Mid-July Link Assortment


In Cork, the meeting of the Electronic Literature Organization is currently in progress through July 17. The program includes several artist forum sessions in which authors will be talking about their own projects; for instance, Katherine Morayati on Human Errors the 17th.

July 21 is the next Seattle Area IF Meetup, focusing on works in progress.

download-6The SIGIR Conference is taking place in Paris from July 21-25.

July 25 is the next Boston Area IF Meetup.

The 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) will take place in Florence (Italy) at the ‘Fortezza da Basso‘ from July 28-August 2.

DiGRA 2019 is being held August 6-10 in Kyoto.

Nh4sqhAugust 10 the Oxford/London IF Meetup is doing a workshop on Bitsy, a tool for creating small easy games with some narrative content and also some spatial navigation.

The IEEE Conference on Games (CoG) will be August 20-23 in London; I will be giving a keynote here, looking at some of Spirit’s recent work.

The Foundations of Digital Games Conference (FDG) is happening August 26-30 in San Luis Obispo; I’ll also be speaking here, but only by Skype, so I’ll miss those of you in California. (Sorry! But I’ve been doing too much flying lately.)

September 25, the London IF meetup will be doing a session on immersive theater, LARP, and live-action interactive experiences. The details aren’t yet live on the website, but we’ve got some excellent speakers lined up, so if that’s a topic that interests you, join the group if you haven’t already, and we’ll announce when the venue details are final.

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 9.11.44 AMAdditionally: Narrascope 2019 is already in the rear-view mirror, but the folks at Articy are sharing recordings from some of the event’s presentations.

logo-512Starting it off is Natalia Martinsson’s keynote address, with more videos planned. If you weren’t able to attend, this can give you a sense of the event and some of the individual speakers and topics.

And finally: tickets have gone on sale for AdventureX, which is November 2-3 at the British Library. The Narrative Games Convention has also released its lineup with some of the included speakers. As of this post (July 2019) the event seems to be sold out, unless/until they release another block of tickets, which their Twitter account suggests they will.

So: if you were disappointed not to have gotten in on that first round, don’t despair! But do follow the AdventureX Twitter account and/or sign up for the mailing list, if you want to maximize your chances of snagging a ticket for yourself.

Tools & Authoring Systems

Villanelle is an experimental authoring system to let creators build complex character behaviors for interactive fiction. The project is put together by Chris Martens and her team at NCSU. They are actively seeking outside opinions, so if you’re interested, you can first try out the prototype, and then fill out a feedback form to help the team evaluate and refine the project.

Twine-Monogatari is a project to let authors write content in Twine and present it in the Monogatari visual novel system. Monogatari is an open-source tool designed to let authors (among other things) present visual novels in a web browser, and has some other neat features even when used without Twine.

Jams & Contests


The 2019 IF Comp is open for authors to submit intents, now through September 1, if you’d like to contribute a game to the competition.

XYZZY Award voting is currently open, and you’re welcome to participate by nominating up to two games per category.


In Wing and a Prayer — Stress and Structure, Ian Thomas explores the potential emotional impact of LARP / simulations, via Allied Games’ recreation of a British Ops room in World War II. (More info about the game itself can also be found here.)

This integration allows users to play the original Zork Trilogy through Slack.

Chris Klimas shares his Narrascope presentation on the history of Twine (and its current state).

Forthcoming Releases

headerElsinore, a time-looping adventure from Golden Glitch that explores the story of Hamlet from the point of view of Ophelia, as she relives the same four days and tries to avert the tragic endings of the play.

The game is slated for release on Steam on July 22.

Also coming soon is the rerelease of Nocked!, which originally came out in 2017 for iOS and which I reviewed on this blog at the time. This time around, the game is getting a new-and-improved desktop version, available on July 17.

The Twine-based historical adventure drops players into Medieval England at the start of Robin Hood’s outlaw adventures, and with dozens of potential endings, the choices made will lead to wildly different conclusions.

Author Andrew G. Schneider has added 100,000 words to the branching narrative for the Steam version, so there will be plenty of extra material for those already familiar with the game (and given that the original already had 400,000 words, that leaves plenty for those coming to it for the first time.)

A Top 20 List of IF

In which I list some nominees for Victor Gijsbers’ Top 50 IF list. And, because I’m me, I explain why those and not others. A lot.

