Mid-September Link Assortment

Events

September 18-19, Emperatriz Ung is running a session for the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop called Prototyping Memory, A Game Design Approach To Nonfiction, about using Inform and IF techniques to reimagine setting, perspective, and structure.

The Oxford/London IF Meetup is currently running a jam for pieces written for Seltani, Andrew Plotkin’s multiplayer hypertext platform. We’ll meet and play through the submitted games on September 19.

If you’d like to contribute a game, you only need to build it on the Seltani system and then leave a comment on the Meetup page to indicate that it’s been submitted for play. And if we don’t get a lot of entries (people are busy and it’s hard to tell in advance!) we’ll still meet and play through some of the existing games on the Seltani system. You’re more than welcome to come and play with us even if you don’t have time or inclination to write anything.

September 23-27 is the Game Devs of Color Expo, which is online this year — check out the awesome lineup of speakers here.

September 28 is the deadline to submit games to IF Comp; authors should already have signed up for this, however, so if you haven’t done so, you cannot enter now. (If you’ve missed the deadline and are sad about it, Spring Thing offers an alternate comp opportunity each year, so you may want to keep an eye out for the next time that opens for entries.)

IF Comp is also still accepting prize submissions and contributions to the Colossal Fund, which helps support authors and the IF Technology Foundation.

October 2 is the next meetup of the San Francisco Bay Area IF Group.

Roguelike Celebration runs online October 16-17, and is often a great place to pick up some talks on procedural generation of various kinds.

Also October 17, the Seattle IF Meetup will gather to play through some IF Comp games.

October 24, the London IF Meetup will do our IF Comp playthrough session.

Talks, Podcasts, and Articles

Jimmy Maher’s history of games has reached 1995, with an article on some of the grand IF written when the post-commercial amateur IF community was coming into its own. People curious about the history of IF may enjoy the read; newer fans of text adventures may also find a few recommendations for older gems they haven’t yet played.

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Hannah Nicklin has a marvellous collection of craft articles and workshop guidelines for improving your interactive writing skills, including a great set of instructions for improving your ear for dialogue.

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Logo with the words Game Arts Curators Kit

Over the years, interactive fiction and other narrative games have been shown in a huge range of public contexts, including conference expo booths and in museums.

The Game Arts Curators Kit is a new handbook on how to approach game curation and display, bringing together input from more than two dozen people with experience in that area, and currently available in wiki form. It covers everything from curatorial selection to setting up a venue to how to communicate with the game creators about the results of the exhibition if they weren’t able to be there in person.

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Readers interested in linguistics and natural language processing might enjoy this Lingthusiasm episode about a project to build machine learning models of African languages that aren’t currently well represented in machine translation solutions.

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Screenshot of Pestis Apotheca by Yanko Oliveira. An NPC is describing the symptoms of their illness. The player has selected one symptom, causing it to be highlighted.
Conversation in Pestis Apotheca features a mechanic for listening, not just for speaking

Yanko Oliveira has written about Pestis Apotheca, a procjam game where you’re blending generated ingredients to cure the plague symptoms of generated patients.

One of several neat things the game does is feature a conversation system where you need to highlight the elements of a patient’s illness you’re planning to try to cure:

…I imagine it might be a bit like listening to a bug report: you want as much information as you can get, and you kind of automatically filter things out that you know are unrelated. This was easily represented by the mechanic of clicking certain words to highlight symptoms: unless you “actively listen” to the patient, you won’t uncover what they’re feeling.

Pestis Apotheca design discussion

Releases

A screenshot with the words Raccoon. Wrestle. Bribe.
Ord. screenshot with two options for interacting with a raccoon

Seen via John Walker (@botherer) and his review, Mujo Games’ Ord. is an IF platform (containing multiple games) in which all descriptions and actions are limited to a single word.

Ord. has been around for a few years, and now the creators have released the toolkit for other authors who want to work with the system: you can create new Ord content using Google spreadsheets.

Ord’s guide for new authors makes clear that this a basic storylet system rather than a tiny-sized Twine variant: by default, Ord is randomly picking its next events from a pool of possibilities, rather than hard-linking to followup consequences. In fact, that guide offers a pretty good explanation of some real basics of storylet design: how to separate storylets into pools or groupings; how to make new storylets available or unavailable; how to create loops or hard links to create more structured areas within the storylet slurry.

Opportunities

Six to Start’s New Adventures are audio stories players experience while they run, jog, or walk. Players hear a short scenes of audio (1–3 minutes long) interspersed with songs from the music player on their phone. Each episode of a New Adventure features 6–8 scenes, and New Adventures can be standalone episodes (e.g. “The 13th Runner”) or multi-episode arcs (e.g. “Nellie Bly”).

