Transcript Dec 13: New Directions in IF

Emily says, “…right!”
Emily says, “so the time arrives”
Emily says, “our conversation topic this evening is new directions for IF, which is open-ended on purpose: if you’d like to talk about broad areas you’d like to see or run very specific ideas past people, those are both fine”
Emily asks, “is there anyone who is keen to bring something up to start?”

Single-play IF

FloatingInfo says, “Yes.”
Emily says, “go for it”
DavidW says, “I’d prefer not to start with me. :)”
FloatingInfo says, “I’m curious as to whether “Win-on-first-attempt” clauses like in Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies can be used for more serious games.”
FloatingInfo says, “Like, “Are you going to risk trying to save that other person?””
Emily asks, “in order to raise the stakes on individual choices?”
Emily says, “I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do that”
FloatingInfo says, “Yes.”
Emily says, “though I think you’d probably want to (try to) design in such a way that the player had a narratively meaningful experience even if they wiped out arly”
FloatingInfo says, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking along those lines.”
Emily says, “(though this also reminds me of Jason Rohrer’s Chain World concept )”
Emily says, “I guess you’d also have to decide whether you wanted to just tell the player to play a certain way (which is what Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies does — there’s nothing to stop you playing it a bunch of times if you want) or whether you actually wanted to use some technical means to enforce that”
Nitku says, “I’ve tried to think of a way to get rid of lawnmowering and making choices more meaningful, but I haven’t found anything other than play-once live RPGish things”
DavidW says, “I’m sorta reminded of, wasn’t there a Risk variant where you put stickers on cards or punch holes in others to customize the game during play? So your game materials are forced into just one variant.”
Emily says (to DavidW), “Risk Legacy
Emily says, “the board actually changes over subsequent plays”
Emily says, “StoryNexus games can do this, too, but mostly because there’s not necessarily a way to back up or start over — if you do something in Fallen London, it’s done”
Emily says, “but it’s such a long/ongoing game that it doesn’t really fall into what people would think of as a play-once kind of experience”
Emily says, “(and some people do make alts)”
DavidW says, “So… hm… if the game was available only online, you could enforce that the decisions mattered.”
Emily says, “assuming you could make sure that the player couldn’t access it via other selves”
FloatingInfo says, “Eh, if they want to go through so much trouble to get another shot, that’s alright.”
DavidW says, “I doubt there’s a completely foolproof way to prevent tampering or resetting.”
Emily says, “but at the very least you could make that so annoying that people mostly didn’t (by tying it into a Twitter log-in or something so that it was a pain to make a new one)”
Emily says, “if you just used cookies they could swap machines or use an incognito mode or something”
Roger says, “Upcoming porpentine game to require player to get tattoos”
Emily says, “yay”
Emily says, “also, yikes”
Nitku says, “Ingress requires SMS confirmation which sounds pretty efficient”

Telemetry; Information preserved between different players’ sessions

DavidW says, “I’d like to introduce the idea of telemetry, if that’s the idea of the game sending back info to the author or the game server.”
Emily says, “reviewing a game in which you can’t replay to check stuff is tough, though — I like to be able to replay and scout out the game thoroughly”
Roger says (to DW), “Calling it now — 2015 will be the Year of Guncho
DavidW says (to Roger), “About time Guncho had its year.”
FloatingInfo says, “Well, it’s possible the best option is to allow replay, but try to make it intuitive that your first run-through is “canonical””
Emily asks, “is the telemetry idea to support the play-once concept, or as a separate thing?”
DavidW says (to Emily), “Separate, yet I can see telemetry as a support for the play-once,.”
DavidW says, “Which is why I felt I could mention it now.”
Emily says, “yeah”
Emily says, “another thing I wondered about play-once: Fallen London has players making a wiki describing the full layout of the game so that if you make a given choice, you don’t miss all the other possibilities”
Emily says, “and it seems like that would be a risk with any popular play-once game, that people would collaboratively map it out”
DavidW says, “Like, it’d be useful for the author to know how their game is being played, but it could also be used to effect the game itself.”
Emily asks, “would that compromise the concept?”
FloatingInfo says, “If you want, you can read a book backwards.”
Emily asks (of DavidW), “are you picturing mostly transcripting a la Comp Parchment, or something else/more than that?”
two-star says, “I’m thinking of a expensive kickstarter pledge level: Sequel will be written based on your actions in game one: $1000.”
Emily says, “I think SilkWords actually has some stories in which the next portions are written based on reader voting”
DavidW says, “I was thinking that possibly telemetry from one player could effect what happens to new or other players. The game could have a ongoing history.”
Emily asks (of DavidW), “ah, like bones files or the messages in Barbetween?”
DavidW says, “I don’t know what those are.”
Emily says, “bones files record how other players died in Roguelikes so you can find their tombstones or whatever”
Emily says, “Barbetween is jmac’s Seltani game in which when you go you see some text that was written by someone else on a previous playthrough”
Emily says, “(it’s only a phrase or two per person)”
DavidW says, “ah”
DavidW says, “I guess some of that, but I think it could go further. Like, if the game notices that players aren’t experiencing a sidestory, it could adjust itself to make that sidestory more probable.”
DavidW says, “Make a too easy puzzle harder or vice-versa.”
Emily says, “wow”
DavidW says, “Let players vote on something.”
Emily asks, “so who you encounter as the Fearless Leader in the game in March depends on what the players in February voted for?”
Emily says, “(I realize that’s a pretty literal interpretation of voting)”
DavidW says, “yeah, it could be literal voting like that, yes.”
Roger says, “Hmmm variable difficulty in general is sort of a neglected area by IF”
Emily asks, “well, kind of. there are only a few games where you’re allowed to set the difficulty, but there are more games that have multiple puzzle solutions or optional achievements or endings, and then obviously people can also sort of adjust their experience depending on how much they rely on hint mechanisms. but I assume you have in mind games where the puzzle challenges themselves change?”
Roger says, “Compared to most other videogames that allow some sort of difficulty setting, I mean, yeah.”
Emily says, “in DW’s scenario, I can imagine an author looking at feedback from player experiences and deciding to nerf a puzzle, but writing a game that is meaningfully able to self-adjust its difficulty level sounds Really Damn Hard to me”
Emily says, “(cool! but hard)”
DavidW says, “heh, I don’t know how it’d be done in practical terms, true.”
Emily asks (of Roger), “how much of that is because IF difficulty is puzzle-based (usually) rather than tied to some other mechanic?”
FloatingInfo says, “Watch the game become self-aware and make itself absurdly hard.”
Roger says, “I dunno. My laziest stab at it would be to, say, elide every third word.”
Emily says, “‘I’ll show those guys'”
DavidW says, “I imagine the author would have to be permitted to edit the game on the fly in various ways.”
Roger says, “To get back to Guncho, a game that gets easier with more players is probably tenable”
djfletch says, “Every time a player wins, the game should get harder to compensate for the fact that another person is now available to give hints.”
Emily says, “gahhh”
Emily says, “it’s like Endless, Nameless run backwards”
DavidW says (to djfletch), “That would be evil.”
DavidW says, “I did write one backwards game.”
Emily says, “so one thing that Counterfeit Monkey does is cut off some of the puzzle solutions in hard mode, and maybe a way to do telemetry/multiplayer version of that would be to have the system watch which solutions were found most often and use those to decide what should be removed as a possibility in hard mode”
Emily says, “I think that might kind of work, if you were systematic enough”
Emily says, “but it would require a really disciplined design”
Emily says, “zarf can write it”

