Mailbag: Development Process for Storylet-based Interactive Fiction

I’ve been a fan of your site and writing since 2009. Two of your older articles have been nagging at me recently — the one about writing prose for IF, and the other about your drafting process (with examples from Metamorphoses and Bronze, respectively).

I have been wondering how they would look updated for writing prose/process for storylet-based designs. I’m having a bit of a difficulty transitioning from the static fiction mindset, with all its attendant shortcomings in the IF context (text not bite-sized enough, difficult to decide on salient information , too much linearity, etc.)

If you had to address these two articles’ topics today, how would it be different? 

This is asking for an update to two articles, and so I’m also going to split out the response.

This piece will focus on the process side rather than the prose question. If you’re writing a game using storylets, how do you plan it, and how do you stay on track through executing it?

Continue reading “Mailbag: Development Process for Storylet-based Interactive Fiction”

Mid-February Link Assortment

Events

February 29 is the next London IF Meetup. We’ll be playing and discussing games with trans protagonists.

March 5, “Game Over,” the radio play I wrote about indie game development, is being rebroadcast by BBC Radio 4 at 14.15 (or 2:15 PM, for those of us still keeping time in the US fashion). This is a chance to catch it if you didn’t hear it the first time around and you’re interested. Sometimes the Radio 4 website also hosts the programs from that month for streaming.

March 7 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

NarraScope organizers will be May 29-31, in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Podcasts, Articles, Videos, etc

The excellent Anna Megill, Lead Writer at Massive, talks about writing for video games.

Competitions

If you plan to enter Spring Thing 2020, you have until March 1, 2020 to declare your intent to enter. Spring Thing is a long-running competition for interactive fiction that welcomes longer games than IF Comp can accommodate, and features a “back garden” section for games that are unfinished, commercial, experimental, or where the author just wants to opt out of the competitive aspect of the competition. The games themselves will be due March 29.

End of January Link Assortment

Events

February 1 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

February 8 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC Interactive Fiction Meetup, discussing Mike Spivey’s Sugarlawn.

February 15-16, Rob Sherman is running an interactive fiction masterclass at the British library. This is a paying event; tickets here.

February 29 will be the next meeting of the London IF Meetup. We’ll be doing a shared gameplay session with a curated list of games — I’ll post a link as soon as the session information is up on the website.

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 6.19.15 PMMarch 20-22 in Toronto is Breakout Con, a conference on boardgames and tabletop RPGs. Some great narrative designers are scheduled in as guests.

NarraScope will be May 29-31, in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Competitions

January 31Feb 3, Ryan Veeder is running the first of three events in his Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction. This one is a short jam for Inform 7 games, currently in progress: this one, intriguingly, has Ryan judging the beauty of the source code first, and then only secondarily making judgements concerning the quality of the game itself.

There are a number of rules about how to participate, so please do check out the fine print.

February 3 is also the closing date for the Green Stories interactive fiction competition, which looks for interactive stories about more sustainable futures.

If you plan to enter Spring Thing 2020, you have until March 1, 2020 to declare your intent to enter. Spring Thing is a long-running competition for interactive fiction that welcomes longer games than IF Comp can accommodate, and features a “back garden” section for games that are unfinished, commercial, experimental, or where the author just wants to opt out of the competitive aspect of the competition. The games themselves will be due March 29.

Also on the topic of competitions: the annual IF comp now draws upwards of 80 games a year. That’s a lot, and it’s stretching judging capacity a bit. The organizing committee would welcome input and discussion about how best to handle this.

Releases

If you’re into the more procedural side of narrative, the latest Dwarf Fortress release includes some very cool narration of simulated events. You may also enjoy reading others’ wild tales.

Articles and Podcasts

The Ludology podcast interviews Andrew Plotkin, starting from “what is interactive fiction?”

inkle’s podcast, meanwhile, recently covered the difficulty of dealing with fail states.

Mark Marino has been leading a code critique of a passage of Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and inviting participants to comment.

Talks

I gave a talk about storylet design at the London IF Meetup. The session was (atypically) recorded, and we’ll be able to share the recording when it’s been edited, but there is also a tweet thread about the event for those who are curious. The talk included a workshop component where the group brainstormed possible story events, worked out what the prerequisites and effects should be, and then collectively played through the resulting game.

Counterfeit Monkey Puzzle Chart

The Counterfeit Monkey puzzle chart was one of my major design aids when I was building the thing.

