of IF in Boston is organizing another IF meetup this year, September 14-15, coordinated with the NoShowConf and the Boston Festival of Indie Games. This is an opportunity to hang out with other IF authors, share in-progress concepts, demo to the public (at Boston FIG), and attend game design talks (at NoShowConf). There may be some IF-specific programming there, though this isn’t finalized.

I’ve mentioned this before here briefly, but I’m speaking next week at the Inventing the Future of Games conference put on by UC Santa Cruz. That’s in Mountain View May 10. I’ll be talking about tools for interactive narrative creation, drawing on experience with Inform, Versu, and (to a lesser degree) various other IF tools.

XYZZY Award voting is ongoing through May 7. If you want to participate, check out the nominees and voting page.