Signal boost for Seattle IF

Since this reached some new people last time:

The Seattle IF group meets this Saturday the 15th at 3:30 PM, and all are invited. Our building is at the University of Washington, in the Health Sciences Building F.

Last month about 15 people attended, and you can read the minutes.

In the spirit of Seattle IF our agenda is usually up in the air. There are many TWIFComp games to play. Feel free to come with more ideas for games to play on the projector, your own IF work to discuss, or questions about anything in the greater IF world as well.

A more detailed map with our building marked as I Court is here.

The doors are locked, but someone inside will let you in. And for the May meeting mailing list thread, go here.

Meeting notes from Seattle meet-up

Are now available here, thanks to Paul Furio.

It was a long discussion (three hours!), but there was particular interest in setting up events for Seattle PAX 2010 and possibly for SF/reading-related conventions in the area as well.

Another area of interest was interpreter possibilities for browsers and mobile devices (including the idea, which got a lot of play at PAX East, of having browser interpreters capable of preserving transcripts from every player, so that the author could analyze the results and tweak the game accordingly).

We also talked a fair amount about choice-based (rather than setting-based) approaches to IF design. We were focusing in particular on a draft tutorial that Ron Newcomb is writing that introduces I7 starting with the concept of beginning and ending scenes, and building up a plot. The conversation kind of spread outward from there, but I thought Ron’s ideas were pretty interesting, especially in light of some recent blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) I’ve been reading from Inform 7-using students who were frustrated not to be able to start implementing story immediately.

I had a great time meeting everyone who was there.

Seattle IF Group April meet-up

Speaking of local interactive fiction groups, here’s the news on this Saturday’s Seattle meet-up. (I’m in town, so planning to go, but I figured it could also use the signal boost.)

All in the Seattle area this Saturday, the 17th, are welcome to the
April meetup of the Seattle IF group.

We’ll meet at 3:30 PM at the University of Washington, in the Health Sciences Building F.

We’re planning to discuss a new Inform 7 guide in the works by Ron Newcomb that takes a different approach than most IF tutorials, and IF possibilities for PAX Prime here in Seattle this September. Works in progress, recently played games, and group play on the projector are all on the table as well. After a couple of hours we usually have pizza delivered to the building.

A more detailed map with our building marked as I Court is here.

There are entrances to the north and south of the I Court Rotunda, but both entrances will be locked. If you can figure out how to get in, you’ve earned a spot in Seattle IF…

Just kidding of course — we’ll be there to let folks in at 3:30; see this thread on our mailing list for full details.

Wil Wheaton at PAX East

So the one piece of regular PAX programming that I really, really wanted to see was Wil Wheaton’s keynote. (My sister met Wheaton at Emerald City ComiCon a few weeks earlier and he mentioned to her that the keynote was going to touch on interactive storytelling, so I was especially curious to see it.) But, alas, like a bazillion other people, I couldn’t get in.

I did recently get to watch it online, though. (PAX East 2010 – Wil Wheaton Keynote from Matt Waldron on Vimeo.)

A lot of the speech is about gamer solidarity, the awesomeness of playing D&D in his childhood, and so on, but at around 40 minutes in, he starts talking about his experience playing Dragon Age: Origins. He tells about being in a situation where he is forced to do something that loses his favorite character from his game party, because of the choices he’s made up to that point about the main character’s development and alignment. And of course the fact that that moment was the product of his own decisions made it that much more powerful.

From there, he goes into a longer riff about the power and inevitable rise of interactive storytelling. Later, he gets a big cheer by mentioning Heavy Rain, and I sympathize, even though in practice I was not happy with a lot of things about the game.

It’s a keynote, not a deep analysis of the concepts of choice and complicity in gaming, but it’s definitely cool to see the narrative aspect of games singled out this way. And encouraging, too, to have a writer who is willing to stand up and speak for what interactive stories can do well. Too often even game-industry writers seem to be focused on the reverse.

More post-PAX

Some more accounts of IF conversations at PAX East, covering a wide range of things that came up in discussions and panels:

Paul O’Brian
Sam Kabo Ashwell
Iain Merrick
Sarah Morayati
Andrew Plotkin

The question of outreach was especially dominant — how do we get IF to more people, how do we make it easier to pick up and play, and can we earn money from it?

That last point doesn’t feel as pressing to me as the others. I’d like to see a wider audience; I’m not sure that selling is hugely important. I care most about some other forms of IF evangelism. I gave my pocket manifesto more than once at the convention, but here it is again, for those who weren’t there:

IF has a lot to teach about interactive storytelling, and we should be sharing the discoveries of the last 10 or 15 years with mainstream gaming and interactive literature communities. I was much struck — and a little depressed — at GDC to find that many writers talking about their work for commercial games still very much framed the discourse around what storytelling options are not possible in videogame format.

There seemed to be less focus on what can be done with interaction that is unique and effective: the value of player-controlled pacing to manage exposition; the interesting effects to be gotten from the player/protagonist distinction; the pleasure (for the player) of being essentially an improv actor with a set character; the rhetorical capacity of a rule-based system, as explored by Ian Bogost but applied by him mostly to political and advertising games; the narrative possibilities of short games intended to be replayed (as opposed to the lightly-branching long games the commercial sector typically creates).

The good news there is that there’s an active thirst in the commercial game industry for what IF has to offer. My experience at GDC was that a surprising number of developers had heard of us; a lead at one company even told me that they really want to recruit experienced IF authors and would be interested in interviewing anyone I could recommend. (If you want to know more about that one, email me.) The packed and overflowing IF panel at PAX may be another kind of indicator.

I don’t mean this to sound defeatist, and I think there are a lot of ways we could make classic text-based IF more accessible to new players, and that we’d draw in a lot of folks that way. On the other hand, I don’t expect that IF as such will ever be mainstream in the sense that movies are.

On the other hand: I do think we have a potential role to play in the bigger arena of developing interactive storytelling as a field, and the cultural impact of that will be huge.

PAX, closed.

More details and thoughts will doubtless follow in a more orderly fashion, but I wanted to say now: this weekend has been made of dense-packed AWESOME. Seeing our panel make an audience of hundreds with extra people outside? Well, I feel bad about the guys that didn’t get in, but whoa, that was awesome. Having Don Woods hang out with us and suggest cogent new ideas for IF in the present day? Awesome. IF suite absolutely packed, all weekend long? Awesome. Having intense discussions with many people I knew only as internet entities? Awesome.

So yeah: if you were here, thanks for coming. Even if I didn’t get a chance to say this to you individually, it was great to meet you all. I had a wonderful weekend.