Micro-IF with a voting mechanic; Twitter IF

Roger says, “hmmm IF microfiction never really quite took off, did it? I may have missed it — it’s small.”
DavidW asks (of Roger), “What’s microfiction? Serialized?”
Roger says (to DW), “I guess I’m thinking of those days when people were eyeing up twitter as an IF platform”
DavidW says (to Roger), “wow. I can actually imagine that.”
Emily says, “oh! I can (maybe) actually speak to that specific thing a little. The original concept for Ultimate Quest was to be entirely played on Twitter — like, you’d tweet commands at a bot that would answer — but if Twitter’s back end detects that your account is tweeting the same output at lots of people over and over, it will shut you down for spamming”
Emily says, “so that’s why we weren’t actually able to go that route”
DavidW says, “interesting”
Nitku says, “you could have the voting thing there”
Emily says, “(also, there’s @YouAreCarrying, but that’s doing randomized generation)”
Roger says, “hunh neat”
Nitku says, “the most favorited choice gets selected”
DavidW says, “Library of Emoji is also doing randomized generation.”
Emily asks (of Nitku), “so it’s sort of like a live performance where everyone is following your tweet stream?”
Nitku says, “yeah”
Emily says, “I guess that would deal with the play-once issue”
Emily says, “and then you storify it when you’re done and it’s all over”
Roger says, “Our recent Club Floyd was very similar in practice”
Emily asks, “you were playing Creatures Such as We?”
DavidW says, “On Sunday, we were, yeah.”
Emily says, “I wonder if that would get frustrating with more than a handful of players, though — like, if you were doing it on Twitter, possibly it would feel like your personal decisions didn’t matter all that much because you were just one of a sea”
Nitku says, “A lifelike voting experience then”
Emily says, “then again, maybe that would make it a really interesting platform for an IF story that was about group decision making, yeah”
Emily says, “I guess if you wanted to run it live, you wouldn’t necessarily even need to do any tech setup at all — just write a bit of a gameplan in advance and then type as you go”
Emily says, “more like tabletop RPG play”
DavidW says, “Still, if you wanted complicated voting, say where each player gets to rank the choices at a node, you’d want a computer to handle the math.”
FloatingInfo asks, “Is the inability for the game to really be a lasting work a problem?”
Emily says (to FloatingInfo), “sometimes? I mean, ephemeral games can be awesome too: see tabletop RPGs”