Every four years, Victor Gijsbers puts together a list of the top 50 IF games of all time. To vote for this, one sends Victor a list of the 20 best games; those games that fall on the most “best” lists wind up on the Top 50 list. (You can participate, or see the spreadsheet that contains the current state of play, at the intfiction forum.)

I find this interesting, and also extremely hard to vote for, because I can think of many more than twenty games that have a reasonable claim to be “best” in some regard. So I have to pick some additional criteria in order to filter the thing down.

This year, I’ve deliberately skewed my list towards the criterion of maturity: games that represent what IF has become as a medium, that benefit from thought and careful play, and that communicate something about the human condition that is truthful, important, and hard to convey.

This is not the same thing as recency, but in the nature of things it does mean that the list skews a bit towards games that have come out in the past decade, and often towards works by authors who had already worked in the medium for a long time.

The list therefore omits a lot of games that I find delightful for their playfulness and polish: Lost Pig, Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, Secret Agent Cinder, Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, Magical Makeover, Midnight. Swordfight, several games by CEJ Pacian, and quite a lot of Ryan Veeder’s catalog.

It leaves out works that do a single thing perfectly — the telescopic narration of Lime Ergot, the linguistic mindbending of The Gostak, the jewel-beauty of The Moonlit Tower, the unfolding horror of My Father’s Long, Long Legs or the puzzle discipline of Suveh Nux. It skips others that impress through their extraordinary ambition and scope, from Tin Star or Blue Lacuna to 1893, Delusions and First Things First. It omits anything where I found myself writing too much extenuating text, any games I thought were great in one respect but got seriously in their own way in some other regard.

The list also skips many canonical works that helped define IF for the community: Zork, Deadline, Curses, Anchorhead, Spider and Web, Photopia, Shade, Rameses, Slouching Towards Bedlam. Even Jigsaw, which wrestles seriously with the weight and meaning of history, is also hampered by too-difficult puzzles and by limiting tropes of text adventures as they existed at the time. Influential and original, many of these games established what was possible in interactive fiction, and many of them are still very entertaining to play; others feel a little faded, documents of a different culture, as awkward to watch as a 90s sitcom. But if you want a list of this kind of canon, IFDB will supply several. I didn’t set out to omit anything because it was canonical, but I found that the criteria I set for this particular list tended to land on other nominees.

Several pieces, from Bloom to Shadow in the Cathedral, I left off the list because the narrative is not yet concluded. (I have hopes Bloom will be completed; I think we’re unlikely ever to get the end of the story of Shadow.)

Also not shown: works that meant a lot to me on a personal level for some reason, but that might not bear that same freight for someone else: Necrotic Drift, with its gut-punch ending about personal responsibility; Plundered Hearts, whose plottiness and NPC focus gave me the first ideas towards the type of IF I would one day want to write.

At the same time, there’s a lot of subjectivity here, and I did leave out some works, like Cape, or The Life (and Deaths) of Dr M, where excellent interaction design and writing served to explore some very significant theme, but where I just couldn’t quite agree with the conclusions; or the excellent Mama Possum, which is poignant and observant but didn’t leave me turning over the significance as much in my own mind, afterward.

Games that I contributed to myself, from Fallen London and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine to Cragne Manor, are also omitted, though I think the trend of anthology fiction with multiple authorial voices is an intensely interesting one and I should definitely write more about that. Later. Not in this list.

So. The list:

Continue reading “A Top 20 List of IF”

Mailbag: Environmental Storytelling

This is actually a reprint of a comment exchange that appeared earlier on this blog, but it’s the kind of question that I typically mailbag, so I’m reproducing it here for visibility.

A question, if I may: I’m not much of a story-writer (as in coming up with the ‘adventure’ part of the equation), but I’m working on a densely interactive VR diorama (http://naam.itch.io/apotu) and a story/plot is starting to emerge from all the incidental detail popping up everywhere, taking shape in my head. It’s more of a situation/slice-of-life thing than a story per se. What would you (or any other reader!) say is a good way to come up with narrative cues to divulge this to the visitor?

I guess I’m mainly struggling with process – how to come up with just the right bits of information to relate to the listener, and how to make that matter.

Start by identifying the bare minimum. What are the 3-7 most important events or beats the player must know about in order to understand your story? What traces might those events have left on the world?