This is a chart of the puzzles in Counterfeit Monkey. It used to be linked from a blog post on the puzzle design, off-site, but it’s no longer at the endpoint of that link.

Instead, let’s put it here. I swear I have a good reason for doing this right now and it is genuinely not just because my blog gets the most traffic if I tweet a colorful diagram.

Don’t look too closely at the fine print if you’re planning to play and haven’t yet.

Mid-January Link Assortment

Events

Narrascope.jpegJanuary 17 is the deadline for proposals for Narrascope 2020.

January 19 is the next meeting of the Seattle/Tacoma Interactive Fiction Meetup, playing Matt Wigdahl’s Aotearoa in honor of its 10th anniversary.

January 21 is the next Boston Interactive Fiction Meetup, in room 14E-304 at MIT.

The Oxford/London IF Meetup next convenes January 29, when I will be talking about (and leading some workshoppy exercises around) storylet-based narrative design.

January 31Feb 3, Ryan Veeder is running the first of three events in his Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction. This one is a short jam for Inform 7 games. There are a number of rules about how to participate, so please do check out the fine print.

February 1 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

February 8 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC Interactive Fiction Meetup, discussing Mike Spivey’s Sugarlawn.

February 15-16, Rob Sherman is running an interactive fiction masterclass at the British library. This is a paying event; tickets here.

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 6.19.15 PMMarch 20-22 in Toronto is Breakout Con, a conference on boardgames and tabletop RPGs. Some great narrative designers are scheduled in as guests.

NarraScope will be May 29-31, in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Competitions

The Gaming Like It’s 1924 jam runs through the end of the month, and celebrates works that recently entered the public domain. There’s a whole list of possibilities in there that you might enjoy.

dyfuYq.png       springthing-logo.jpg

If you plan to enter Spring Thing 2020, you have until March 1, 2020 to declare your intent to enter. Spring Thing is a long-running competition for interactive fiction that welcomes longer games than IF Comp can accommodate, and features a “back garden” section for games that are unfinished, commercial, experimental, or where the author just wants to opt out of the competitive aspect of the competition. The games themselves will be due March 29.

Articles

Here is a detailed flowchart of Bandersnatch, worked out by Vladimir Panteleev. If you’re curious about how it’s structured, this piece has you covered.

download.pngThe finalists for the Independent Games Festival were recently announced, with the awards scheduled to take place at GDC on March 18. Andrew Plotkin has been on the judging panel for a number of years, and shares his thoughts about some of the nominees here.

This video has some interesting design insight about Disco Elysium. I am told. I haven’t actually watched the video all the way through myself, because I haven’t played the game yet, because I need to borrow a Windows machine. That’s all being looked into and taken care of. I hear the video’s interesting, though.

Tools

YarnSpinner is a tool, in line with Twine or ink, that can be used to write and manage branching dialogue for games. It has now had a 1.0 release, and is available for free, though users are encouraged to support its Patreon.

 

Mailbag: Statefulness without a Parser

Hi Emily, I appreciate the content you create to further the IF community.

I’m curious what games or platforms stand out to solve some of the issues you listed in your parser article 9 [years] ago.

I’d like to create a text heavy game with detailed world state and want to research the projects that handle these situations the best. Specifically UI driven interaction from the player. 

[I then asked for confirmation that the writer would like to see this handled as a mailbag post.]:

I’d love to see a follow up on how you feel things have changed. From the perspective of a “traditional” game developer IF seems stuck in an award state [sic] of being too gamey for readers and not enough mechanics for gamers. It’s a hard problem to solve as most people aren’t writers, programmers and designers , that’s a lot of skill sets to tackle.

I’m not quite sure what “an award state” is, but maybe “an awkward state”? I disagree, though. “Not enough mechanics for gamers” or not, games from 80 Days to Choices and Episode to the works of Choice of Games to Failbetter’s entire oeuvre are making enough money and attracting enough attention to support quite a few small to medium studios. And that doesn’t touch on the audio IF, the visual novels, the interactive film, etc., etc., etc. Interactive fiction, broadly drawn, is doing fine. And I know quite a lot of traditional game developers who think so, too.

But okay, let’s set aside that part of the question. The question is about how to do UI for a game with a lot of world state and a lot of text, but without a parser.

Continue reading “Mailbag: Statefulness without a Parser”