End of October Link Assortment

IF Comp judging is wrapping up — if you’d like to judge or review games, now is your chance to check that out and submit your votes.  Voting ends November 15.

RestlessMouseShot.pngECTOCOMP is also live — the annual Halloween IF jam, with separate sections for games depending on whether they took longer than four hours to develop. Atypically, I entered this year: Restless is a ghost story using Character Engine, allowing the player to remix their dialogue with different moods and topics of conversation. Tea-Powered Games provided the art and Unity UI.

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Spring Thing 2019 is now officially open.  The deadline to submit intent to enter is March 1, 2019; for the game itself, the deadline is March 31.  Further details are at the competition’s home site.

November 3 is the next SF Bay IF Meetup.

November 10-11AdventureX 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. (Incidentally, they’ve published their exhibitor list and it’s pretty sweet.)

November 13 is the upcoming Boston IF Meetup.

The IGDA Foundation is now accepting 2019 GDC scholarship applications for aspiring and current game designers.  The opportunity for IGDA Scholars, IGDA Velocity, and IGDA Next Gen recipients will be open until November 30.

December 2 is the deadline for entering the Russian Language IF competition KRIL.

December 5-8 in Dublin is the next ICIDS, the international conference on interactive digital storytelling.

From Now – February 24, 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum is featuring an exhibit on contemporary video games.

And then a few other things that are well in advance:

February 8-9 of 2019, is Beyond the Console, a two-day conference on gender and narrative games, organized by Karlien Van den Beukel (a co-organizer of the Oxford/London IF Meetup). I will also be there, and there will be a keynote game by Porpentine, and a keynote talk from Hannah Wood. The call for papers runs through November 26.

NarraScope is a recently-announced conference for IF and narrative games to be held in Cambridge, MA June 14-16 of 2019. Here’s how they describe it:

NarraScope is a new games conference that will support interactive narrative, adventure games, and interactive fiction by bringing together writers, developers, and players.

The Electronic Literature Organization Conference and Media Arts Festival, July 15-17, 2019 will be in Cork & the call for submissions is posted: elo2019.ucc.ie/cfp/ The theme: Peripheries.

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Choice of Magics (Kevin Gold / Choice of Games)

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Choice of Magics is work from the author of Choice of Robots, one of Choice of Games’ most successful commercial projects. Choice of Robots was appealing to players for a number of reasons, especially the scope of the possibilities available to you and the sheer size of the project. It delivered a sense of narrative agency that a lot of Choice of Games’ audience really responded to. (Gold also wrote Choice of Alexandria, a smaller and more constrained story.)

Choice of Magics is in a similar mold to Choice of Robots: very large, at over half a million words, with room to customize your style of magic and confront different final challenges depending on how your story has developed so far. The story positions itself at that scale, too — the very first page lays out an absolute mass of background information about the current and previous state of the world, which most fantasy novels would be more likely to introduce gradually over the initial chapter or so.

The game also gives you the option of explicitly noting whenever you’re gaining and losing stats, right inline with the rest of the narration. And the stats page has been enhanced, with some special icons and more content than the average CoG stats page, including a journal of major plot points you’ve encountered — again, to help the reader track the game’s extensive machinery.

This foregrounding of mechanics carries through into the rest of the fiction as well. The story needs to rapidly introduce the five major schools of magic, so it runs you through an adventure scenario that teaches you about each in sequence, surprisingly rapidly.

Several of the world-building choices are quite tropey, which makes them generic but easy to communicate to the player in a hurry: there was a lost ancient civilization, they knew various magics, the magics are currently outlawed but you find your way to the ancient academy where you can recover tools and documents which are written in a muddle of Latin, Greek, and old versions of romance languages — played more for humor than for cultural resonance. At the same time, these ancients were also not so very different from modern people and had magical pseudo-airplanes and microwaves. It’s not quite the Great Underground Empire, but it has something of the same flavor.

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Mailbag: AI Research on Dialogue and Story Generation

I’m curious: do you follow much research that happens in stories and dialog these days? In the world of machine learning research, there’s much less in dialog and stories than other areas (e.g. image generation/recognition or translation), but once in a while, you come across some interesting work, e.g. Hierarchical Neural Story Generation (by some folks in Facebook AI).

