Procedural Generation in Game Design

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.10.14 AM.pngProcedural Generation in Game Design is out! Kate Compton of Tracery fame writes about generative art toys; Mike Cook (PROCJAM, Games by Angelina) writes about ethical generation and also about the procedural generation of game rules; Harry Tuffs (A House of Many Doors) writes about procedural poetry generation. Jason Grinblat and Brian Bucklew (Caves of Qud) each have a chapter. Gillian Smith (Threadsteading, plus lots of cool research) writes about evaluating and understanding what’s been generated. Ben Kybertas (Kitfox Games) covers procedural story and plot generation.

The whole volume is edited by Tanya X Short (Moon Hunters) and Tarn Adams (Dwarf Fortress). And I am leaving out a lot of cool people and chapters here, but you can check out the full table of contents on the website.

My contribution — drawing on experiences from Versu, my character-based parser IF, and assorted other projects — is a chapter on characters: how generating dialogue and performances can help realize an authored character; approaches to generating characters; considerations about what is even interesting to auto-generate.


And in a related update to a previous post: I’m happy to say that the PROCJAM Kickstarter has succeeded and has now put out a call for artists to make art packs for procedural work, together with a call for tutorial authors. If their funding goes even higher, they’ll be able to commission two art packs; translate the tutorials they build into additional languages; and hit some other cool stretch goals.

Spring Thing 2015, and Aspel

Spring Thing is now open, with nine new games: six in the main category, three in the “Back Garden” area for games that aren’t in competition for prizes and have somewhat looser entry requirements. There’s a mix of systems, too — Twine, Undum, Seltani, Glulx and z-machine, and Ren’Py.

My contribution is a Back Garden game called Aspel, which is a realm in the choice-based multiplayer Seltani platform. As my entry blurb says:

Aspel is an experimental interactive experience designed for multiple players, featuring asymmetric information and collective decision-making. The text you see on the screen won’t necessarily be the same as what everyone else sees, so you’ll need to communicate with your fellow players in order to experience it most fully. To make that easier, I’ll be around to participate/host at the following times:

Tuesday April 7 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific
Sunday April 19 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific
Friday May 1 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific

…but of course people are more than welcome to arrange their own visiting hours.

At some point I’ll likely write something about the experience of writing for Seltani.

Ultimate Quest


You’ve been kidnapped, confused, and trapped in a factory to do labor far beneath your true level. The friends you once knew think you’re dead, if they think about you at all. But you’re equipped with NV-level nanomite implants, meaning that you can disassemble and reassemble the world around you in surprising ways. It’s up to you to escape, confront the people who put you away, and complete the world-changing project you had begun.

Ultimate Quest is a new IF game — written by me, gorgeously illustrated by Silvio Aebischer — that opens today and runs in five episodes through the 22nd, as part of a new product launch by NVIDIA. The first players to complete the game will win actual prizes. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a head start on the competition: this is classic parser IF with plenty of puzzles and exploration.

Note that this is a game with Twitter connections: you will need an account to sign in, and to tweet during play.


The Indigo New Language Speed-IF a couple of months ago challenged people to write games in languages they hadn’t used before, based somehow around the theme of Indigo. I don’t do a lot of Speed-IF these days — I have less time than I used to, and it’s seldom that the parameters suggest to me an idea I think would really be a fun, solid concept.

However, this particular challenge was based around something I had been meaning to do anyway (try writing something in TADS 3) at a time when I happened to have temporary access to a Windows machine on which I could run the TADS Workbench. The name “Indigo” suggested a game in the same series with Bronze, Alabaster, and Glass, and I happened to have a puzzle mechanic in mind that I’d been wanting to try out for a while but didn’t think was extensible enough for a full-length game.

So I gave it a try, and it was a good time. There was enough guidance in the library and Eric Eve’s manuals that I was able to get my idea up and running, with several complete puzzles, in the couple of days I had available for coding. I also tried to go with the grain of the library and capitalize on the strengths of the system. Much of the puzzle design is essentially found art: I found library classes that looked promising or that I just wanted to try out (the candle, the odor that announces itself when the containing object is opened, various types of travel connector) and then spun puzzles around them. I think it would have been harder for me to finish in the time available if I’d gone in with a more specific design in mind.

The result is inevitably rough-cut. There wasn’t time to run a beta-test, and the about text mendaciously claims there are hints (because I was planning to do that with the hint class provided, and then got confused and totally ran out of time). And thanks to the weird conditions under which I wrote it, it would be hard to release an update. I’ve never had much luck setting up TADS 3 on my Mac laptop (possibly thanks to user error); the Windows machine where I wrote Indigo was borrowed and is no longer available to me.

On the other hand, Indigo has a puzzle mechanic that I’m pleased with. I’m less sure that it is effective at telling the story I had in mind — a version of Rapunzel that entirely omits the prince — but the most important elements are there. People who played it on ClubFloyd told me they enjoyed it, even in its current condition. So, not a major release and not one that conforms to my usual expectations about testing and polish, but for the people who have expressed interest, it’s here.

Contribution on Echo Bazaar

I’m delighted to say that I’ve contributed some guest content to Echo Bazaar, and it is now live in the game. EBZ is a favorite of mine, and so is their excellent, interactive narrative theory-rich blog. Likely more to come.

(To quote the EBZ feed about where my content appears: “Nocturnal fever: @emshort’s first foray into the Bazaar now live for fortunate and Fated scholars of the Correspondence.” If this is excessively cryptic, it is possible that you have not yet encountered the prerequisites for this storyline.)