Six to Start is currently accepting pitches to write audio pieces — not about zombies! — for inclusion in their New Adventures series. They pay for each stage of script development, and have a mentoring program for writers who have never previously written for pay. The pitching deadline is September 26.

Crowdfunding

Cover art for the Exquisite Corpse in Maggots' Keep

The Exquisite Corpse in Maggots’ Keep is a gamebook project in which the authorship of the project changes every time the player makes a choice.

Somewhat alarmingly, the reward at the $5K tier is your own actual coffin, which raises a lot of question about coffin sourcing and storage.

But for those who are (very reasonably) more interested in having a paperback or hardback book sans funeral furnishings, there are a bunch of handy tiers for that as well.

Remember August, meanwhile, is a narrative game played by email or physical mail, about connecting with an old friend who has become unmoored in time.

Mailbag: Finding Inspiration in Non-Obvious Subject Matter

Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy, as painted by Elisabetta Sirani

I used to publish questions that people have asked me either by email or on Twitter.

That went on a hiatus for a while; to kick it off again, I asked Twitter folks what they’d be most interested in seeing me write about. Here was one of the questions:

Where [do] you look for or find good inspirations, lessons and ideas for IF that come from as far from IF as possible absolutely no IF, no games, better if no pop culture, no media, no art).

Or, if I may put it better: how to enrich interactive fiction with inspirations, ideas and techniques originating in other fields, particularly in the most unrelated.

I asked for some clarification, which led to:

For me, perhaps the best would be: “this is how other people have found some unexpected new things to bring into IF, in case it might spark your imagination”.

This restatement makes the question much easier. There are lots of IF pieces inspired by events, places, crafts and activities, emotional experiences, or academic fields outside of interactive fiction — and many author essays about those processes.

The rest of this post collects links and excerpts on what authors found inspiring — and what aspects of their games were affected by the inspiration. A search for post-mortems on the intfiction forum will yield a very rich supply of other author essays, for anyone who’d like to explore beyond this collection.

Continue reading “Mailbag: Finding Inspiration in Non-Obvious Subject Matter”

End of August Link Assortment

Events

The People’s Republic of IF, the Cambridge MA-based IF group, meets today, August 31, at 6:30 PM Eastern online.

September 1 is the deadline to register as an author for IF Comp, and the games themselves will be due September 28. This year, unusually, there is a move so that authors participating in the competition may also act as judges: this rules change may not be permanent, but it’s an experiment this year to help accommodate the growing number of authors and make sure games are getting enough voters.

Those entering IF Comp may also be interested in this best-practices discussion of how to write a walkthrough for the competition.

And if you’ve got a fun prize that you’d like to contribute to authors, you can do that at the prize page. Good prize contributions can be all kinds of things: food, games, books, donations of art or other creative services, and modern or retro gaming souvenirs have all been popular prizes in the past.

September 4, the SF Bay IF Meetup has its next meeting.

September 10, Phoebe Barton is teaching a Clarion West class on interactive fiction for people interested in finding their way into the genre for the first time.

September 12 is the next meetup of the Seattle IF Meetup, with a talk on Ink and Unity.

September 18-19, Emperatriz Ung is running a session for the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop called Prototyping Memory, A Game Design Approach To Nonfiction, about using Inform and IF techniques to reimagine setting, perspective, and structure.

The Oxford/London IF Meetup is currently running a jam for pieces written for Seltani, Andrew Plotkin’s multiplayer hypertext platform. We’ll meet and play through the submitted games on September 19.

If you’d like to contribute a game, you only need to build it on the Seltani system and then leave a comment on the Meetup page to indicate that it’s been submitted for play. And if we don’t get a lot of entries (people are busy and it’s hard to tell in advance!) we’ll still meet and play through some of the existing games on the Seltani system. You’re more than welcome to come and play with us even if you don’t have time or inclination to write anything.

September 23-27 is the Game Devs of Color Expo, which is online this year — check out the awesome lineup of speakers here.

Roguelike Celebration runs online October 16-17, and is often a great place to pick up some talks on procedural generation of various kinds.

