Mid-September Link Assortment

Events

September 17 is the next meeting of the People’s Republic of IF at MIT, for those in the Boston/Cambridge area. The website here also features notes from previous meetups.

The 20th annual European GAME-ON® Conference on Simulation and AI in Computer Games is September 18-20 in Breda, The Netherlands.

September 25, the London IF Meetup has a 7 PM talk on interactive and immersive theatre and LARP projects. This will be a densely-packed session with four speakers, talking about work by Fire Hazard Games, Coney and Venice as a Dolphin, and Crooked House.

IF Comp begins properly at the beginning of October, and is still accepting donations to the Colossal Fund as well as donations of prizes of other types.

October 5 is the next meeting of the SF Bay IF Meetup.

October 12, the London IF Meetup gets together to play IF Comp games, starting with contributions created by our own members. We play for much of the afternoon, with someone reading the text and someone else driving interaction, while the audience participates by voting for what we do next. We sometimes get through five games or more in the play time, meaning that participants have played enough to vote in the Comp if they wish.

Indiecade Festival will be in October in Santa Monica, CA.

Ectocomp will be running again this year, with submissions opening October 27, if you’d like to contribute a piece of spooky interactive fiction.

AdventureX runs November 2 and 3 at the British Library — I think it’s already sold out, however, so if you’re attending, you probably already know that.

November 7-8 is Code Mesh 2019 in London.  The conference focuses on promoting useful non-mainstream technologies to the software industry.

Articles

Sam Ashwell on how to write a good blurb for a comp game, which may be relevant to a number of people around now.

Chris Martens and Owais Iqbal on Villanelle, a research language for authoring autonomous characters in IF.

End of August Link Assortment

Events

September 1 is the deadline if you want to submit an intent to enter IF Comp 2019. (That’s tomorrow!)

PAX West in Seattle features a panel September 2 about building an interactive fiction portfolio and becoming a paid IF author.

September 7 is the next meeting of the SF Bay area IF Meetup.

September 14 is Boston FIG, or festival of indie games, held at Harvard.

Also September 14, the Baltimore/DC IF meetup gets together to discuss Hanon Ondricek’s Cannery Vale.

The 20th annual European GAME-ON® Conference on Simulation and AI in Computer Games is September 18-20 in Breda, The Netherlands.

September 25 is the next meeting of the London IF Meetup, and we will be hearing about live-action interactive narrative experiences including immersive theatre and LARP from several amazing speakers.

Indiecade Festival will be in October in Santa Monica, CA.

New Releases

Greg Boettcher has released an illustrated parser game that debuted in IntroComp 2006. It is now, at last, available from his website, and for a limited time you can also make a charitable donation and receive some feelies as a reward.

Sam Barlow’s Telling Lies is now out, a new FMV/exploration story that is not a sequel but perhaps a conceptual heir to Her Story.

Community and Volunteer Things

Sofia Kitromili is looking to interview IF authors about their experiences creating games and using IF tools. You can contact her any time in the next several months if you would like to speak to her and contribute to her doctoral research.

The Colossal Fundraiser is now raising money for prizes for this year’s IF Comp, as well as to cover the IF Technology Foundation’s other needs and overhead for the year. IFTF supports the IF Archive and other community technology, preserves interactive fiction work and tools that might otherwise be abandoned, and leads accessibility and education initiatives to improve the IF community’s resources.

IntroComp 2019

IntroComp is a recurring competition featuring game ideas that the creators are considering fleshing out into full games. This year’s crop includes a wide variety of styles.

IntroComp is an annual IF competition that invites authors to contribute partial and unfinished works for feedback. IntroComp 2019 is currently in progress, and if you’d like to check out the work here, you too can judge the entries.

Below the fold, some words on a few of the entries that I had time to play — but you may want to try them out yourself without spoilers.

Voting closes August 31.


Continue reading “IntroComp 2019”

Mid-August Link Assortment

Events

The IEEE Conference on Games (CoG) will be August 20-23 in London. I am keynoting.

The Foundations of Digital Games Conference (FDG) is happening August 26-30 in San Luis Obispo.

September 1 there is a Character Engine workshop run through the London IF Meetup.

The 20th annual European GAME-ON® Conference on Simulation and AI in Computer Games is September 18-20 in Breda, The Netherlands.

IntroComp games are now available for play, and you can vote on your favorites through August 31.

Resources

If you use IF in education, or teach about IF, you might want to connect with IFTF’s Education Committee, which is currently building resources and communication networks.

Articles and Podcasts

The Short Game podcast covered Counterfeit Monkey (and liked it, yay!). They’re interested in hearing suggestions for more IF to try and play, so worth letting them know about if you’re interested.

Sam Kabo Ashwell reviews a new boardgame based on the classic Choose Your Own Adventure series.

Crowdsourcing

There is also a Kickstarter for a new version of the classic tabletop storygame Fiasco, this time working with a card deck.

