Mailbag: Courses of Study

I want to dive into narrative design. [Professors at a game program] say that it’s possible for them to teach graduates on how to be indie developers. That made me laugh, I don’t really believe their tales. Yet I doubt which faculty should I choose in order to gather some useful skills. There are some options for me: philology, journalism and linguistics. Which one would be more useful? I quite like them all, I guess, and I can’t make it clear.

I’ve redacted the identifying details of the program in question, but it isn’t one where I happen to have personal knowledge of the teachers or graduates, so I can’t speak to that.

That said: I wouldn’t assume that the faculty have nothing to offer on game design. It may be a good program. In my experience, the only real way to learn this kind of craft is to do a lot of work in the space, but the guidance of teachers can be helpful with that, and so might the company of other students. A lot depends on how you naturally learn best and how much you like your education to be autonomous or directed.

It’s true that if your aim is specifically to become an indie developer, it’s very hard for any course of study to guarantee that you will have a secure career afterward. But that’s just because indie game development is a very difficult and precarious space, not because what you would learn would be valueless.

However, if you are inclined to self-teach narrative design topics and prefer to get a strong grounding in more traditional academic subjects, that’s also a solid approach, and I know many developers including myself who started out that way.

Writing games is an art and a mode of communication. An education in other subjects can help prepare you to have something meaningful to say.

I can’t tell you what is best for you here. But I would suggest you think about the question not as “which of these traditional subjects has the most bearing on games?” but as “which of these traditional subjects will most help me think about the problems I care about? which will most help me find true answers to my questions? which will give me an ethical groundwork on the issues that matter to me?”

Mid-May Link Assortment

Events

May 16 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF Meetup, online at 3pm.

May 17 will be the next meeting of the Seattle/Tacoma area IF Meetup, online at 2pm PDT.

The weekend of May 29-31 was originally supposed to feature NarraScope as a live event in Urbana-Champaign, IL. Unsurprisingly, NarraScope has been moved to a virtual-only model (you can read the full statement here). Due to the changed format, the event is now free to anyone who wants to register, although donations are welcome from those who have the income and wish to show support.

More recently, a schedule of events was released, featuring a full slate of workshops and seminars. For those curious about recent developments with Inform 7, Graham Nelson is leading a seminar on Thursday, May 28, at 5:00pm (GMT+1).

The Oxford and London Meetup currently has nothing concrete scheduled.

June 6 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

Competitions

cover_small-1Spring Thing 2020 is finished! Winners were announced earlier this month, with three titles taking home a “Best in Show” award for 2020: 4×4 Galaxy by Agnieszka Trzaska, Hawk the Hunter by JonQ, and JELLY by Tom Lento and Chandler Grover. All the entrants are still on the main site and available for play, if you didn’t have time to try them all before the contest ended.

New Releases

promo408-1Choice of Games has released another title as of just a few days ago. A Squire’s Tale, by Benjamin Appleby-Dean, is a 152,000-word interactive medieval fantasy, set in 14th-century England. The author shares some of his inspirations and behind-the-scenes info in this recent interview.

screen-shot-2019-09-21-at-4.22.35-pm

Meanwhile, Signs of the Sojourner is now available: I wrote about the demo version some months ago, and was intrigued then by what the mechanic allowed the game to express. After writing that up, I was asked to do a small portion of the character writing myself — so I’m no longer an entirely neutral party on this project.

End of April Link Assortment

Events

May 2 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

icon.pngMay 11-25 will feature a high-speed Inform 7 Boot Camp taught by Judith Pintar, in connection with NarraScope. Details are still being ironed out, so watch the NarraScope page for updates.

May 16 will be the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF Meetup, online at 3pm.

The weekend of May 29-31 was originally supposed to feature NarraScope as a live event in Urbana-Champaign, IL. Unsurprisingly, NarraScope has been moved to a virtual-only model (you can read the full statement here). Due to the changed format, the event is now free to anyone who wants to register, although donations are welcome from those who have the income and wish to show support.