Continue reading “Mailbag: Environmental Storytelling”

End of June Link Assortment


July 2-5 will be the ACM IVA Conference, taking place in Paris.  IVA 2019’s special topic is “Social Learning with Interactive Agents”.

July 6, the SF Bay Area IF Meetup is meeting in the usual spot in the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment.

July 13, the Oxford/London IF Meetup has a talk on Content Selection Architectures. If that title sounds a bit opaque to you, let me clarify: it’s about how we choose what pieces of content to show the player next, one of the fundamental questions of interactive literature. The talk comes to us from Michael Mateas, one of the creators of Façade and Prom Week, who through his own work and through his teaching and program development at UC Santa Cruz is one of the most prolific and influential academic thinkers on how we use procedural systems to create memorable player experiences. I am more than slightly smug that he’s agreed to speak to the group about his most recent work.

July 13, the Baltimore/DC IF Meetup is also getting together, resuming its monthly schedule to discuss The Missing Ring.

evt-655.jpgThe SIGIR Conference is taking place in Paris from July 21-25.

July 25 is the next Boston Area IF Meetup.

The 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) will take place in Florence (Italy) at the ‘Fortezza da Basso‘ from July 28-August 2.

Logo_DiGRA_Kyoto-V3-300x288.pngDiGRA 2019 is being held August 6-10 in Kyoto.

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

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


Time What Day is a piece about memory that includes both Twine elements and (if you pay for it) a box containing scents and other sensory cues. I am sorry to say I missed the chance to check this out when it was demonstrated at NarraScope, but I’m glad someone did make an interactive narrative with scent tie-ins.

fUPDrH.pngHeretical Geese is a tiny tabletop RPG by Yoon Ha Lee and Ursula Whitcher, available from itch.

Victor Gijsbers has made a huge archive available containing his past games with source code (in many cases the games were previously free but the source was not); some unfinished projects; and writings and posts about interactive fiction.

Articles and Talks

Polygon on the Episodes platform and the people who write content for it.

Lynda Clark offers some interesting stats on the IF on the British Library’s interactive fiction archive, and calls out a few specific games available there.

Long time readers of this blog may remember Ian Thomas’ fascinating LARP write-ups from God Rest Ye Merry, an amazing Christmas murder mystery roleplay scenario held in a historic house with all kinds of jaw-dropping special effects. He’s done another project, All for One, a LARP based on cinematic renditions of the Three Musketeers, and you can read all about it in his Medium post on the making of. (Warning: that GRYM link can eat hours of your life. Pleasurably. But wow there’s a lot there and you will not want to stop once you start. The Medium post on All for One is a much shorter but still really fun and fascinating read.)

I’ve already posted elsewhere, but once more for people who might not have caught it, Graham Nelson did a talk about where Inform is going next, at NarraScope, and the slides and notes are available.

Jon Ingold did a talk on designing a lost language for Heaven’s Vault. This is from a couple of months ago, but I don’t think I’ve posted it here before, and it’s cool:

And here’s Dragan Jerosimovic in a talk from Reboot Develop Blue about what is necessary to build compelling digital characters.

The Fellow Who Caught Fire (Mark Bernstein)

At NarraScope last weekend, Mark Bernstein (“Those Trojan Girls”, previous observations on hypertext narrative) was passing out a booklet entitled “The Fellow Who Caught Fire.” On the left-side pages are sections of a story; on the right-side pages, commentary about how stories are presented. Some of the areas for discussion are familiar from non-interactive literature, such as framing, tense, and person. Others dig into topics like explicit choice and link placement in hypertext narrative.

Since not everyone will have access to these, I thought I’d talk a little about what it contains, and some thoughts I had in response to Bernstein’s questions and provocations.

Continue reading “The Fellow Who Caught Fire (Mark Bernstein)”

Blogs on Narrative Design and Game Writing

I’ve covered many books on game writing here over the years, and I’ve collected and linked a lot of online resources on narrative design and on the history of IF design in particular.

This time, I’m recommending some blogs by other people who post about game writing or narrative design. Originally this post was going to be about blogs and podcasts, but there were enough of both that I have broken it out, and the podcasts section will appear later.

I’ve also intentionally not clustered these blogs by topics, since a lot of bloggers write about different things on the same blog. So instead I’ve mentioned some key posts, if there’s something on the site I consider especially characteristic of that person.

Continue reading “Blogs on Narrative Design and Game Writing”