Zeppelin Adventure (Robin Johnson, Spring Thing 2018)

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Robin Johnson’s Versificator engine is designed to give the player access to a parser IF-like world model but a choice-based interface, free of verb-guessing. The two previous games in this space, Draculaland and Detectiveland, feature navigation and inventory puzzles that feel quite text adventure-like, but in a more accessible format.

At any given time, the player has quite a few choices available — usually one or several movements between rooms, as well as ways of examining or interacting with environmental objects, and then some things that you can do with your inventory items. But these aren’t listed all in one place; instead, choices associated with something in your inventory become visible only when you’re carrying that inventory item. So there are partially hidden options, and you do generally have to draw some connections yourself before being able to execute a puzzle solution.

zepellincover.jpgFeatured in Spring Thing 2018Zeppelin Adventure continues that tradition, set this time in a wacky-explorer universe where people are plotting out Mars from their giant balloons. Yours, however, suffers an accident and crash-lands on a planet dominated by robots, and you have to go on a quest to find repair parts for your engine.

As the cover art suggests, this is a pulpy kind of story that leans into certain genre conventions both present and historical.

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Venience World (Daniel Spitz, Spring Thing 2018)

Venience World from Spring Thing 2018 offers another possible revision on the parser. Every turn, you have a command line, but listed below it are suggested autocompletions, one word at a time. You can select an autocompletion with up/down arrows, or you can click on one, or you can type out the contents. After you’ve picked the first word, you get options for the next word or phrase, and so on until you’ve completed a line of input.

Below, for instance, we’re offered the opportunity to start with “look” or “open”:

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These parser training-wheels mean that the game can allow the player fairly unusual commands, like BEGIN INTERPRETATION, with no fear of verb-guessing. In this regard, it builds on the author’s previous work Niney, also using unusual parser commands.

Venience World prevents you from reentering a previous command verbatim even if it seems like that command ought to be currently available, and that has results that can feel straight-up buggy. (At one point I repeatedly tried to type LOOK and it would just not register the K keystroke at all, in a weird and disorienting way. I tried several times before I realized that I wasn’t allowed to enter the word LOOK right then, but this feels like the least intuitive way to communicate that to the player.)

There are a handful of previous pieces that have played with similar methods.

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Mailbag: The Unique Selling Points of Parser IF

@mattlaschneider writes: I’d love to see a series of posts geared towards people who are interested in learning to write parser IF in a post-Twine era… I could be totally off base, but I do think that parser IF has a lot to offer people who would normally otherwise be attracted to Twine.

We then had a long Twitter-thread argument about whether it was even appropriate to try to recruit people to writing parser IF, especially because I think many people who come to IF because of Twine have motives or needs for which parser IF is a terrible fit.

So let’s start with the reasons not to write parser IF, and we can come back to the question of how to write it if somehow none of my persuasions work on you.

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Bring Out Your Dead: Interface

Bring Out Your Dead is a jam I ran for defunct WIPs, over the week around summer solstice. It is now complete, and you can see the 89 entries. Not all of these are interactive fiction: being on itch meant that the jam attracted a number of not-even-slightly IF projects, from a hexagonal Tetris variant to a bullet-hell shoot-em-up to Conflux, a 3D puzzle game about getting the right perspective on your environment.

Providing any kind of coverage of all 89 works is more than I can do, but I did want to look at a few concept trend over the next few days, starting with experiments in storytelling interface.

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Interactive Comics Prototype (Carl Muckenhoupt) is an interactive comic where changes in one panel instantly propagate forward to later panels. That means it’s possible to explore a Time Cave-structured story extensively without moving on from a single page.

What would this look like for a longer structure? I could imagine each strip being itself a node in a larger tree; I could also imagine a game where you’re actually working your way backwards, trying to open up earlier panels so that you could exercise greater and greater agency, in the style of 18 Rooms to Home. I would definitely play more of something like this.

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Spring Thing 2016: Dr Sourpuss is Not A Choice-Based Game; Three-Card Trick

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I’ve been playing more of the games from this year’s Spring Thing. (You too can play! And vote! And review, if you wish!)

Dr. Sourpuss Is Not A Choice-Based Game is a lightly puzzly piece about the destructive nature of standardized testing, the fact that a lot of challenges are really multiple-choice even if they look otherwise, how tests can encode racist standards, and how some things (such as sport) resist such handling — all bounced off the choice-vs.-parser debate. The game includes Twine-like portions mingled with other segments that involve other methods of problem solving, including typing at the very end. The About text suggests that the author means to stake out a position that will annoy people of all political stripes; perhaps I am reading badly, but I failed to be annoyed about its politics.

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Chatbots as Narrative Platform

Recently I’ve been running into a fair amount of news/discussion about “conversation as a platform” and “bots as the new apps” — specifically, that people spend so much time texting that chatbots are a viable way to do advertising and storytelling and personal assistant functions all at once.

This means taking in natural language input (as opposed to the Lifeline-style experience, where the user is still pressing buttons to navigate a choice-based conversation). Historically,  I’ve tended to be skeptical about this because the error rate on chatbot output is high enough to make for a frustrating game experience.

All the same, there have recently been some developments on this front, partly because there’s now stronger AI for classifying natural language input, and partly because app discoverability problems make it appealing to embed content within chat platforms. Meanwhile, streaming means that there’s a greater audience for games that produce amusing results and accept idiosyncratic player input: here’s PewDiePie making Facade produce weird results.

What follows is a summary of some existing work I know about in this area. I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a lot more come along.

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