Liza Daly on Stone Harbor

stoneharborcover.pngI spoke to Liza Daly about her 4th-place IF Comp 2016 entry Stone Harbor. In full disclosure, Liza is a friend, and we have worked together in the past; she commissioned me to write First Draft of the Revolution.

On this occasion, she was kind enough to talk with me about where her project came from, her ambitions for IF in general, and how she sees interactive fiction relative to the world of publishing and ebooks—including some thoughts on why interactive ebooks didn’t become the cutting edge of interactive fiction.

What were your goals for the Stone Harbor project when you got started?

I work in publishing, and I’ve long been frustrated by how little awareness there is of interactive fiction, or born-digital writing in general, in the publishing community. At best, people think it’s all Choose Your Own Adventure books, or Zork, or navel-gazing avant-garde experiments, or big-budget apps like Arcadia. The objections I’ve heard about IF range from “those are for kids” to “they’re games not stories” or “they cost thousands of dollars to make.” So on one level my goal was to write a relatively conventional genre story—something publishers could could recognize—cheaply and quickly.

Meanwhile my personal projects tend to be short or abstract: Twitter bots or computer-generated “novels” that are devoid of meaning. I wanted to see if I could do the hard work of writing believable characters and sustaining a storyline.

Both goals pulled Stone Harbor in the direction of being longer (by word-count) and less branch-y than is typical for IF Comp entries. I hoped that it would be received as “minimally interactive” rather than “slapped-on interactive,” but I think it’s a fair criticism that I could have made the interactivity deeper without compromising the story-ness. I’m inspired to do better next time.

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Jim Munroe on Texture and “Pretty Sure”

Texture is a tool for choice-based interactive fiction, but one with explicit verbs rather than simple links in the text. Designed to feel natural on touch screen devices as well as in the browser, it lets you drag a verb from the bottom of the screen and position it over one or more hot spots in the text.

Here I’ve dragged a “remember” tag to hover the highlighted “your son” text, constructing my own command:

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A beta version of Texture has been around for a while – I first wrote about it in late 2014, and Jim Munroe and Juhana Leinonen have been working on it on and off since then. But that early version was still lacking a number of features. The new iteration is much more complete, both in terms of what the tool can do (better handling of variables and lasting state from page to page) and as a player-facing experience. The new version launched with a small but impressive library of titles, with new works from Jim Munroe, Robert Yang (who has often starred here before), and Jake Elliott (Kentucky Route Zero).

Jim’s big contribution is Pretty Sure, a short story about parenting: I would say a science fiction story, and there are science fictional elements, but it’s really mostly a story about human interactions and responsibilities. Jim was kind enough to talk with me about the making of Pretty Sure and the design decisions that went into it.

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Mysterious Cases on Indiegogo

Robert Sabuda is a paper engineer who designs pop-up books. He — with collaborators — is now running an Indiegogo campaign to put together three Mysterious Cases: boxes that come with clues, props, puzzles and locks. He was good enough to answer some questions for me:

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ES: The trailer and photos make these look really appealing and tactile — it looks like there’s a lot of physical manipulation of props to solve these puzzles. And I know you’re a pop-up book artist and have done a lot of past projects that involve manipulating a book in order to bring about, as your FAQ says, a “WOW” moment. What qualities in a pop-up most contribute to delivering that sense of wonder?

RS: I think what it really comes down is providing a sense of a wonder and magic.  We like to be surprised, and maybe even a bit fooled, when we’re unable to come up with answer to “how did THAT happen?”  Pop-up books and interactive experiences, like the Mysterious Cases, supply that in droves.  We want to wrestle a bit and be delighted by new discoveries and the magic of the moment.

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Mark Bernstein on Hypertext Narrative

Literary hypertext has a long history that isn’t always well understood or well acknowledged by interactive fiction authors, even though with the growing popularity of Twine and other hypertext tools, the techniques are more than ever relevant to us.

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Recently Eastgate released Storyspace 3, a new version of software used to produce many canonical works of literary hypertext; and, to accompany it, their chief scientist Mark Bernstein wrote a book, Getting Started with Hypertext Narrative, in which he discusses the challenges and the craft of writing in this form.

Whether or not you are interested in using Storyspace or writing literary hypertext, the book is worth reading, not least because it offers terminology and insights from a body of work IF authors seldom study.

In the exchange below, Mark and I discuss various sections of his book, together with other relevant tools in the space. We find some common structures and implementation strategies that cross over from one tradition to the other, and notice that Storyspace 3 might be a viable alternative to StoryNexus for people who want to experiment with quality-based narrative structures but don’t want StoryNexus’ art requirements or styling: what Mark describes as “sculptural hypertext” shares a lot in common with QBN.

All blockquotes are from the text of Getting Started with Hypertext Narrative: I sent these to Mark with my comments, and in some cases he had thoughts in response, so this is actually sort of a three-cornered conversation between the book, the author, and me. Thanks to Mark for supplying the text and taking the time to answer, and also for his patience with how long it took me to bring this together.

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6Quest and the Hungarian Gamebook Scene

6quest

6Quest is Hungarian interactive fiction based on a gamebook series. The creators are currently running a Kickstarter to have the app translated into English for a wider audience.

I was able to find this list of Hungarian gamebooks by Demian Katz, but I’m not even able to translate the titles, so I don’t have a huge amount to go on. So I asked Paul Muranyi to tell me a little more of the history of gamebooks in Hungary, as well as the current scene and their project.

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A Conversation with Ruber Eaglenest about ZFiles

zfiles

Z Files: Infection is a project currently being Kickstarted, an interactive comic book set in a zombie universe. I talked with Ruber Eaglenest, aka El Clerigo Urbatain, about the project, and how it works as an interactive comic, as interactive fiction, and in terms of how it portrays its protagonist.

Interactive comic

RUBER: There have been other games that have tried to this fusion, but they are most experiments, or resort to the “infinite canvas”.

EMILY: I think that is an interesting direction. I’ve seen a handful of pieces that do similar things, but I think there is probably a lot of additional room to explore it. IIRC, some of the Tin Man Games pieces do include some comic illustration elements; also a few other things I’ve covered.

RUBER: To be honest, sometimes I’m not at all satisfied about how I try to communicate how interesting is our project compared to other attempts to make interactive comic. I do not want to look as I disregard other attempts, especially when I can climb on his shoulders and improve from there.

We are going to stay inside the pages of a comic, and so, the challenge is to apply the tree structure of CYOA to the finite space of a comic book.

EMILY: What actual constraints do you have in mind here? For instance, are you trying to make all the pages be the same size, or have the same amount of visual space assigned to each node?

RUBER: You see, people and the press likes to praise the infinite canvas because we simply love to see common things applied to new technologies. But when one uses the infinite canvas in a digital or interactive comic, you lose some of the features and inherent properties of the comic format. For example, the ability to close a page narrative, or leave it open with a cliffhanger so that an important revelation occurs at the turn of the page. To play with the structure, with graphic symmetry, among other wonders you can do within the pages of a comic book. For example, in the following conference praising Watchmen, Kieron Gillen explained very well the capacity of traditional structures of comics raised to its maximum capacity of artistic expression.

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