“Cumulatively multiplayer” games that remember actions of past players

Emily says, “did many people here try This is a Real Thing That Happened?”
maga says (to Emily), “yes”
DavidW says, “I didn’t even hear about This is a Real Thing That Happened.”
Emily says, “the reason I bring up Carolyn’s thing is that it ties into a couple of different ideas brought up here”
Emily says, “it’s a game where, when you play, you vote on whether future players will win the game”
Emily says, “and your winning depends on the votes of those before you”
Emily says, “which sounds kind of weird, but it’s actually kind of touching, I think, like it feels like these strangers have done you a favor. (at least, when I played, people had voted for the future players to win. Maybe in the meantime it’s had a streak of negative voters and now people lose, I don’t know)”
Emily says, “so there’s the voting element and also the element of changing the game experience for future players through collected telemetry of some sort”
maga says, “hunh, I had thought it was just whether the immediately-previous player wanted you to win”
Emily says (to maga), “I think it’s cumulative”
Emily says, “maybe I misunderstood”
maga says, “it says ‘you won because $NAME wanted you to win'”
Emily says, “yeah, but I see a whole list of people when I play”
Emily | You won because Maarten, Blargh, Blb, Aran, Leroy, Jeremy, Matt, rho, Mike, Dapski, DORP, Matt, gibs, Isabela, Alex, gsj, Eric, Jon, wilverine, Hanayuki, Mike… [etc for about a paragraph] played before you and wanted you to win.
maga says, “hunh. I’ve only ever seen one person. wonder why that is.”
Emily asks, “did you download it?”
maga says, “no”
Emily says, “(is it downloadable?)”
Emily says, “okay”
Emily says, “I don’t know. Maybe there’s some extra thing in there where it behaves differently for different players, which would be extremely mess-with-your-head”
maga says, “possibly Adblock or something kneecapped it”
Emily says, “‘here’s an experimental game that does something funky! but a different funky thing for different people!'”
Emily says, “‘discuss!'”
Rob says, “maybe it’s like Journey
Emily says, “but in any case, I really like the idea of a cumulatively multiplayer IF game (that is, not necessarily one where everyone was on at once, though it could be, through Guncho or Seltani) where player iterations make the game somehow more interesting or richer for later players”
maga says, “yeah”
FloatingInfo says, “You have to design carefully enough that it can’t be ruined, though.”
DavidW says, “yeah. It’d make multiplayer not dependent so much on simultaneous playing.”
Rob says, “the meta thing is that standard IF games get richer and more interesting for later players based on feedback given to the author who rewrites and adds bits”
Emily says, “so another pie-in-the-sky thing we floated for Ultimate Quest but didn’t do for reasons that will probably be obvious if you think about it: we considered having a thing where players could set their own descriptions, and then later players would see that-way-described characters wandering around as NPCs”
maga says, “finding a middle ground between ‘trivial’ and ‘giving the player so much control that they create ambulatory penises everywhere’ is the thing”
Emily says, “of course, we didn’t want people setting their descriptions to Giant Dick and it would have been a pain in the ass, so we didn’t in the end”
Rob says, “ah”
DavidW says, “(what about Li’l Dick? Less painful?)”
DavidW says, “sorry”
Emily says, “but it seems like if you were doing something smaller/more experimental/less concerned with corporate concerns, you might be able to pull it off anyway, and either have a profanity filter or let people tag junk or go through it yourself by hand, if the volume was low enough”
Emily says, “(heh)”
Nitku says, “it could work if the player is given ready-made blocks to build the descriptions”
DavidW says, “Dial your own avatar”
djfletch says, “yes, if you have enough choices of appearance and clothing and accessories and whatever you could still make probably-unique and recognisable people”
Emily says, “you’d want to make sure there were enough options that it really felt like a creative contribution, though”
Emily says, “I guess people tweeting pictures of their drawn-on arms/legs to Porpentine was kind of like this for With Those We Love Alive, but you had to go outside the game in order to find those images, and also probably in that case no one would have bothered to attempt censorship”
Emily says, “or, hm, a thing where you can see social media pages for all the NPCs, and they’d gradually fill up with content depending on how previous players had treated them”
maga asks, “like The Walking Dead’s choice % thing?”
Emily says, “well, less numerical than that, though — like “Clementine has 56,087 friends” or whatever”
Emily says, “actually, that’s plenty numerical”
Emily says, “never mind”
DavidW says, “There are webcomics whose characters have twitter accounts.”
Emily says, “but some trace of messages or… something”
maga says, “hmm, maybe something more like levelling up”
Emily says, “this would of course be most interesting if you have characters that people are going to be divided over, rather than ones where everyone loves to hate the same guy”
maga says, “like you get lots of accumulating choices about which way this guy’s traits are going to be balanced”
Emily says, “or: you mandatorily have to write diary pages as you finish various sections, and those become the torn out/scattered diary entries found by later players”
maga says, “(and possibly the author comes in and adds things to reflect this, I dunno)”
Emily says, “I also kind of like the idea of leaving breadcrumbs or help for other players, but it would need to be in such a way as not to totally ruin the game”

Multiplayer with multiple simultaneous protagonists

maga asks (of Emily), “have you played Journey?”
Emily says, “I’ve seen bits of it, but not played myself”
Rob says, “I didn’t get what it was I’d experienced until I finished it and watched the credits, and then I had an ohh ahhh moment that changed what I just realized had happened”
Rob says, “I thought I was playing with weird game-generated NPCs, but they were weird other people”
Emily says, “I wonder whether it’s possible to do anything like that with discrete actions of the kind you usually get in IF”
maga says, “also, asynchronously”
Emily says, “we really need more experiments on Guncho
maga says, “but I think the deal there is how the scope of possible actions is kind of crafted to make it range from ‘ignore one another’ to ‘pointlessly frolic’ to ‘actively assist’, with no ‘be a dick’ creeping in”
Emily says, “ah, okay, that’s interesting”
Emily asks, “how is ‘be a dick’ avoided?”
maga says, “well, there’s no verbal communication, for a start, just jumping and twirling and stuff”
djfletch says, “maybe you could be allowed to make recordings of your actions. Like you record yourself killing a dragon with your bare hands and leave the tape for the next person.”
maga says, “you can lead people to cool stuff, but not steal it from them – everybody’s instance has their own stuff”
maga says, “I suppose you could encourage someone to follow you, then wander off into a pointless part of the world, but that doesn’t really hurt them any more than it hurts you”
Emily says, “interesting”
maga says, “it’s a game which is almost entirely movement-oriented – not a lot of verbs”
Nitku says, “I’ve had this co-op idea for years where two players play two protagonists at the same time”
Emily asks, “wait, for a total of four protagonists?”
Emily asks, “or you’re both controlling both protagonists?”
Nitku says, “no, each have their own character”
Rob says, “hm yeah Guncho should be getting more experiments”
Emily says, “oh, okay”
Nitku says, “totally doable in Guncho
Rob says, “you can ‘sing’ at the other player”
Emily asks, “would that involve collaborative puzzle solving? or something else?”
DavidW says, “(Totally unrelated thought: winning the game lets you access secret doors to wander ‘backstage’ in subsequent playthroughs.)”
Rob says, “I guess Paul managed to do double-PC games years ago
Nitku says, “yeah, like you’d need the players in two places at the same time or something like that”
Rob says, “I keep this rudiment of an idea for something like that alive in my head but never make it”
Rob says, “one day just in plain z-machine i6 I said ‘hm, what happens if you split the screen, and every time the player changes the window focus, you do a ChangePlayer call, so one PC is in one half and one PC is in the other”
Rob says, “and with no special coding, split-screen playing 2 pc’s just kind of worked”
Rob says, “I had two ideas for what to do with it, one was that the PC you’re not playing stays parked while you’re in the other half of the screen window, and the other is that they have to in some sense ‘take a turn’ of activity every time the other one does”
Emily says, “so a bit like Origins in this year’s IF Comp, but a parser game rather than Twine”
Emily says, “(at least, in Origins, the other NPC took a turn whenever you did, but it was deterministically dependent on your actions, so if you picked link one for one character, the other character would also do whatever their link one corresponded to)”
maga says, “Works of Fiction kind of does that, although it’s different versions of the same character”
maga says, “(and is really, really rough)”
Rob says, “hm yeah sounds a bit like that, I’d have to look at Origins
Rob says, “every time I have a longer WIP idea I think of where I could utilize this mechanic into some part of the story where it would matter instead of just being a gimmicky setup”
Rob says, “but so far these WIPs haven’t materialized so I still haven’t done anything with the idea yet”

