Several Small Things

  1. This was effectively true some time ago, but the IF Cover Art Drive is officially finished and closed and over now, in the sense that I have taken down the flickr page. In the unlikely event that anyone reading this (a) got my email about their cover art and (b) really wanted to answer and accept it but (c) has been trapped under a big log for the last five months, you can email me — I still have a copy of the submitted art on my hard drive. But I’m assuming we’re done now.
  2. We draw near to the opening of IF Comp 2008! Now is a good time to donate prizes. (No, I’m not entering this year myself. I just thought I’d mention it, because a couple of people have floated interesting prize ideas in my hearing in the past few months but, er, I’ve forgotten who some of you were. So: generic reminder.)I am donating a copy of Second Person, which has great and provocative stuff to read by Jeremy Douglass, Nick Montfort, G. Kevin Wilson, Steve Meretzky, Chris Crawford, the authors of Facade, and others.

More Views on Games, Narrative, and Character

People who were interested in Second Person but didn’t buy the hardcover copy may be interested to know that many of the articles are now being presented online over at electronic book review, as a continuation of the First Person thread. Since there’s a large amount of content here and it may not be immediately obvious which of these articles are IF-related, I’ve also added to the Second Person page over at ifwiki with links directly into the IF-specific stuff.

Along similar lines, Dennis Jerz has an interesting summary of Chris Crawford’s talk at Hypertext ’08.

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Ideas for Interactive Fiction

Recently there has been a bit of an argument raging on several blogs about how much a game idea stands alone, how much it’s worth without any implementation, apropos of Squidi’s 300 game mechanics page.

I’m not going to dive into this debate, mostly because the point I’d want to make has already been made eloquently and repeatedly by other people: that the process of implementation includes a certain amount of further design work, raises questions that aren’t covered by the original specification, and so on. It tends to warp an idea in other, subtler ways, too. (A great book on this, not about game design but about art, is Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention. It’s a compelling description of how external and internal forces shape creative production, which I read in college and still go around recommending whenever I have the slightest excuse.)

On the other hand, not every game idea is viable even in its basic form: it’s either not a description of anything that could be elaborated (because it’s about incidental features of the game), or it leads inevitably to terrible implementation problems. So Squidi has genuinely accomplished something by serving up an assortment of ideas at least some of which are really pretty decent starting places.

I occasionally look through the search terms that have led people to this site, to see whether I’m providing what people are hoping to find, and one of the things semi-frequently mentioned is “ideas for interactive fiction” or “if premises” or the like. I wonder what these people are looking for — maybe, in fact, something like Squidi’s list, only IF-specific instead of directed to other kinds of (primarily video) games.

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Emergent Puzzle Solutions

A recent RAIF thread brought up the Magnetic Scrolls games, and the fact that they used a simulationist system that could produce puzzle solutions that the game authors hadn’t thought of:

“Talk of current IF development drifted on to whether it’s possible to create a game in which the player is not really constrained by the author’s intentions. Michael noted that Magnetic Scrolls games were kind of like this-for example, if an object had the “sharp shards” bit set, dropping or throwing the object would cause it to shatter into many sharp shards. In total, 128 bits were used to describe a more or less working universe that the player could interact with in ways that hadn’t been anticipated. As an example, Michael described an unintentional situation in which one could put a rat in some liquid nitrogen, snap off its tail and, for a few turns, use the tail to puncture feed sacks and obtain food.”

This raised a fair amount of interest (most of the “ZOMG that would be GREAT!!” kind). This yearning to do something the author didn’t think of is something I hear a fair amount of: Mark Bernstein has complained that, because IF games anticipate solutions, the IF player is always robbed of the pleasure of having invented a novel solution because he always knows the author was there first. Emergent-solution design might address that complaint. It might also address the frustration players often feel when a logical-seeming approach is either forbidden or not recognized by the game at all.

So I found myself thinking, again, about why more IF games don’t work this way.

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Inform 7 for the Fiction Author

Jeff Nyman recently raised the idea of having a guide to Inform 7 specifically written for an experienced fiction author without background in IF, and I posted a brainstormed outline for such a project. The formatting was pretty ugly on Usenet, though, and I had a few ideas for revisions, so here is another, longer and better-laid-out version of the same thing, with more links to relevant games and articles.

This still isn’t nearly into the shape I would use if I were actually going to write this book — and I don’t have time to do any such thing right now anyway; I have a bunch of things to do for Inform 7,, and the long-neglected theory book before I could take up a project of this magnitude. (And I’d like to have a little time to work on a WIP of my own — IF support work has pretty much wiped out my time for that kind of thing lately.) But possibly people will find the brainstorming interesting, even if it isn’t worked up into a complete document.

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Mostly Frivolous

One of the curious things about having moved my website to WordPress is that I can now see what people are searching for when they wind up here. I regret to say that many of these searches were in fact futile, but here, perhaps I can answer a few of the questions after all:

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