Mailbag: Recommendation requests

I’ve glued together two rather different requests for recommendations here, one about queer representation in IF and the other about classic parser-style work from recent years.

I’m okay with doing this occasionally, but for what it’s worth, IFDB is better than you might think at letting you answer this kind of question for yourself. You can set up polls or search people’s pre-existing curated lists, or use IFDB’s tagging system. I’ve recommended a few related search approaches here as well.

Do you have personally favorite narrative-gaming works among those in which the player character is identifiably queer? (Either incidentally or as part of The Point of the work.)  I imagine you get secondary-research type questions like this with some frequency, but if you have any brief thoughts I would be grateful for thoughts for things in that (very broad) category to especially check out.

These are differently fit for different contexts, but my personal favorite interactive stories of queer protagonists would probably be these:

Birdland by Brendan Patrick Hennessy. Charming lesbian goes to summer camp story. Several of BPH’s games are about queer teenagers (see also Known Unknowns, which gets slightly more seriously into how-this-relationship-can-go-wrong territory, with characters who aren’t out yet or haven’t yet figured out their own sexuality).

With Those We Love Alive, Porpentine. Kind of the other end of the spectrum as far as accessibility. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one for kids, and it might need unpacking of its trans themes even for some adult audiences. A lot of Porpentine’s other works would qualify here.

SPY INTRIGUE by furkle. This is definitely not for kids either.

But in picking my favorites here, I have a very large set of works to choose from, since queer-protagonist interactive fiction is pretty abundant.

Several pieces explicitly look at some aspect of queer experience as the main point of the story. Among the ones I’ve found most striking are Coming Out Story by Nicky Case; Bloom and Cis Gaze by Caelyn Sandel; and Tentacles Growing Everywhere by Dietrich Squinkifer. I’m also interested in, but haven’t yet had time to play, A Bathroom Myth by Anya Johanna DeNiro.

There are also several brands and serieses that explicitly permit the player to self-define a character’s gender expression or sexual attraction. Here I’d include Fallen London and all the games in its universe including Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies, as well as the Choice of Games brand. Fallen London and many of the CoG games allow non-binary gender protagonists as well as same-gender relationships, and in some cases allow the protagonist to negotiate poly relationships. The Failbetter blog includes a discussion by Hannah Flynn of how they approached gender in their work.

There are other games in which the protagonist is of fixed gender but can opt into relationships with other characters of various genders in the course of play, without explicitly making that part of protagonist identity. 80 Days includes at least one same-sex romance encounter I know of, and there may be more I didn’t see.

An IFDB search for the tag “queer” will turn up further options. Meanwhile, Queerly Represent Me offers some resources on this general topic and on sensitivity reads.


I’m a fan of old-style text adventures. Is anything like those still being produced?

Yes indeed. It’s not entirely clear what time frame we should consider for “still” here, but I’ll arbitrarily band to the past five or six years, with a couple suggestions that go further back if they might have gone overlooked at the time. And as for “old-style,” I’m pairing with some Infocom games but also some canonical early hobbyist IF.

The Enchanter series in general: for comedy-fantasy, try Oppositely Opal (Buster Hudson, 2015) or Illuminismo Iniziato (Michael J. Coyne, 2018). A little further afield from Enchanter but still in the general vein of light-hearted puzzle game with fantasy approach to reality, consider Thaumistry (Bob Bates, 2017). The Wizard Sniffer (Buster Hudson, 2017) is also highly acclaimed, though I personally haven’t played it.

Zork III and Spellbreaker for their challenging set-piece puzzles: Try Scroll Thief (Daniel Stelzer, 2015). It allows you to get the world model into surprising states, and the solutions often left me with a pleasing sense of having really gotten away with something. And if you really want parser puzzles with a minimum of fiction, try Junior Arithmancer (Mike Spivey, 2018) as well as pretty much the entire oeuvre of Arthur DiBianca, who excels at this style.

Deadline: Make It Good is my favorite answer to Deadline, but that itself is now a decade old. More recently, if you were interested in comparing people’s stories and trying to extract a consistent meaning, you might like Color the Truth (mathbrush, 2016).

Infidel: try Arthur DiBianca’s archaeology puzzler Temple of Shorgil (2018). Or, if you want something a bit more Indiana Jones, there’s Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life (Truthcraze, 2013).

Plundered Hearts: If you liked it for its romance theme, I have to reach back a few years to the work of Kathleen Fischer. But if you liked Plundered Hearts for its self-conscious pulpy use genre, its forward-moving plot, and the opportunities to cause wild reactions in the various NPCs you encounter, I recommend the heist game Alias ‘The Magpie’ (J.J. Guest, 2018), or the alien-invasion adventure Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (Steph Cherrywell, 2015).

Planetfall: I don’t have any recommendations that will give you a Floyd replacement, precisely, but in the “abandoned SF station with puzzles to solve” zone, here’s Richard Otter’s Word of the Day (2017) or Steph Cherrywell’s Chlorophyll (2015).