Challenges of designing multiplayer IF

Emily says, “I think one of the challenges for me coming up with multi-protagonist Guncho content was that, shy of puzzles involving being in two places at once, it wasn’t obvious how to make the puzzles interestingly cooperative. so I had sketched out something where different NPCs had different skills and also slightly different win-conditions”
Emily says, “well, different PCs, really”
Emily says, “and so you had to influence the other players to do what you needed. but it didn’t get that far”
Rob says, “yeah I just browsed your ‘here’s my Guncho ideas’ post
Emily says, “yeah, this was ages ago”
djfletch says, “Forgot this co-operative stuff. If we have two players I want Spy vs Spy, or Holmes vs Moriarty.”
Rob says, “those do seem to be the creative challenges inherent”
Rob says, “but there’s got to be creative answers to them, seems like”
Rob says, “I used to have a Spy vs Spy game on the Apple II”
Emily says, “I *think* Guncho also doesn’t force players to take turns doing stuff, so in theory a fast typist could really dominate a competitive game”
Emily says, “but I may be misrecalling”
Emily says, “(and there’s probably a way to hack that anyway)”
Rob says, “it was good fun. it was a splitscreen and you and the other guy would be setting stupid traps for the other, and technically you could watch him doing that, but if you got distracted with your own thing you’d still walk right into them a minute later”
djfletch says, “hmm, yes, you’d need to keep fair turn-taking”
Rob says, “perhaps the IF/RPG hybrid could be expanded in a Guncho scenario in the following way: have a GM player in there, too, somehow”
Rob says, “as another role to be played”
Emily asks, “what does it control?”
Rob says, “well, duhhrr, uh”
Emily asks, “like do you narrate stuff in a fiat-like way that doesn’t affect the world model? or like make bombs explode and lightning strike?”
Rob says, “I dunno. something about the way the world is arranged, something of the gates that allow or impede progress. something about describing events or causing them to happen, analagous to what GM might be able to do”
Rob says, “playing the NPCs to some extent”
Rob says, “and yet you don’t have unlimited power, because some author has written this GM role into this realm”

Velvet Sundown and GMless interactive drama

Emily says, “hm, yeah”
Emily says, “this is kind of a bit reminiscent of Velvet Sundown, which basically has all player-driven characters but put together into various pre-fab scenarios with some pre-fab props and win conditions”
Rob says, “I guess where I was initially going with this was just that if you were going to play some game like this, there would be a GM who primarily is running the game and moderating dickishness or fast-typists to some extent”
Emily says, “yeah”
Rob says, “huh, interesting”
Fang says, “Velvet Sundown doesn’t have a GM or anything, it really works by shunning people you don’t want to talk to”
Emily says, “I think there’s an implicit secondary challenge here, which is: if you’re putting multiple PCs into the same game world simultaneously, then you kind of want the game to be about people interacting rather than Boxes Inside Other Boxes”
Emily says, “but then you need the world model to be able to track that somehow”
Fang says, “which however does mean the game is frequently unwinnable”
Emily says, “and in particular, if conversational acts matter, then either a) you let the players use freeform conversation but you have no way of tracking them from the world model perspective, or b) you force the players to use constrained modes of communication but then you’re giving up the naturalism you gained by putting in live humans to start with”
Emily says, “and there are some strategies where you make key plot points have special modes of resolution — like in werewolf or diplomacy, people are allowed to talk all they want but there are special commands — but it’s tricky (and that comes up in Velvet Sundown too)”
Emily says, “still, I also think there’s some interesting space to explore here, not least because if you’re making decisions that in some way stick it to another character, it’s more interesting if that character is played by someone and is not just an NPC being fake-sad”
Emily says, “so I think it inherently raises the perceived stakes”
Rob says, “yeah sometimes I imagine it’s like, I guess, the whole fancy IF conversation model with choices that change, except each player is getting their choices updated based on what just happened, but that would be really complex and a lot of writing to write that much writing. either that or you just let people talk.”
Fang says, “hmm”
Rob says, “or some hybrid, but who knows. maybe if it’s plot-specific the game has a specific thing to have your character say”
Fang says, “In Velvet Sundown, my sense is that in general, the scenarios put players in a cooperative position”
Rob says, “just as a basic here’s-a-bunch-of-characters-in-a-story plot, I picture like a heist scenario”
Fang says, “I get the feeling that freeform interactions are quite dangerous to make competitive”
Rob says, “ok, we’re going to pull off this job, so we need one acrobat, one safecracker, one tough guy, one gadget specialist, one bomb maker, and what not”
Emily says (to Fang), “the one I tried was sort of werewolfy: in theory everyone is trying to solve the murder, and in practice one character is the murderer”
Emily says, “so everyone is pretending to cooperate but one person is not really cooperating”
Rob says, “and there’s some way all these characters need to apply themselves to the objective at hand, even though they may or may not like each other”
Fang asks (of Emily), “how did it work out?”
Emily says, “Guncho Eleven”
Rob says, “and it’s possible that some of these characters are given backstory and other motivations that the others don’t know about”
Emily says (to Fang), “…really weirdly, the times I played, though this may have been to do with the other players”
Rob says, “yeah, Guncho Eleven. or Five maybe”
Emily says, “I wrote it up in that blog post I linked”
Rob says, “this is not the most original plot ever, but it would be a reasonable test of what works in Guncho and what maybe doesn’t”
Emily says (to Rob), “yeah, I like the idea that you might have secrets that you want to not disclose to the other players unless you have to (but there might be a mechanical advantage to doing so at some point)”
Fang says, “the games of Velvet Sundown I’ve played, players seem split between absurdly cooperative “I hear you are looking for a criminal in hiding, here look I have a newspaper snippet showing that I am the criminal”, to vindictively unhelpful (e.g. not talking to me, when clearly they have to to complete their quest)”
Emily says, “I felt really weird about the fact that the other players all seemed to be more than young enough to be my children, so most of the flirt and affair-backstory roleplaying seemed totally totally too creepy to explore”
Fang says, “well, yes, there was a lot of cybersex”
Rob says, “brr”
Emily says, “I also saw one video in which the characters ran around tasing each other a lot”
Fang says, “which I did my damndest to derail into absurdity”
Rob says, “I read that as ‘tasting'”
Rob says, “and it didn’t seem surprising since IF testers do that sometimes”