For some years now I’ve followed work coming out of the UCSC Expressive Intelligence Studio; work done at Georgia Tech around crowdsourced narrative generation; game industry applications introduced or covered at the GDC AI Summit (though it is rarer to see extensive story-generation work here). I’ve also served on the program committees for ICCC and ICIDS and a few FDG workshops; and am an associate editor on IEEE Transactions on Games focused on interactive storytelling applications. Here (1, 2, 3) is my multi-part post covering the book Interactive Digital Narrative in detail.

That’s not to say I see (or could see) everything that’s happening. I tend to focus on things that look most ready to be used in games, entertainment, or chatbot applications — especially those that are designed to support a partially human-authored experience. I also divide my available “research” time between academic work and hands on experiments in areas that interest me.

So with that perspective in mind:

  • I’m not attempting a comprehensive literature review here! That would be huge. This coverage cherrypicks items
  • I will go pretty lightly on the technical detail since the typical readership of this blog may not be that interested, but I’ll try to provide summary and example information that explains why a given item is interesting in my opinion, and then link back to the original research for people who want the deeper dive
  • I’ll actually start by summarizing a bit the paper the questioner linked
  • Even with cherrypicking, there is a lot to say here and I am breaking it out over multiple posts

That Initial Paper

For other readers: the linked article in this question is about using a large dataset pulled from Reddit’s WritingPrompts board and a machine learning model that draws on multiple techniques (convolutional seq2seq, gated self-attention). After training, the system is able to take short prompts and create a paragraph or so of story that relates to the prompt. Several of the sample output sections are quite cool:

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But they are generating surface text rather than plot, and the evidence suggests that they would not be able to produce a coherent long-term plot. Just within this dialogue section, we’re talking about a tablet-virus-monster object, and we’ve got a couple of random scientist characters.

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Mid-October Link Assortment

IF Comp judging is currently in progress — if you’d like to judge or review games, now is your chance to check that out and submit your votes.  Voting ends November 15.

The IGDA Foundation is now accepting 2019 GDC scholarship applications for aspiring and current game designers.  The opportunity for IGDA Scholars, IGDA Velocity, and IGDA Next Gen recipients will be open until November 30.

From Now – February 24, 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum is featuring an exhibit on contemporary video games.

October 19-28 is the submission window for the fifth annual PROCJAM, seeking entries for generative software.

October 20 is the Oxford and London workshop in the Ren’Py tool for building visual novels.

There is a Seattle IF Meetup this month on October 21.   The group will be discussing IF Comp and playing through some games.

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.

 

Ectocomp is taking both Spanish and English-language submissions for their competition from October 26-30, but if you want to start work on your game through the site, it is open now.

October 27, the Baltimore/DC Meetup gets together.

November 3 is the next SF Bay IF Meetup.

November 10-11AdventureX 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. (Incidentally, they’ve published their exhibitor list and it’s pretty sweet.)

December 2 is the deadline for entering the Russian Language IF competition KRIL.

December 5-8 in Dublin is the next ICIDS, the international conference on interactive digital storytelling.

This is long in advance, but NarraScope is a recently-announced conference for IF and narrative games to be held in Cambridge, MA June 14-16 of 2019. Here’s how they describe it:

NarraScope is a new games conference that will support interactive narrative, adventure games, and interactive fiction by bringing together writers, developers, and players.

For users of   ‧ AGS ‧ ChoiceScript ‧ Hypertext ‧ Inform ‧ Ink ‧ Quest ‧ Ren’Py ‧ Storyspace ‧ TADS ‧ Twine ‧ …add yours? ‧

“Interactive fiction” has many meanings. It describes many kinds of games and many diverse communities of practice. It’s time to bring those communities together to hang out and chat exchange ideas!

For fans of   ‧ Zork ‧ The Walking Dead ‧ The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo ‧ Syberia ‧ Sorcery! ‧ Portal ‧ Photopia ‧ Patchwork Girl ‧ Oxenfree ‧ Myst ‧ Meanwhile ‧ Loom ‧ Lifeline ‧ Howling Dogs ‧ Gone Home ‧ 80 Days ‧ Dream Daddy ‧ Device 6 ‧ Counterfeit Monkey ‧ Choice of Broadsides ‧ The Blackwell Legacy ‧ Analogue: A Hate Story ‧ Adventure ‧

We are still finalizing the details of the venue and schedule. We expect to be in Cambridge, in coordination with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Writing department. A call for speakers and talk proposals will be posted soon.

