Pigeons in the Park

Pigeons in the Park is a conversation piece (game is probably the wrong word) by Deirdra Kiai, somewhat in the mold of interactive fiction conversation works, but designed in the Wintermute engine and accompanied by graphics and sound. (I gather. I played it with the sound muted because I needed to avoid disturbing people around me, but others have mentioned that there’s a soundtrack.)

Pigeons in the Park is at the extreme hypertext-like end of the interactive conversation genre. There’s no text parser, just a short menu of options to speak, and since the amount of content is relatively small, you can run through most of the interesting options in the dialogue tree in ten minutes or so of play. It also reminds me of some of my own earlier work in that it’s quite self-referential: most of the actual content of the conversation is about story-telling in games. The protagonist is also a bit of a blank slate.

Embedded in the conversation is a question: how do we make these exchanges emotionally affecting? How do we write interactive conversation that is moving as well as amusing or arty?

I still think the answer has to do with not starting from scratch, but beginning with characters who already have some history. But I’m really intrigued to see this kind of problem being addressed in other media than textual IF.

The Reprover

The Reprover is a piece of digital art; or a lightly interactive comic book; or a French film whose pacing you control yourself; or a story written on the surface of a polyhedron. Or perhaps it is most accurate to call it a hypertext, but, if so, it is considerably more coherent and satisfying than most literary hypertexts I have encountered before.

Continue reading “The Reprover”

Jeremy Douglass’ Dissertation

on interactive fiction is now available. Jeremy was kind enough to let me read a draft a few weeks ago, and I found it quite enlightening. The introductory chapters, where he re-evaluates the timeline of IF and discusses the role of academic criticism in studying new media, I found pretty convincing.

More challenging is his argument that the term “player character” should be abolished entirely, on the grounds that it conflates several different kinds of relationship that the player can have with the characters in the game, and that using the terminology makes it unnecessarily hard for us to distinguish those different functions. I’m not sure whether this will change anyone’s long-held habits, but the argument is intriguing and worth a read.

Finally, Douglass offers several extended readings of specific works of IF, and especially a very long analysis of Andrew Pontious’ Rematch. This is great stuff, and I haven’t seen much IF criticism like it.

The book is not a small one and will take some time to go through, but it’s worth the attention. If at some point I come up for air from other tasks, I may address the substance of it at more length here — we’ll see.

In the mean time, congratulations to him for finishing, and thanks for making it available for everyone to read!

ELO Conference

The Electronic Literature Organization is currently calling for presentation proposals and submissions of artists’ work for a conference in late May of next year. I know they’re interested in interactive fiction, so if you have something you’d like to submit to their gallery, now is the time — the submission deadline is November 30th. Artists selected are expected to attend the conference; some financial assistance is available.

Digital Humanities Quarterly

…features not one but two IF articles this issue: the finalized version of Dennis Jerz’s Colossal Cave article, and an article by Eric Eve on “All Hope Abandon”. A lot of Eric’s article is devoted to explaining IF for the benefit of an unfamiliar audience, but then he gets into interesting specifics about the IF medium and his particular work. Worth a look.

What Would James Bond Do?

In a response to my recent comments on his work, Mark Bernstein writes:

I wasn’t actually talking about ate and hamartia, or not only about them: there’s a simple logistical contradiction that lies at the heart of IF. You’re the hero. You’re in a tight spot. Things seem hopeless.

>What do you do?

Well, what would you do? What would James Bond do, or wily Ulysses? They’d do something brilliant, totally unexpected, something nobody would have thought of. They’d do the one perfect thing that only they could do to get out of this tight spot.

So, you rack your brains. And you come up with something incredibly clever, unexpected, and far-fetched. Something perfect! But I’m just a writer, not a hero: have I thought of your incredibly clever strategem? If I have, you’re deflated: it’s not heroic after all, it was just a puzzle and you’ve supplied the correct answer. A tough puzzle, maybe, but (obviously) the author was here before you.

And if I have not been here before, the game’s going to say, “I don’t understand.” So, heads you lose, and tailsyou lose.

I have several responses to this:

Continue reading “What Would James Bond Do?”