Guncho history and functionality

dfabulich asks, “I’m caught up. What has actually been made in Guncho?”
Fang says, “but I guess, the point about competitiveness is that it’s really easy for people to take things too far, or take things personally”
Emily says (to Fang), “true, though (some) people manage to play Werewolf and Diplomacy without murdering each other”
Rob asks, “I dunno, what has been made in Guncho?”
Emily says (to dfabulich), “I think mostly tiny samplers, but vaporware can correct me if I’m wrong”
Rob says, “it’s a thing that’s just sitting there waiting for someone to take it seriously”
vaporware says, “Mostly tiny samplers, some half-finished ports and explorations. But ==Rob.”
Rob says, “make that (a) remember that it’s there, and then (b) take it seriously”
dfabulich asks, “Is it fair to describe Guncho as a MUD/MUSH in which the scripting language is Inform instead of MUSHcode?”
vaporware says (to dfabulich), “Pretty fair. It’s less cohesive than a MU*, though.”
FloatingInfo says, “One issue with all these multiplayer things is that they are hard to test by yourself while making them. I think that might be a big reason why Guncho hasn’t really gotten started yet.”
Fang says, “I wonder if werewolf is sort of brilliant in a way, because betrayal exists, but because a character dies inevitably as a result, it means just any conflict between players means the two can’t talk to each other until the game is over”
Ellison says, “I used to think it’d be cool to do a multiplayer FPS ‘ghost in the graveyard’ game in the style of an 80s slasher film. each round has the non-killer splitting up and going off to different areas of the creepy house, and the killer gets access to shortcuts and can set up traps to make it harder for victims to escape. initially, the odds are in the killer’s favor but the survivors get more of an advantage as the ‘movie’ progresses. I guess the idea could be translated into a multiplayer IF game.”
dfabulich says, “Why/how less cohesive? IME the cohesion of a MUSH has more to do with the culture of the players/implementors than any technical aspect”
Fang says, “I dunno about Diplomacy though”
Fang says, “Diplomacy has a certain reputation”
Emily says (to Ellison), “that sounds pretty fun”
vaporware says (to dfabulich), “It’s more like a federation of MUDs where each player is a wizard in their own space. You can build in the spaces you own, and you can travel to other spaces, but nothing you do in your space affects anything outside.”
vaporware says, “(Each realm is a separate I7 project and runs in its own VM.)”
dfabulich says, “gotcha”
vaporware says, “So it lacks some elements we have here like being able to make a puppy that follows you around.”

Multiplayer and Choice of Games

Emily asks (of dfabulich), “has ChoiceOf ever considered any multiplayer choice-based games?”
dfabulich says, “Yes, we’ve considered it. Synchronous play in which all players make a choice “simultaneously””
Fang says, “hmm”
Emily says, “ah, interesting”
dfabulich says, “Which is to say, not truly simultaneously, but the round doesn’t progress until all players have made a choice”
Fang asks, “does ChoiceOf track statistics for player choices?”
dfabulich says, “It remains to be seen how much fun it would be, and how much work it would be”
Fang says, “I imagine it would be a ton of work”
dfabulich says (to Fang), “No, we don’t. I’m a bit torn about it. On the one hand, analytics-y people look at me like I’ve got two heads when I say that we don’t track everything. On the other, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to gain from it”
Fang says, “fun marketting, I guess”
Fang says, “Telltale does it, and it seems quite popular there”
dfabulich says, “I think the ideal case is to tweak difficulties (“95% of players are failing their skill check at this point, which is not what the author intended”)”
dfabulich asks, “You mean, publicizing the aggregate statistics, just so people can look at them?”
dfabulich says, “FWIW, I think the market is hungry for multiplayer choice-based IF. The Yawhg did surprisingly well in IGF 2014, despite being by far the simplest possible implementation of multiplayer choice-based IF.”
Emily says, “yeah”
Emily says, “I’m sad we haven’t so far managed to do a multiplayer Versu release (which is in theory possible with the engine)”
dfabulich says, “The Yawhg is multiplayer, but the players quite literally do not interact”
Fang says (to dfab), “yeah, people like the public stats”

