More on Frankenstein Wars

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The premise of The Frankenstein Wars is that the protagonists are involved in a republican war using Frankenstein’s technology to resurrect the dead, creating stitched-together “Lazarans” — not zombies. The Lazarans have a memory of what came before, but sometimes are wearing someone else’s arms and legs: this is a scenario more like extensive organ donation than anything else. Together, they’re fighting against Charles X of France, the last of the Bourbon kings, who in our timeline was ousted in the July Revolution of 1830.

As protagonists, you control two brothers, the sons of Henri Clerval in Frankenstein. Other characters both real and fictional come in as well: Frankenstein’s monster (fictional, we trust); Byron’s brilliant daughter, Ada Lovelace (real, but heavily mythologized here); Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel (fictional); assorted real French political figures. There was something a bit League of Extraordinary Gentlemen about all this, albeit a few decades earlier. The Byron connection is a little twisty given that Byron was friends with the Shelleys, and Mary Shelley had the original idea for Frankenstein while on a trip to Lake Geneva with Byron (and others) in the summer of 1816; so any narrative universe that contains Byron would seem like it ought to include Mary Shelley was well. Mercifully, the story doesn’t wink at the reader about this, just takes it as a baseline fact and rolls on.

It’s not at all necessary to know the relevant history to play. It’s not even particularly necessary to be deeply familiar with Frankenstein, though it’s maybe worth noting that the original idea for the story came from Dave Morris, who did a Frankenstein project with inkle. The actual writing is by Paul Gresty (author of The ORPHEUS Ruse and Metahuman, Inc for Choice of Games).

There are a number of clever or unusual things going on with the interface, and even if it weren’t for its other merits, the game would be worth a look on those grounds alone.

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Some Articles from Procedural Generation

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.10.14 AMI mentioned earlier that Procedural Generation in Game Design is available, and that I have a chapter in it. I’ve now had a chance to look at a few of the chapters that I didn’t read previously during the publishing stage, and wanted to highlight a few of these as especially relevant to IF readers.

Joris Dormans’ chapter on Cyclic Generation talks about design patterns for procedural dungeons, including the most systematic section on the deployment of locks and keys I’ve recall seeing anywhere. He identifies concepts such as single- or multipurpose keys, consumable and reusable keys, asymmetrical and “valve” doors, safe and unsafe locks and keys, and other concepts; if you’re looking for design patterns for puzzle games gated on geography, this has a lot of ideas you might want to raid. You can get some of the same material from Dormans’ lecture at PROCJAM last year in Falmouth, but the article gives you more reference material.

Ben Kybartas writes about story and plot generation using expansion and rewriting grammars. The rewriting rules (“secondary rewrite rules” in Kybartas’ terminology) take a simple plot and then add complications to it based on what elements already exist in the game world: for instance, a simple plot about someone cheating at poker could be expanded with a complication that they have an accomplice in cheating — but only if there is someone with emotional ties that would make them willing to participate in such a deception. Rewrite rules could even add nodes to the story that provide player choice. I would have welcomed more information from finished games about how this method goes down in practice.

Jason Grinblat’s article on Emergent Narratives and Story Volumes talks about how procedurality can be used to define the themes of all the possible stories to emerge from that system; it ends in a close study of the tabletop storygame Fiasco, but also includes examples from Caves of Qud.

Mark R. Johnson writes about several aspects of Ultima Ratio Regum, but in particular about the procedural generation of dialogue for different character types and personality styles — something that’s obviously of strong interest and ties into some of the work I’m doing at Spirit AI as well as in my own practice.

(PS: 2017 PROCJAM Kickstarter fundraising is in its last days; you still have an option to help kickstart it.)

Interactive Fiction (ML Ronn)

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 8.36.21 PM.pngThe full title of this is Interactive Fiction: How to Engage Readers and Push the Boundaries of Storytelling (ML Ronn), and I read it as part of the same research that led me to read Deb Potter’s guide.

(Throughout the below, I’ll refer to Ronn as “he” because Ronn mentions using the pen name Michael in places, despite the gender non-specific initials on the cover.)

Ronn’s book makes an entertaining diptych to Deb Potter’s piece, since he starts out in the introduction by vehemently rejecting a lot of the things Potter embraces: writing for children, leaving protagonists blank, deploying frequent deaths, and the use of the second person POV in general.

Ronn claims it’s flatly impossible to tell a good or characterful story in 2nd person POV; there are plenty of counter-examples in the IF canon but instead I’ll take the opportunity to recommend some Jennifer Egan. To be fair, however, I think he’s really railing against AFGNCAAPs rather than second person.

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Writing Interactive Fiction (Deb Potter)

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 6.55.20 PM.pngWith the reappearance of IF as a commercial art form, there’s also been a rise in books out there to guide would-be writers in the form.

Deb Potter writes for the You Say Which Way series, which is to say pretty much straight CYOA. She has released Writing Interactive Fiction to teach others how to do the same, in a breezy and accessible style. Potter does not assume the reader has a great deal of pre-existing experience in the space, and starts out exploring basic concepts like choice and consequence, explaining why your basic left-or-right choice is usually such a bore, and suggesting that authors should give readers some warning before an instant death. She also comes down against using IF for moral preaching.

But there are a few places where her suggestions either depart from what I’d tend to consider received wisdom in the IF community, or introduce new terminology. In particular, she talks a lot about how to help the player build a mental model of the structure of the CYOA, and how to draw attention towards (or away from) choices that they might want/not want to replay.

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Strayed (Adventure Cow)

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Out today for Android is Strayed, an interactive fiction game by Adventure Cow. It includes writing by Gavin Inglis (known around here for Hana Feels, Eerie Estate Agent, several Fallen London stories):

You’re only fifteen miles from home; but those fifteen miles are a lonely road through woods drenched in mystery, that many locals dare not enter. Rain batters your windscreen; your radio reports an aggressive beast, lashing out against passers-by; and there is something — something — waiting on the road ahead. Your decisions will matter in this game; perhaps more than you think.

As this is currently an Android release, I haven’t had a chance to play it myself.

In Case of Emergency (A Door in a Wall)

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I’ve been hearing about A Door in a Wall for a while, and reading the rave reviews they get from escape room and immersive theatre review blog The Logic Escapes Me. This month, we decided to hire them to run a game for the London IF Meetup — one of their smaller pieces, suitable for 15-25 players rather than being performed in a whole pre-set house. They sent out a facilitator who gave the story background, MC’d, scored and awarded prizes at the end; and a suitcase full of clue and puzzle items. Our 20-odd group divided into teams of 1-4 people apiece, and we were off.

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