Releases

Screenshot of Gruescript's code
Sample Gruescript code for writing the classic Cloak of Darkness scenario

Robin Johnson has released Gruescript, a tool for making point-and-click text adventure games. The concept is familiar from a bunch of Robin’s past work, including IF Comp-winning Detectiveland: the player is offered a model world with items they can manipulate, much as in a standard parser text adventure, but the system explicitly presents all the verbs the player can use at any given moment:

Screenshot of Gruescript's Cloak of Darkness example
Gruescript playing Cloak of Darkness

The included conversation system also supports topic-based conversation:

Screenshot of Gruescript in which the player can click topics to ask an NPC about
Gruescript’s conversation example

The system also comes with a full-sized sample game, The Party Line, whose source code can be loaded up for inspection when you start a new Gruescript project. The Party Line has a lot of familiar text adventure features: wandering NPCs with different associated actions, treasures and a place to deposit them to change the score, and randomised atmospheric messages.

And if you’d like to discuss the tool with other users or give feedback on the design, there’s an active thread on the intfiction.org forum.

Continue reading “End of August Link Assortment”

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.

Continue reading “Seltani Jam”

Mid-August Link Assortment

Events

The People’s Republic of IF, the Cambridge MA-based IF group, meets August 31 at 6:30 PM online.

September 1 is the deadline to register as an author for IF Comp, and the games themselves will be due September 28. This year, unusually, there is a move so that authors participating in the competition may also act as judges: this rules change may not be permanent, but it’s an experiment this year to help accommodate the growing number of authors and make sure games are getting enough voters.

Those entering IF Comp may also be interested in this best-practices discussion of how to write a walkthrough for the competition.

September 4, the SF Bay IF Meetup has its next meeting.

September 23-27 is the Game Devs of Color Expo, which is online this year — check out the awesome lineup of speakers here.

Talks and Articles

Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games has now covered King of Dragon Pass, which I strongly recommend reading: the game used techniques that we’re still very much exploring and discussing now, including elements we might now refer to as storylets with casting (that is, storylets that assign characters to particular roles). Well worth a look if you’re interested in the structure, code, or writing process of that game, or storylet games in general.

He has also done a lovely article on Galatea, getting into the context of its original creation and much Marnie Parker’s IF Art Show influenced the game in both form and content.

Hugo Labrande is offering a free monthly newsletter on retro text games called >REMEMBER. It offers histories and post-mortems; discussions of stripped down tools like tiny libraries for Inform 6 that will allow modern authors to write games that will still play on older systems and emulators; and discussions of text adventures in languages other than English, which often don’t get enough coverage.

In a completely different space: via @doougle , I ran into this article on The Missing Producer, discussing the problems that arise when indie game companies try to make do without a producer’s involvement, and a look at the types of sometimes-unacknowledged work that nonetheless must be done by someone.

Podcasts and Videos

The Dark & Stormy Nights podcast talks about Robin W. Bailey’s Zork novelisation The Lost City of Zork — and also some later interactive fiction pieces — with guest Rachael Jones.

Meanwhile, the Foundations of Digital Games conference has been in progress, and has been posting a bunch of talks and talk-related material to YouTube.

Competitions

ParserComp is over and the results announced. Brian Rushton’s Grooverland was the winner; he’s also written a postmortem.

Releases

If you like casual mobile games with a narrative element, roughly in the territory of Lily’s Garden — and if you live in the Canada/UK — you might also like Switchcraft — a match-3 game about girls at a magical school.

The story is a bigger component than usual for this kind of game, with a bunch of actual branching choices to make. I believe the title is not yet out in the US, but is expected to launch there later.

Last Kid Running is a gamebook series written for middle-grade readers by Singaporean author Don Bosco. The second book in the series is now out. Despite the physical gamebook format, Bosco is developing and testing his stories in Twine.

Mailbag: Plot. It’s a Problem.

I used to publish questions that people have asked me either by email or on Twitter. That went on a hiatus for the past year-and-a-bit, as I’d stepped back from blogging for a time. To kick off something similar again, I asked Twitter folks what they’d be most interested in seeing me write about.

One of the requests was an article on how to provide NPCs with enough agency that they’re not place holders for plot points.

Despite the terms here – NPCs, agency – this is not necessarily a question about AI, character modeling, or even game design generally.

This is fundamentally a plot question. If you want active, agency-holding characters, that means knowing which character wants what – or which character fears what; how they’re trying to get it; and what incidents happen as a consequence. Only sometimes do game mechanics or tech come into it at all.

Plotting is one of the most invisible kinds of work you can do on a story. Beautiful sentences, funny dialogue, worlds with striking and memorable setting ideas: readers can often identify what they’re looking at when they see those things, and aspiring writers have lots of comprehensible examples to work from.

But plot’s harder to see in that way. It’s structure, not surface. It’s everywhere and nowhere.

Continue reading “Mailbag: Plot. It’s a Problem.”