October Link Assortment

Upcoming meetings and events:

Wordplay in Toronto is November 7. There will be talks about text-based games, there will be demos of other games, there will be assorted IF folks. I am speaking. Perhaps I will see you there.

Also November 7, London: ProcJam launches with a series of free talks about procedurally generating things. I obviously cannot be there because I will be in Toronto instead, but I know a number of Oxford/London IF Meetup folks are planning to attend.

November 11 is the regularly scheduled Boston IF meetup. I will be there also.

November 29, Oxford: WIP Sharing meetup. If you have a piece for which you’d like feedback, this is a great place to show up and share what you have.

December 12-13, London: AdventureX is a free two-day conference about adventure games, focusing primarily but not exclusively on graphical adventures. Again, there will be some text game people there (probably including me).


What to play for Halloween?

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Matthew Ritter’s graveyard-exploration piece Boon Hill is coming to Steam today, so if you’d like to celebrate Halloween by wandering around looking at some epitaphs, here’s your opportunity.

If bureaucracy and money issues spook you more than graves, you may enjoy Harry Giles’ ritual for grant-seekers, a liturgy about the process of applying for art support grants. If this sounds incomprehensible: it’s really not. Like a lot of Harry’s game poetry, it encapsulates its critiques of a system into rules and actions.

Or perhaps you’ll like Aevee Bee and Mia Schwartz’s visual novel We Know the Devil. It’s about three teenagers who struggle to be their best selves, and not to leave one another behind, at a camp where possession is a standard occurrence. Also, something of a reflection on community in its more destructive aspects. (Here’s Isz Janeway’s review.)

More in the mood to make legal contracts with demons? Max Gladstone has a new Choice of Games game out in his Deathless series, called Deathless: The City’s Thirst. He talks about it — and the challenges of writing a second work in this format — over here.

The Ritual (Edward Turner) is a comedy Lovecraftian piece where you need to replay to see all the endings. It’s rather sweet, assuming you’re not too bothered by exploding your acolytes and raining shattered flesh over the land. A quick and entertaining play.

I can also recommend any of the Comp games I’ve reviewed in the last week or so, especially Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! if you want goofy 1950s aliens, Arcane Intern (Unpaid) if you want a little witchcraft, Darkiss for an old-school vampire.

Or, again, you might like Tailypo by Chandler Groover, published this month on Sub-Q: it’s a short horror piece. No branching, but a good example of what dynamic fiction can do. (I have a horrible sneaking feeling that I’m actually starting to quite like horror genre IF, even if I’m not really a fan of it in books or movies. And as long as there aren’t any zombies in sight.)

And there’s Anna Anthropy’s Witches and Wardrobes, run earlier in the month: I’m planning to write about this one a little more later. It’s more personal and less suspenseful than Tailypo but unsurprisingly also excellent.


IF Comp is still running! If you want to get in on the action and vote on some games, you have a couple more weeks to do so. In addition to all the reviews here and at ifwiki, you might enjoy The Short Game’s podcast coverage of the competition.


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AdventureX in London this weekend

Those of you who are in London this weekend (15-16 December) might be interested in checking out the AdventureX conference.

Of likely interest to readers of this blog, there will be presentations by Alex Warren (on Quest), Jon Ingold (on inkle interactive narrative projects), and Dave Gilbert (doing cool narrative things in the graphical adventure indie space). There will be demos and exhibitors and game trailers. There will be visual novels, gamebooks, point-and-click adventures, browser and indie titles. It’s like a big old family reunion for IF’s siblings, cousins, and in-laws.

All this is free, ticketless, and held in a wheelchair-accessible space. Also there will be snacks!

(My secret selfish agenda is that I am sad I cannot go myself, so I am hoping other people go and report back.)

Choice-based Narrative Tools: inklewriter

A little while back I did an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun which included, among other things, a question about what I thought of inklewriter, the branching narrative tool from inkle studios. That interview was published in a funky CYOA format, which was cool, but it means that it’s hard for me to point people at my answer to that question. And people ask me pretty frequently about different branching-narrative tools that might be out there.

Fortunately, Cara Ellison who did the interview was kind enough to say that I could reprint my answer here. It is attached below, along with some extra thoughts based on a little more work I did with inklewriter after the interview. (Also, if you’re here because you’re interested in checking out a variety of related tools, see the list in the interview as well as my previous thoughts on writing for Varytale.)

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Jon Ingold’s The Colder Light

The Colder Light (online play, IFDB page) is the latest game from Jon Ingold: in this case, a spare, melancholy tale about life on the ice. It also uses an interface evolved from some work by Erik Temple (see for example Erik’s alternate interface to Sand Dancer).

This interface attempts to address some of the community’s long-standing concerns about the parser by presenting affordances explicitly. The player can click on hyperlinked objects in room descriptions and inventory and receive a list of plausible ways to interact with these. The result is a play experience with the noun-and-verb variety of classic parsed IF, a more consistent world model than the average CYOA, and enough diversity to make for genuine puzzles; but without any guess-the-verb issues. It also, I imagine, eased the authoring burden that Jon didn’t have to write the vast range of error messages that typically come with parsed interactive fiction.

There are some other possible novice-friendly features it doesn’t have: HELP only produces credits information, there are no hints to speak of, and mapping is also up to the player. But it’s still pretty accessible and I would be interested to see what new-to-IF players might make of it.

So that’s worth noting, and has already received some discussion. There have been a lot of user interface experiments over the past year and a half or so, but to my mind A Colder Light is one of the most successful in capturing the sense of possibility and setting immediacy that I like from parsed IF, while offering a significantly more accessible experience to the user and avoiding unnecessary screen clutter.

But the work also bears analysis on a couple of other levels.

First of all, it centralizes all its puzzles around a consistent mechanic — achieving this is a bit of an obsession of mine, I admit. To discuss that, I’ll need to be slightly spoilery, though I’ll try to avoid giving away specific puzzles.

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Make It Good, After

So I finished! Won! Yay!

(No, you don’t understand. That was REALLY HARD. I don’t remember the last time I was playing a game with this degree of obsessive absorption… “Blue Lacuna” was also absorbing but in a different way, as I spent a lot of time kind of floating pleasantly around and/or inactively stuck. Here I spent a lot of time actively stuck, trying and retrying solutions…)

Anyway, some only-very-mildly spoilery remarks after the cut.

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Jon Ingold: “Make It Good”

picture-5Jon Ingold has released a new detective game in the mold of Infocom’s Witness.

I haven’t played more than a little way into it, but it looks like hard-boiled goodness and all the ANALYZE and ARREST fun I remember from Deadline. Just the status bar with its fussy details about time and whether I’m wearing gloves… well, it gives me a little reminiscent thrill.

On the other hand, “Make It Good” looks a good bit more novice-friendly than those Infocom mystery offerings, which is terrific, since they weren’t very.

It’s available now for download or for online play via Parchment.