More recently, a schedule of events was released, featuring a full slate of workshops and seminars. For those curious about recent developments with Inform 7, Graham Nelson is leading a seminar on Thursday May 28, at 5:00pm (GMT+1).

The Boston IF Meetup is still expecting to get together for an online May event, however an exact date has not been set. Keep track of updates here. The Oxford and London Meetup currently has nothing concrete scheduled.

Competitions

Spring Thing 2020 is on the home stretch, ending on May 3. If you plan on playing any of the multiple entries in this year’s garden, time is short. Winners will be announced as the festival ends.

New Releases

promo408-1.pngChoice of Games introduces Mask of the Plague Doctor, a 410,000-word interactive novel by Peter Parrish, which is cleverly advertising itself as a “swords and surgery” medieval fantasy. It’s perhaps a bit odd that the title has come out in the midst of a global pandemic, but also worth noting that the game has been in development for nearly two years.

Stephen Granade also has a recently published Binary, in which a woman must decide what to do with a digitally uploaded personality that she has discovered on the wreckage a space station. A full interview with the author can be found here.

Articles, Posts, & Podcasts

unnamed.jpgDue to the coronavirus situation, the folks at Storium have recently made their service free through the end of June. As a result, there has been a large influx of new players using the service. To help new players, the Storium Arc fan podcast is conducting a series of mini-episodes designed to help new players learn the ropes.

If you’re looking for entertaining diversions, Stephen Granade (mentioned above) hosts weekly “Let’s Play” streams on Twitch, every Saturday at 4pm EDT. So far, he has taken viewers through Animalia, Zozzled!, and Fragile Shells. He is also archiving the videos on YouTube, as Twitch only keeps videos up for a short time.

Job Postings

download.pngMy 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.

Mid-April Link Assortment

Events

April 18 is the next (virtual) meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF Meetup, discussing Spring Thing games.

May 2 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

logo-512.pngNarraScope was originally supposed to take place May 29-31 in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, but the event has been moved to a virtual-only model, due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. You can read the official statement here.

The Oxford and London IF Meetup does not have any events currently planned. We’re looking into the possibility of an online event, perhaps where we can play some Spring Things games, but we are still working out the details.

Competitions

springthing-logo.jpgSpring Thing 2020 is well underway, with seventeen games to play in the Main Festival, and three more experimental and work-in-progress entries in the Back Garden. As of April 9, ribbon nominations are open, and the winners will be announced on May 3.

Kickstarters

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 10.18.24 AM.png

Clockwork Bird is working on a new cyberpunk conversation game called Silicon Dreams, where you play as an android designed for the purpose of performing diagnostics on other androids. The project is still in development, and you can find out more on their Kickstarter page (and help give them some support).

I have yet to play it myself, but the game takes the form of an interrogation test: ask questions, observe your subject’s emotional responses, and uncover the truth. A free demo is available to play here.

New Releases

BAftMA.jpgDespite the slowdown in live-person events over the last month, there have been a number of intriguing new games to check out. Choice of Games recently added an interactive YA-fantasy Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts.

CP_featured-777x437.jpg

The folks at Wanderword have also developed an interactive audio RPG for Amazon’s Alexa called Cursed Painting. A full version and a free demo are both available. You can check out a more detailed description here.

 

Articles, Posts, & Podcasts

IF author Porpentine wrote a piece of short fiction called Strange Horizons, and has posted it here.

download.jpgThe We Are Netflix Podcast discusses the behind-the-scenes world of Interactive Storytelling at Netflix, exploring Bandersnatch, the software used, and how NF might approach Interactive Storytelling in the future.

In this article, Joel Beardshaw talks about using the IF tool Twine, among others, for commercial game prototyping at Ustwo Games.