Multiplayer Party IF Games

Ellison says, “but yeah, designing for multiplayer seems like a really daunting task in terms of trying to provide a great narrative. seems to me that it’d be more rewarding to go for sparking good social interaction and replayability (so, kickass party games)”
Emily says, “I’m going to need to go in 10-15 minutes, so it’s a good time to mention any lingering things that people were secretly keen to bring up”
Rob says, “yeah I like that Ellison scenario too”
dfabulich says, “Ironically, I feel like despite its simplicity, The Yawhg did do that aspect well. I feel like when I’ve played it with friends, we had a good time hanging out with each other, even if the game itself didn’t have that much to recommend for itself”
vaporware says (to Ellison), “I think TF2 and Monaco are good examples of non-party games that meet those criteria.”
dfabulich says, “I’m intrigued by what could be done in general with a party game that uses a shared screens and phones for input.”
dfabulich says, “ (the people who make You Don’t Know Jack) have some fun games like that for consoles”
Rob asks, “hm, what’s Monaco?”
vaporware says, “TF2 and Monaco are class based, so the game plays differently depending on which character each player is using, and assuming there’s a good diversity of classes, everyone has a chance to be the hero.”
vaporware says (to Rob), “ – a top-down heist game.”
Rob says, “shared screens, not everyone has their own phone? oh wait, you said phones for input”
Rob says (to vw), “huh”
Fang says, “Monaco is multiplayer thief meets pacman”
Emily says, “it does seem like that would allow everyone to do the simultaneous move thing”
Emily says, “and then narration on the main screen”
Rob says, “it seems like the idea of people at a get-together going ‘ok guys, whip out your phones, we’re all going to play X’ and something amusing and engaging happens for 15 minutes is what’s now”
vaporware says (to Rob), “Spaceteam!”
dfabulich says, “ is a Balderdash-esque game you buy for consoles and then everybody participates using their iPhone/Android devices”
Rob says, “I guess werewolf on here always had the thing of ‘waiting for everyone to go to sleep’, and then the shaming of whoever is slow on the uptake”
dfabulich says, “Spaceteam is indeed delightful”
vaporware says, “Spaceteam is a game about shouting at your friends.”
dfabulich says, “Shouting WITH your friends, I’d say :-)”

Possible Value of Multi-Player IF vs RPGS

Fang asks, “I do kinda question multiplayer IF. What does the IF-ness add, relative to a P&P rpg?”
Rob says, “man I’ve had to google so many things during this conversation”
Emily says (to Fang), “a) structure/speed, and b) surprise”
Emily says, “it’s hard to play even a very short one-shot tabletop RPG in less than two or three hours”
Emily says, “whereas IF can be tighter than that”
Emily says, “and it can include things no one around the table anticipated or considered”
Emily says, “I think this might be more the case for choice-based than for parser-based multiplayer, admittedly”
Fang says, “I dunno, I feel like the flexibility of a GM storyteller facilitates (b) better than IF”
dfabulich says, “D&D in particular tends to take hours, but there are definitely good story games you can play in a short period of time”
Ellison says, “I guess I should also counter what I said with how much I appreciate flourishes of narrative. lately, I’ve had the C64 game ‘the Movie Monster Game’ on my mind, in which you play various Japanese style movie monsters and destroy cities or rescue your kid or whatever. the game would begin or end in a movie theatre, as if your gameplay was the heart of the movie. so, ideally, I’d design a real simple game but try to write it up like it means more than it does, ha.”
Fang says, “because you have to write in every interaction, instead of being more flexibly to make it up on the go”
Emily asks (of Fang), “do you feel like the main advantage of single-player IF is that you don’t need others around to play it?”
Emily asks, “or do you see it as having other values?”
Fang says (to Emily), “I think so yeah, also the lack of restriction on subject matter”
Emily says, “(I mean, from an authorial perspective, I think there’s a whole suite of other answers to this — kinds of stories that would be more interesting told for multiple people)”
Fang says, “like, if you want to play a P&P rpg, you need a bunch of people all consent to the premise”
Fang says, “this can be difficult”
Rob says, “hm, Spaceteam sounds like fun”
Fang says, “there are more interesting niche rpg premises appearing, but the popularity of mindless dungeon dives exist for a reason. It would be hard to pull together a rpg group for many IF stories”
Emily asks, “…okay. as threatened, I need to go — you can of course keep talking, but was there anything else anyone wanted to get on the record, as it were?”
dfabulich says (to Fang), “You just gotta find the right group. I find that if you call it a “story games” group, they’ll play anything :-)”

Computer-Assisted Board Games

Fang says, “one more thing might be computer assisted board games”
Fang says, “I dunno if that has been talked about”
Ellison says, “could do a Suspended sequel where you can’t switch between robots and would need to talk to other players to figure out what objects are”
dfabulich says, “I note with some interest that Jon Ingold describes 80 Days as an IF board game”
Rob says (to Ellison), “mm, yeah”
Fang says, “like, the new XCOM board game
Fang says, “which comes with an ipad app to handle some mechanics”
Fang says, “IIRC”
Rob says (to Emily), “guess not!”
vaporware says, “IMO a huge advantage of MPIF over tabletop RPGs is the ease of finding and joining games. D&D is something you have to plan in advance, be in the right social circles, etc. Another is that you can have a group composed entirely of players; you don’t need someone to essentially write it as you go along.”
Fang says, “having everyone around a table can be a good thing though, vaporware”
Fang says, “no one can escape :)”
dfabulich says, “ “_80 Days_ is more like a board game in which every action you take is narrated by a bit of authored, responsive content that knows where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and what kind of character you are. It’s as though the chance cards in _Monopoly_ could adapt themselves based on the state of the game.””
Fang asks, “also, have people talked about IF subsegments in mainstream games?”
dfabulich says, “I find that there are games that I would find boring to play on a computer (even multiplayer on a computer) that are fun when hanging out with my friends IRL”
Fang says, “e.g. the King Arthur RTS”
FloatingInfo says, “I’d still want to be with a group I know when doing things like highly narrative-based MPIF.”
Fang says (to FloatingInfo), “yeah, also there are all sorts of games I would be veeery wary of playing with random strangers on the internet”

