End of August Link Assortment

inkle studios has announced ink jam, a jam for people writing in ink, running August 31-September 3. (So basically right away, if you want to be part of that.)

If you’re planning to enter IF Comp, you should submit your intent to enter pretty much now: the deadline is upon us.

September 7 is the deadline if you want to submit a paper to CC-NLG, a one-day academic workshop on computational creativity in natural language generation. To quote the call for papers, topics of interest include

  • Poetry Generation
  • Story Generation
  • Generation of Metaphor, Figurative and Rhetorical Language
  • Generation of Verbal Humor
  • Personality and Emotion in NLG
  • Creative Data-to-Text Models
  • Interactive Language Generation
  • Character-based Generation
  • Style Generation
  • Digital Literature

The event itself will take place in Tilburg, Netherlands, November 5.

September 8 is the next SF Bay Area IF Meetup, rescheduled from one week earlier.

Also September 8, the London IF Meetup hears some puzzle design post-mortems from Jon Ingold and Joey Jones (and possibly one other).

September 19 is the next Boston IF Meetup.

September 22 is the next Baltimore/DC Are IF Meetup, discussing Kevin Gold’s Choice of Magics.

October 22 is the deadline for Saugus.net’s 21st Annual Ghost Story Contest.  They accept both traditional prose entries and IF.  Official rules can be found here.

November 10-11, AdventureX will return, this time at the British Library. AdventureX is a conference focused on narrative rich games, whether those are mobile or desktop, text-based or graphical; it’s grown significantly in size and professionalism over the last couple of years, and last year pretty definitively outgrew its previous venue. I am mentioning this well in advance because they’ve mentioned that tickets will be cheaper for early bird buyers — so it’s something to keep an eye on if you think you’ll want to go.

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The Mermaid’s Tears (BBC R&D)

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The Mermaid’s Tears is a short radio play (really, just a few minutes long) that allows the listener to switch audio positions and hear the story from any of three perspectives: as Dee or Bill, police officers, or as Lesley, the mother of a sick child.

Dee and Bill have questions about how the child got sick, and the chief question of the piece is whether Lesley is responsible in some kind of Munchausen-by-proxy scenario, or whether the whole thing is just an accident.

As the listener is just choosing what to listen to, there’s no narrative agency here. The structure is reminiscent of Sam Barlow’s WarGames (interactive film with a choice of strands to follow) or Iain Pears’ Arcadia (interactive novel with multiple viewpoint characters and locations) or perhaps a Punchdrunk production. All of these works belong to the category Hannah Wood would call Story Exploration Games, or games of dynamic syuzhet. But in all but Arcadia, there is an extra component: film, theatre, and radio are temporal media that have to be moving forward in order to convey meaning. A player/viewer/participant who chooses to pay attention to one stream is choosing to give up attention to another.

So player decision-making in The Mermaid’s Tears is about choosing what we want to know at the moment — do we keep listening to the conversation of two characters in the living room, or do we eavesdrop on a third who has stepped away for a moment? What do we feel we can step away from without missing anything important? Continue reading

Subsurface Circular (Bithell Games)

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Subsurface Circular is a game of puzzle conversation. The look and feel are quite polished — nice animations, sound effects, a sense of three-dimensional place, a UI representation of how far you are along your subway journey — but your activity in the game is talking to your fellow robots on a subway car, mostly picking dialogue options.

For Plot Reasons, you yourself are never allowed to leave the subway. But other riders come and go, and you can interrogate them for as long as they’re seated near you. The subway ride also functions as a measure of your progress through the story, in an elegant understated way: you know where you started, and roughly how far you are from completing the loop.

Character entrances and exits are gated in such a way that, as far as I can tell, it’s not possible to fail at an important conversation beat because you’re too late and the character leaves the train before you’ve talked to them. The frame structure provides just enough sense of passing time to imply a little urgency, but not so much as to actually get in the way of success.

As you do so, you gather “focus points” — a topic inventory that you can deploy whenever your current strand of conversation runs out, unlocking new menu items. Your focus point buttons highlight when you have any available gambits associated with them. And there are also a handful of things to figure out, passwords you can extract from one character to use on another and so on.

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Ways to Support Interactive Fiction Tools and Creators

I get a fair amount of email from people who are working at commercial game studios or other for-profit industrial contexts who want to chat about interactive narrative — the tooling, the markets, where to hire authors, what they should think about if they’re setting up a particular project, editorial standards and practices, et al. This used to be a fine opportunity to reply with “Thanks for thinking of me; here’s my day rate.”