Some readers may find amusement in this old-school manual for playing text adventures from back in the day. Originally published in 1992, there’s no shortage of nostalgia––but the book is still late enough that it can call Zork 1 a “classic.”

Job Postings

Failbetter_Games_logo.pngI mentioned this last week, but just in case this will reach new potential job-seekers: 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.

 

End of March Link Assortment

Events

March 31 is the next meeting of the Boston Interactive Fiction Meetup, which will be conducted online.

April 4 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup, now also using a virtual setup for the time being.

April 18 is the next (virtual) meeting of the Baltimore/DC IF Meetup, discussing Spring Thing games.

logo-512.pngNarraScope was originally supposed to take place May 29-31 in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, but the event has been moved to a virtual-only model, due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. You can read the official statement here.

The Oxford and London IF Meetup does not have any events currently planned. We’re looking into the possibility of an online event, perhaps where we can play some Spring Things games, but we are still working out the details.

Competitions

download.pngThe 2019 sub-Q Jam has announced winners of the competition, and if you haven’t already played the game, you can check them out here:

If you happen to be sitting at home looking for something to do… Spring Thing 2020 is just around the corner with new games to check out. The deadline for entries is now past, and the competition officially begins on April 2. Winners will be announced on May 3.

Awards

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 5.36.57 PM.pngThe BAFTA Game Awards are slated for Thursday, April 2, and winners will be announced live online. Obviously there is a wide range of categories, and also a number of intriguing nominees for Narrative.


Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 5.39.51 PM.pngAlthough GDC was postponed this year, the Independent Games Festival reformatted itself into a virtual livestream, and recognized a number of titles for excellence in various fields. The Grand Prize went to Adam Robinson-Yu’s A Short Hike, while inkle Studios’ Heaven’s Vault picked up an award for Excellence in Narrative. I reviewed Heaven’s Vault last summer, for anyone interested in learning more about it.

Presentations, Podcasts, Articles, etc

In this talk from the March London IF Meetup, Destina Connor of Tea-Powered Games gives an overview of narrative design in Japanese Role-playing Games.

 

Sunless.png

And lastly, a recent article from Fraser Brown about the evolving gameplay at Failbetter, and what may be in store for the future.

Mid-March Link Assortment

Events

March 21 is the next meeting of the Baltimore/DC Area IF Meetup, to discuss Barkdull and Borgard’s Black Sheep.

March 22 will be the next meeting for the Seattle/Tacoma IF Group.

April 4 is the next meeting of the SF Bay Interactive Fiction Meetup.

logo-512.pngNarraScope organizers set dates of May 29-31 for the annual conference. While NarraScope was originally supposed to take place live in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, the event has been moved to a virtual-only model, due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. You can read the official statement here.

The London IF Meetup is also not doing any more in-person gatherings for the immediate future. We are looking into the possibility of an online event, perhaps where we can play some Spring Things games––we will announce more about that when we have it settled.

New Releases

Screen Shot 2020-03-13 at 6.10.00 PM.png

Sam Kabo Ashwell just posted this week about the new release of Scents & Semiosis. The game follows a perfumer with a private collection of scents, and it is up to the player to determine their meaning. The game is available here on itch.io.

New Re-Releases

download.pngA recent announcement by inkle studios has accompanied the re-release of inklewriter as an open source project. No longer in Beta and now completely free, the tool is available at its new site.

Some time has obviously passed, but for anyone looking for some background on inklewriter, I shared some of my thoughts in a write-up back in 2012.

Competitions

Entries for Spring Thing 2020 are due March 29. The festival officially kicks off on April 2, and winners of the competition will be announced on May 3.

springthing2020.png

Presentations, Podcasts, Articles, etc

Here are Carl Rauscher and Chris Conley giving a talk for MAGfest on Games as Story Machines.

And in a just-recently posted article, Sophie Sampson explores the question “Can AI Help Us Write Better Stories?” with particular attention to the tool Charisma.ai from the games studio To Play For.