The “Point and Click Text” concept, and Texture

dfabulich says, “Emily may already be gone, but I’ve stated in the past and would like to state agin that I think a prominent future for IF is point-and-click text adventures, like point-and-click graphical adventures, but done entirely in text”
Fang asks, “you mean like twine?”
dfabulich says, “I mean more like LucasArts/Sierra-style UI, except there’s just text on the screen”
dfabulich says, “In particular, the UI would be an on-screen menu of verbs, plus an inventory mechanism that lets you select an inventory item and use it on something on the screen.”
Fang asks, “so, modal? You pick a Look At cursor, then click the word ‘dude’ or something?”
dfabulich says, “There are a lot of ways to do it, I think; it’d require some experimentation”
Fang says, “hmm”
dfabulich says, “another approach is clicking on the noun first and then seeing a list of actions that pop out of that”
dfabulich says, “Jon Ingold and Erik Temple did a really nifty experiment in this direction, “The Colder Light”
dfabulich says, “Unfortunately, the game is down on Jon’s website”
Fang says, “personally, I feel like modal interactions is disappearing from games altogether”
Emily asks (of dfabulich), “only sort of still here, but how does Texture compare with your vision?”
Fang says, “like, I think the fashion is to just have a contextual USE”
dfabulich says, “IMO, it’s another approach to the UI, but I’m skeptical that it’s the right one”
dfabulich says, “Peter Pears preserved a copy of Colder Light and posted it to if anybody wants to try it
dfabulich says (to Fang), “You might be right. In the 90s I feel like graphical companies were trying a lot of different approaches here”
Fang says, “even for stuff like mainstream AAA, people go with single buttons these days”
djfletch says, “if I remember, in “The Colder Light” you were mostly selecting objects first, then the actions on them were the submenu”
dfabulich says, “Ranging from Myst’s approach where you could only just click to use an object (but if you were holding an object [just a page, really] it would use that if contextually appropriate) to LucasArts’s big menu of verbs, which seemed to gradually get smaller and smaller”
Fang says, “e.g. in Mass Effect 3, there’s one single button for running, pushing buttons, getting into cover, doing a combat roll, talking to people….”
Fang says, “which people do moan about… but mainly they moan when they accidentally do something they didn’t want to”
dfabulich says, “I agree with people who find it too confining to use click-to-use UIs”
dfabulich says, “Another constraint is that even Myst at least had a distinction between hovering an object vs. using it, whereas that’s not natural/doable on touchscreens”
Nitku says, “well click-to-use is basically Twine”
Fang says, “I do feel like in most cases, click to use can be made to work, and made to work well”
dfabulich says, “It’s not that click-to-use is Bad ™, but IMO it’s not great for everything, and especially not great for puzzle games”
dfabulich says, “ Ron Gilbert: I miss verbs. A few years after Monkey Island, verbs started disappearing. All we were left with was “use,” but it always felt like something was missing. You get additional puzzle solving and humor opportunities through verbs. I don’t think they will have a big comeback–there are downsides to them–but in doing a true classic point & click game, I think we need them.”
dfabulich says, “One of the drawbacks of both click-to-use and noun-first is that they do make it very explicit what you can do, which can make it hard for the player to have an “aha!” moment”
Fang says, “that’s true”
vaporware says, “One of the comp games this year had USE-to-use, and the moment I had with it was less ‘aha!’ and more ‘that wasn’t what I meant, but I guess it worked’.”
dfabulich says, “Contextual actions, at least by letting the player combine objects without having valid combinations listed out in a menu, is critical. It’s arguably the essence of the traditional inventory-based point-and-click game”
Fang says, “but for many players, your aha moment is instead, ‘oh I exhaustively rubbed object X against Y'”
Fang says, “for all combinations of X and Y”
Fang exclaims, “or worse, I rubbed X against Y and it didn’t work! RAGEQUIT!”
dfabulich says (to Fang), “I agree, that’s where “combination” puzzles do kinda fall apart”
Rob says, “one of the first things I thought of when they invented iPhones was IF done by clicking like dfabulich suggested”
Rob says, “and it still hasn’t really happened yet? that surprises me”
dfabulich says, “Well, it’s not like there aren’t any”
dfabulich says, “Silent Age, for example, is a point-and-tap touchscreen graphical adventure game. Inventory puzzles, you know the drill.”
Rob says, “I just don’t know how to write apps so I never thought about doing it myself, though I remember writing notes about how I thought the interface should work, and thought about how some things I’ve already written might adapt to such an interface”
dfabulich says, “Detective Grimoire, also”
Rob says, “yeah, there’s plenty of graphic adventures, I thought this was about text IF”
Fang asks, “what about tree-type interfaces?”
dfabulich says (to Rob), “Oh, yeah. In that case, uh, I’m hard pressed to think of any.”
Fang says, “that could be another route to ‘aha'”
modgethanc says, “there’s an IF client on android where common verbs are listed as icons and if you click on any word in the text it’ll add that to the command line”
modgethanc says, “and you can also type things”
Fang asks, “did people play that ‘game’ where you had an universe organised as a tree?”
modgethanc says, “but i think the clicking on words part was mostly a shortcut to not have to thumbtype everything out”
Fang says, “like you had stars, which expand into a list of planets, and each of the planets expand into continents etc and you can just keep diving down”
Fang says, “and finding new and unexpected details”
dfabulich says, “My point is that there’s probably not just One Best Interface. If I had time, probably my contribution to the future of puzzle IF would be to develop a handful of UI toolkits, allowing players to pick and choose features.”
Fang says, “like eventually you could drill down into individual people and search their pockets and emotions”
dfabulich says, “But specifically then to take a few classic games and port them into the toolkits, to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Ellison says (to Rob), “did you see this? there’s no flag-setting yet but it looks interesting”
dfabulich says, “My concern with Texture is that it feels like an approach to be the One Best Touchscreen Interface”
Ellison says, “true, but I think the IF community could do more to optimize for specific platforms”
dfabulich says, “Well, maybe not just that; it also kinda leaves me cold as interfaces go”
Fang says (to dfabulich), “I do think that player stats would be a good thing for choicescript. Also stuff like what Gunpoint does, with its auto-generated epilogue pages that you can share with other people”
dfabulich says, “My tastes lean toward tried-and-true point-and-click interfaces”
dfabulich says (to Fang), “that might be true”
Fang says, “ for example”
Fang says, “which is super simple but also really clever. IMHO anyway”
dfabulich says, “OK, I’m wandering off. (I hope this tail end of the conversation was logged somehow.)”