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The Red Strings Club (Deconstructeam) and Minigame Conversation

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The Red Strings Club is a cyberpunk narrative experience about fate and happiness featuring the extensive use of pottery, bartending and impersonating people on the phone to take down a corporate conspiracy.

The Red Strings Club was recommended to me by a reader who explained that this was a game that used mixology as its conversation interface. If you want someone to talk to you, you make them a cocktail.

That does really sound like my kind of thing, I have to admit. I have written multiple prototype games, all of them sadly occupying dusty corners of my hard drive, that were based on some variation of “you have to mix evocatively-described liquids together in order to elicit information.” In one, it was a form of scrying with magical ingredients. In another, you were going to custom mix perfumes for yourself to wear to social events in order to subtly influence the conversation of the nobles around you. In a third, your choice of how to weight components in the mixture was going to drive the probabilities in generated descriptive text, so if you used a lot of one liquid you might become more perceptive about physical qualities, or a lot of another liquid would reveal memories.

None of these projects ever got finished. The perfumes one didn’t get further than an “oh I think I see how I’d do that” level of spec. But what appealed to me was a combination of challenge, physicality, and expressiveness

The challenge would have to do with the mixing rules: you might find that the ideal potion to scry out the murderer was one requiring ingredients that reacted horribly together, and you’d need to find a way to mix them safely.

The expressiveness would arise from the fact that you’re combining several elements into a single choice, and they could carry different axes of information. Imagine a perfume in which the top and heart notes express the noun and verb of action, the “what are you doing” portion of the command, while the base note expresses how you feel about it, a touch of protagonist characterization. Patchouli for the earnest, unguarded, irony-free. Sandalwood if you’re old enough to know better but not quite old enough to be genuinely subtle. Myrrh for bitterness. Vetiver for an inscrutable smirk.

It’s too rare in games that we’re allowed to say whether we take an action eagerly, or joyfully, or with reservations, or because we can think of no alternative.

Anyway. That is a very long preamble to say: that is not how The Red Strings Club works at all.

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Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget (Stant Litore)

51v0a2EYVGL.jpgI’ve written already about some of the world building books I’ve worked with in the past. Stant Litore‘s Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget is relatively new — published late 2017. It’s not a game writing book specifically, but is meant for anyone in the speculative fiction space. It’s also quite compact, about a hundred and fifty pages, and meant to be used, with a sequence of exercises for the reader. More than that, even though it’s a book about world-building, it’s focused on the plot and character implications of what you’re doing:

This book treats worldbuilding as a process for conflict and exerting pressures on your characters. Unforgettable characters live unforgettable stories that are made necessary and possible by unforgettable worlds they are trying to survive and thrive in.

So though this is a book for writers and not for interactivity, it’s bringing in some of the same worldbuilding motives as a tabletop game like Downfall.

In addition, Litore immediately identifies two approaches to worldbuilding: the Tolkien approach, where you start at the ground level in some particular area. And he correctly points out that this is even more difficult than most people give credit for:

It is theoretically possible for you to create an unforgettable imaginary world in the same way that JRR Tolkien did if you have an advanced education or deep training in one particular field relevant to worldbuilding, plus an inquisitive mind that is always asking questions about how your area of expertise informs and is informed by others. For example, if you are a gifted economist, you might begin building a world from the ground up if you start by designing a unique and detailed, though fictional economy…  This kind of deep dive is rare because it requires more than just a “research phase” to inform a novel or screenplay. It relies on committed, dedicated expertise and conversation with other experts in that area of knowledge.

I found that pretty interesting because of my own interest in the idea of research art — but also a strong argument for why not all worldbuilding on all projects needs to go the Tolkien route. And certainly most of mine doesn’t.

Instead, Litore recommends the approach of inserting an importantly different detail in each of three areas: the physical conditions of a world and the requirements of surviving there; the biology and the creatures who live there; and the culture that persists there. He then devotes several chapters to unpacking each of these techniques.

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