Hollywood Hijinx: this is one I didn’t get all the way through myself, but Diddlebucker! (J. Michael, 2018) very explicitly casts itself as an Infocom nostalgia piece, and the reviewers appear to have found it a solid puzzle game.

Suspended: Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303 (Victor Gijsbers, 2018). Well, maybe. I haven’t actually played Suspended. But both of these games involve control of a distant robot that provides your senses.

Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It: Andrew Schultz‘s games do wordplay surrealism in pretty much every configuration you can imagine.

Trinity: A Beauty Cold and Austere (Mike Spivey, 2017), a math-themed, historically-informed puzzle-fest. It has a happier meta-arc than Trinity, but the puzzles are generally excellent.

Frenetic Five series: The Owl Consults series consists of two games by different authors, but both involving teams of superheroes whose skills can variously be activated to get through the game.

So Far: Sub Rosa (Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy, 2015) presents an excellent selection of puzzles set in an environment that doesn’t physically resemble our own very much at all.

Tapestry: Map (Ade McT, 2015) is my favorite recent-ish parser puzzle game that reflects on key turning points in the protagonist’s life, and what it would mean if they’d gone differently.

Anchorhead: the obvious recommendation here has to be the multi-author tribute game Cragne Manor (everyone under the sun, 2018).

The Act of Misdirection: Three Card Trick (Chandler Groover, 2016).

Bonus suggestions: I didn’t get nearly all the way through Worldsmith (Ade McTavish, 2016), but it’s huge. If you’re looking for something epic and ambitious, maybe that’s worth a try. Also, at 2014, Hunger Daemon falls just outside the category but it’s solid, funny stuff.

If you search for tag:parser published:2015-, you can find IFDB’s list of titles that might also fall into this category.

Finally, I’d also say that there is a whole genre of parser games written in the past five years or so that retain a lot of the parser’s advantages but work on making the experience more accessible to new users. Since they’re not really “old-style”, I haven’t listed them here, but I discuss the phenomenon in this Rock Paper Shotgun column.

Get Your Gun, Dragonfly (Palimrya)

Get Your Gun, Dragonfly is a medium-short piece about lovers trying to survive outside a society that has become untenably hostile to them. For starters, our protagonists are trans, and any kind of hormonal therapy has been aggressively outlawed. The viewpoint character also has some significant body modifications (such as a powered arm that constantly needs to be topped up on fuel). Her lover is Hispanic, and neither of those things is seen as acceptable, either.

It is not an entirely easy work to start. The language is poetic, the descriptions often metaphorical. At the same time, the setting is just science-fictional enough to contain literal possibilities that could only possibly be metaphors in our world.

So in the early screens it isn’t always obvious whether a reference to chitin means that something merely looks like chitin or whether you’re talking about someone who is actually part insect, or has a bioengineered exoskeleton of some kind, or…

And, in any case, the style of the writing is often lush to the point of overripeness, an effect that is certainly intentional, but that tends to arouse my suspicion as a reader. When writing is so obviously for effect, I often worry that it is going to be only for effect, with less attention to truth and thoughtfulness. In such situations, I tend to read with my empathy in my back pocket, unwilling to commit emotionally yet when I am not sure that commitment has been earned.

But I found that, if I read slowly and didn’t get too impatient to click the next link, it took only a few minutes to get my bearings with this. I could perceive more emotional nuances, and the pace of the work began to come clear. Major narrative passages tend to be more prosaic, but descriptions of important things and people are frequently poems.


At no point does the text become anything you might accuse of restraint, and there are points where the cadence of a line or the choice of a word felt off to me, but this is a matter as much of taste as of substance.

Get Your Gun, Dragonfly takes place in a dystopic, near-future America in which the camps have become even more brutal, the fascism more aggressive and unchecked. For entertainment, middle school students fly Apple- and Google-branded drones around the countryside, hoping to catch footage of a death in progress.

But it’s not all about the more terrifying aspects of the right in America. Several of the most dry and cutting passages are those that describe “your scene” and its reaction to you and your girlfriend, just before they make sure you have nowhere in town to live:

This is not, not at all, a story that excuses abuse, or that argues it shouldn’t receive some kind of communal response. Your girlfriend has had to do a lot of very serious work on herself, work that she has chosen to undertake and that she’s shown struggling through, in the hope of becoming someone better afterward, and some scars of that process are still evident in your interactions when it’s done. Her patience, so different from her past manner, remains a thing to be pointed out and celebrated.

The piece is also, in title and in function, a call to action. There’s a passage on the acknowledgements page about what you can do, now, to help support and protect immigrants.

It may be over-reading what the author intended, but I perceived a parallel between the two stories, the personal story of the abusive girlfriend who becomes a better person and learns to live her beliefs, and the public story, which extends from the fiction into reality, of a country that mistreats the most vulnerable people in its own borders.

The personal story suggests, by analogy, a kind of hope for the latter, though only with hard work and a collective willingness to own responsibility for who we are.