4 thoughts on “Transcript Dec 13: New Directions in IF”

  1. Thanks Emily for posting this — I’m actually doing a search for multiplayer instances of IF or similar games, and this was extremely timely. Any other recommendations or references? This does feel like a new area, and I’m curious what your thoughts are on meta-discussion vs in-discourse discussion between players. The classic example is many adventure and IF games can be played with two players discussing actions, sometimes alternating “player” role. But games that involve discussion as a requirement to solving could be very interesting.

    1. I’d definitely check out the linked posts about Velvet Sundown, as well as Guncho (designed for multiplayer Inform 7 work) and Seltani (for multiplayer Twine). Additional references:

      Multiple protagonist viewpoints in-game:

      There are one or two examples of split-screen IF besides Origins (mentioned above), but they’re pretty much purely demo pieces. However, I talk about this a little in my Origins review. It seems to me that one of the things multiplayer IF can do that’s really hard to manage in tabletop RPGs is to present the world differently to different players, representing different viewpoints in a way that might be interesting to experience and for characters to discuss. (Yeah, I’ve played a few tabletop RPGs where the GM passed me a note or otherwise told me a secret that only my character knew, but this tends to be cumbersome and therefore used for one-off purposes on special occasions.)

      A handful of IF games allow you to swap protagonists at will (see Earth and Sky, Max Blaster), which might be a good point of comparison for designing multiplayer puzzles, since these have to be designed around the idea that the skills are distributed between protagonists or that different protagonists have different solution methods. (Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much fun to swap.) You could also look at games where you control a team of differently-skilled agents, such as the Frenetic Five series or Suspended. A lot of these games seem to be in the superhero genre for the obvious reason that that gives a good excuse to sprinkle around weird esoteric powers, though I could also easily imagine a Buffy-style supernatural game or something a bit more mundane.

      Responsive/player-collaborative authorship:

      As mentioned above, SilkWords does a reader-vote thing where collaborative choice-making drives the story.

      Flexible Survival is a really huge game that I think either incorporates code donations from players or else at a minimum works in their suggestions. Perhaps the main reason that it doesn’t get a lot of attention in the mainstream IF community is that it’s furry adult IF in which you gain new protagonist traits by having sex with other characters.

      Kerkerkruip is a collaboratively developed IF roguelike in which a lot of people have contributed ideas and enhancements.

      Consecutive multiplayer (where later players have an experience based on what earlier players have done):

      Ex Nihilo (Juhana Leinonen) is single-player at any given time, but it stores text entered by previous players and feeds it back in as dialogue from the game’s NPC.

      Fallen London is weakly multiplayer, in that you can occasionally invite other players to share a particular experience with you, and they might or might not get around to doing so at some point in the future. This is usually mostly a flourish on the rest of the game play, though there are just a handful of cases where a weaker player can ask a stronger one for meaningful help moving forward in a story.

      Turn-taking or simultaneous multiplayer:

      MUDs and MUSHes are an obvious point of comparison to look at, of course; arguably “multiplayer IF” isn’t new at all and has a long and complex history that many of us tend not to engage with, and which have their own distinct traditions and craft concepts. I haven’t played much of this content at all, but a couple I’ve heard named as being IF-adjacent are Skotos games and Iron Realms.

      Naked Shades (Porpentine and Andi McClure) is a multiplayer networked Twine game; I think you wind up encountering aspects from past players, though it’s been a little while since I’ve played.

      Brace (Merritt Kopas) is a two-player hotseat Twine game. (It looks like some of the website links are broken, but if you click the “Play in browser” button it should work.) It incorporates information that is meant to be hidden from one participant but available to the other, so the player who is not in the hotseat is supposed to close their eyes.

      Out-of-world conversation:

      ClubFloyd plays IF collaboratively, so for examples of multiple players discussing actions, it has a very large stock of transcripts at this point. Games with the NightFloyd tag are usually longer-playing pieces.

      Ultimate Quest (me, as an advergame commission for AKQA/Nvidia) encouraged players to tweet at certain points in the game, including tweeting in-character messages to game NPCs; while the game was running in its promotional phase, the in-character twitter accounts would sometimes respond. (Via human GM intervention — no bots involved in that bit.) Seeing other characters’ tweets also became a kind of meta-source of hints for players.

      ARGs are of course another area to look here, as players collaborate on solutions to partially story-based experiences.

      Limited in-world conversation:

      It’s not IF, but along with Journey, another game that incorporates gestural feedback from an NPC who might or might not actually be a networked PC is Tale of Tales’ Bientôt l’été. The ambiguity of whether you’re communicating and whether there’s even anything to communicate is part of the point of the piece, I’d say. I think this is a really interesting area to explore as a way of telling stories about shared and private information, risks taken in opening up to people, etc. Brace (above) does a little bit with this idea.

      Unlimited, in-world conversation:

      ifMUD has a computer-assisted implementation of Werewolf (mentioned above): this is one of the classic examples of a game where the gameplay mostly consists of people arguing with one another, and the actual turn actions are meaningful largely within the freeform context created by discussion.

      Cooperative and hidden-faction boardgames such as Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica might also be good places to look for mechanics that can meaningfully regulate or build on player conversation; and of course tabletop storygaming consists almost entirely of role-playing conversation.

    2. As to “what my thoughts are” — I have some kind of speculative notions, but I won’t have anything really definitive to say until I’ve either played or created some more work in that area. We did some experimental work with this early on in the Versu project, but a lot of the results were quite specific to that context (AI-driven agents mingled with humans) and there’s no released work to look at.

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