Liza Daly on Stone Harbor

stoneharborcover.pngI spoke to Liza Daly about her 4th-place IF Comp 2016 entry Stone Harbor. In full disclosure, Liza is a friend, and we have worked together in the past; she commissioned me to write First Draft of the Revolution.

On this occasion, she was kind enough to talk with me about where her project came from, her ambitions for IF in general, and how she sees interactive fiction relative to the world of publishing and ebooks—including some thoughts on why interactive ebooks didn’t become the cutting edge of interactive fiction.

What were your goals for the Stone Harbor project when you got started?

I work in publishing, and I’ve long been frustrated by how little awareness there is of interactive fiction, or born-digital writing in general, in the publishing community. At best, people think it’s all Choose Your Own Adventure books, or Zork, or navel-gazing avant-garde experiments, or big-budget apps like Arcadia. The objections I’ve heard about IF range from “those are for kids” to “they’re games not stories” or “they cost thousands of dollars to make.” So on one level my goal was to write a relatively conventional genre story—something publishers could could recognize—cheaply and quickly.

Meanwhile my personal projects tend to be short or abstract: Twitter bots or computer-generated “novels” that are devoid of meaning. I wanted to see if I could do the hard work of writing believable characters and sustaining a storyline.

Both goals pulled Stone Harbor in the direction of being longer (by word-count) and less branch-y than is typical for IF Comp entries. I hoped that it would be received as “minimally interactive” rather than “slapped-on interactive,” but I think it’s a fair criticism that I could have made the interactivity deeper without compromising the story-ness. I’m inspired to do better next time.

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First Draft of the Revolution Released

First Draft of the Revolution is now out, available to read through the browser or as an epub. (This is the project trailed here and here.)

First Draft is an interactive epistolary story I built with Liza Daly, with subsequent design work by inkle. Set in the universe of the Lavori d’Aracne, it tells a story from the beginnings of that universe’s French Revolution, when certain anti-aristocratic forces are finally discovering how to break the magical power that has kept the nobility in power for so long.

For those interested in the concept of interactive epistolary story, there’s a fairly long author’s note on the website. This bit may suggest how First Draft compares with choice-based narrative:

[I]nteractively revising text involves multiple simultaneous choices which influence one another. Instead of asking the reader “then what did the character do?” or “what happened next?”—as choose your own adventure stories do—First Draft of the Revolution asks the reader to consider a number of simultaneous decisions, try them out, take some of them back, and finally settle on an acceptable version before moving on.

inkle’s blog also contains some discussion on the technical implementation.