Now I have a full-time job at Spirit AI, so I’m not seeking new consulting opportunities and I don’t really have time to take on loads of these conversations for free. I do occasionally fit one in, and lately I’ve started asking companies, in lieu of paying me directly, to give money to the IF Technology Foundation to support the IF community — because the expertise I have, the people I might recommend, and the tools that exist in this ecosystem would not exist without huge amounts of donated community labor over the past two or three decades. And I’d like to strengthen that connection in their minds.

I want this for a variety of reasons. But here’s the argument to people who represent commercial entities: this is about sustaining an ecosystem that feeds you.

The IF community (or, really, the constellation of related IF communities) trains new authors who go into games writing with polished interactive pieces in their portfolios. It develops theoretical foundations for talking about narrative structures, procedural systems, text generation, and types of choice. It builds tools that are used for free to prototype, research, or even finish and release commercial work. It tries out lots of experimental concepts, functioning as an experimental laboratory for interactive narrative.

All of that helps related industries grow, have a pipeline of established workers, and discover interesting new creative angles in a low-risk way. (I’m absolutely speaking from experience here. Spirit — working in the conversational and narrative AI space — has hired multiple people from the IF community. Andrew Plotkin and Aaron Reed both work on my team. We benefit daily from their decades of hands-on experience making authoring tools and dealing with natural language interactions of various kinds. We also include interactive fiction authors in our tool testing.)

The IF community also needs resources. And the commercial success of interactive narrative cuts in several directions — quite a few people who used to do IF as a hobby (including me) now do interactive narrative for games as a job. That’s good for us individually, and I think it’s good for the industry, but at the same time, it removes some of that energy from the hobbyist community.

 

So. Suppose you want to help sustain and grow amateur and not-professional-yet interactive fiction. What might that contribution be? There are lots of possibilities, but here are some possible starting points.

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Mid-August Link Assortment

August 22, the long-dormant Seattle IF group is meeting at 7:00 p.m. at Four Generals Brewery in Renton.  The plan is to play through Ryan Veeder’s new game “Curse of the Garden Isle.”

August 23 is the next meeting of the Boston IF group.

Introcomp is live, and invites you to play and judge excerpts of longer interactive fiction games based on how much you’d like to play the rest of the game. This is a long-running IF community tradition that lets participants collect early feedback on their game concepts and works in progress. If you’d like to participate, the games are available here, and voting runs through August 31.

inkle studios has announced ink jam, a jam for people writing in ink, running August 31-September 3.

September 8 is the next SF Bay Area IF Meetup.

If you’re planning to enter IF Comp, you should submit your intent to enter before the beginning of September, as well.

October 6-7, Roguelike Celebration is coming up in San Francisco — this is obviously a bit different from IF material, but there’s some interesting procedural storytelling work that comes up in this space. This year their speakers include Tarn Adams, Pippin Barr, and Max Kreminski, all people who have turned up on this blog/in IF circles before.

November 10-11, AdventureX will return, this time at the British Library. AdventureX is a conference focused on narrative rich games, whether those are mobile or desktop, text-based or graphical; it’s grown significantly in size and professionalism over the last couple of years, and last year pretty definitively outgrew its previous venue. I am mentioning this well in advance because they’ve mentioned that tickets will be cheaper for early bird buyers — so it’s something to keep an eye on if you think you’ll want to go.

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The Harbinger’s Head (Kim Berkley / Choice of Games Hosted)

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The Harbinger’s Head is a fantasy horror story from Kim Berkley, in Choice of Games’ Hosted Games category.  It’s set in 1820s Ireland, in which the player encounters a supernatural creature — a kind of headless horseman character — and has to agree to help find his missing head.

The story that follows is focused on action and folklore. You’re partly collecting stories to try to piece together what has really happened in this supernatural situation, but there’s also quite a bit of violence, and one moment where it felt like my protagonist was implicitly under sexual threat, though this passed quickly. Descriptions often focus on the physical, and the game’s text doesn’t hesitate to tell you when you’re supposed to be feeling afraid.

The diction of The Harbinger’s Head sometimes feels substantially more modern than its period — there’s a reference to cutting and pasting something, for instance, and while both concepts individually certainly existed in the past, the paired idiom belongs to the computer age.

But for the most part it does deliver on the folkloric feel. There are several types of faerie creatures, but not your standard vampires and werewolves. Promises are made in desperation and redeemed in less than ideal circumstances. Old bonds of family come into play; so does the conflict between Church and Faerie (though fairly lightly, in the playthrough I experienced).

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