Card-Deck Narratives

In a previous post about narrative structuring, I promised a followup about stories based on card decks — not simply the card metaphor that Failbetter uses in StoryNexus, but actual physical decks, sometimes accompanied by rules.

I’ve covered a few narrative card games here before. Gloom is a popular card game about Gorey-esque horrible events, in which you accumulate misfortunes for your characters until at last they die; each event is named briefly on its card, like “attacked by ducks,” and it’s up to the player to describe how this fits into a larger sequence, if at all. Some players work harder on their narration than others.

Gloom has a number of expansions and spin-offs at this point, including a Cthulhu version and a fairytale recasting. There are also a few features in Gloom designed to encourage continuity, symbols on some event cards that determine whether later events can be played, but in general any chains of causality are invented by the players at game time, rather than baked into the rules or the behavior of the deck. And because Gloom is emulating a type of story in which one bad thing arbitrarily happens after another, there also is not much attempt to guarantee a well-paced story arc.

Once Upon a Time is light in both writing and mechanics: it’s a sort of trope toolkit that the players can use to stick together stories, so that your card might just say “Brave” and leave it up to you how the concept of bravery applied to a character in the story will enhance what is already going on. Or there are Story Cubes, which are dice with trope-y images on them. The line between game and brainstorming device is pretty thin here, though, and I wouldn’t accuse either Once Upon a Time or Story Cubes of actually being or having a story already in any meaningful sense.

Then there’s Dixit, which provides image prompts and it’s up to the player to find some way to describe what is happening in the image. The narrative content is pretty light here, though, and I’ve found that usually we become more engaged with the wordplay of it — what is an interesting, slightly misleading way of characterizing this picture? — than with anything of narrative merit. Perhaps a more successful and storyful version of the Dixit idea exists in Mysterium, which game reviewers Shut Up and Sit Down really liked, but I haven’t had a chance to play that yet. (It was available at Shut Up and Sit Down’s curated board game area at GDC, which was awesome, but I was there at the wrong time to get a try at it.)

Meanwhile, there are also aleatory traditions of literature to consider here: Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1, a book in a box with unbound pages, to be read in any order; BS Johnson’s The Unfortunates, with chapters the reader may reorder. Nick Montfort and Zuzana Husárová have written about shuffle literature in more depth, including those works and several others.

So it is in light of those various traditions that I’m going to have a deeper look at two particular card narrative games that recently came my way: Jedediah Berry’s The Family Arcana, and the USC Game Innovation Lab’s Chrono Scouts.

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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.

Cover Art Drive

IF Cover Art Drive is now officially running. From now until April 30, I am collecting IF cover art on Flickr. There are a few pieces already there, but more will be posted as they’re contributed.

The idea here is to try to collect contributions of art to serve as cover images for existing IF. There are two reasons to do this: first, to make IFDB more attractive and less pure-text; and second, so that people writing about IF on indie game blogs and websites will have something other than a screenshot of raw text with which to illustrate their articles. (More about the rationale for this is here.)

[Edit: for reference, a list of how things stand.]

Cover art submitted and accepted, or submitted by author:

  • The Act of Misdirection, by Callico Harrison
  • An Act of Murder, by Chris Huang
  • Ad Verbum, by Nick Montfort
  • Adventurer’s Consumer Guide, by Øyvind Thorsby
  • All Hope Abandon, by Eric Eve
  • All Roads, by Jon Ingold
  • And the Waves Choke the Wind, by Gunther Schmidl
  • Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies, by Øyvind Thorsby
  • Augmented Fourth, by Brian Uri!
  • Bad Machine, by Dan Shiovitz
  • Balances, by Graham Nelson
  • The Baron, by Victor Gijsbers
  • The Beetmonger’s Journal, by Scott Starkey
  • Being Andrew Plotkin, by J. Robinson Wheeler
  • Blighted Isle, by Eric Eve
  • Blue Lacuna, by Aaron Reed
  • Breath Pirates, by Mike Snyder
  • The Chinese Room, by Harry Giles and Joey Jones (pending revisions)
  • Coke Is It!, by various
  • The Cove, by Kathleen Fischer
  • Cryptozookeeper, by Robb Sherwin
  • Dangerous Curves, by Irene Callaci
  • A Day for Soft Food, by Tod Levi
  • Degeneracy, by Leonard Richardson
  • Desert Heat, by Papillon
  • Distress, by Mike Snyder
  • The Djinni Chronicles, by J. D. Berry
  • The Edifice, by Lucian Smith
  • Enlightenment, by Taro Ogawa
  • An Escape To Remember, by IF Whispers
  • Fate, by Victor Gijsbers
  • A Fine Day for Reaping, by James Webb
  • Fine Tuned, by Dennis Jerz
  • Firebird, by Bonnie Montgomery
  • For a Change, by Dan Schmidt
  • Gardening for Beginners, by Juhana Leinonen
  • Gourmet, by Aaron Reed
  • The Gostak, by Carl Muckenhoupt
  • Help! My Vacuum Cleaner is Broken!, by Admiral Jota
  • In the End 2, by Adam Thornton
  • Katana, by Matt Rohde
  • King of Shreds and Patches, by Jimmy Maher
  • The Land of the Cyclops, by Francesco Cordella and Simone Di Conza
  • LASH, by Paul O’Brian
  • Learning to Cross, by Mark J. Musante
  • Legerdemain, by Nathan Jerpe
  • Letters from Home, by Roger Firth
  • Losing Your Grip, by Stephen Granade
  • Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota
  • Luminous Horizon, by Paul O’Brian
  • Lunatix — The Insanity Circle, by Mike Snyder
  • Lydia’s Heart, by Jim Aikin
  • Masquerade, by Kathleen Fischer
  • Moon-Shaped, by Jason Ermer
  • Mother Loose, by Irene Callaci
  • My Name is Jack Mills, by Juhana Leinonen
  • Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, by Jim Aikin
  • Nothing But Mazes, by Greg Boettcher
  • Pass the Banana, by Admiral Jota
  • Persistence of Memory, by Jason Dyer
  • Photograph, by Steve Evans
  • Revenger, by Robb Sherwin
  • Rameses, by Stephen Bond
  • Ribbons, by J. D. Berry
  • Scavenger, by Quintin Stone
  • A Simple Theft, by Mark Musante
  • Snowblind Aces, by C. E. J. Pacian
  • Square Circle, by Eric Eve
  • Tales of the Traveling Swordsman, by Mike Snyder
  • The Tarot Reading, by Michael Penman
  • To Hell in a Hamper, by J. J. Guest
  • Trading Punches, by Mike Snyder
  • Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, by S. John Ross
  • Undertow, by Stephen Granade
  • Voices, by Aris Katsaris
  • Waystation, by Stephen Granade
  • The Weapon, by Sean Barrett
  • Wearing the Claw, by Paul O’Brian
  • Whom the Telling Changed, by Aaron Reed
  • Worlds Apart, by Suzanne Britton

Cover art submitted and declined; submitted and unanswered; or supplanted by other art:

  • Aisle, by Sam Barlow
  • Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry
  • Chicken and Egg, by Adam Thornton
  • Choose Your Own Romance, by David Dyte
  • Christminster, by Gareth Rees
  • The Corn Identity, by IF Whispers
  • Deadline Enchanter, by Alan DeNiro
  • Delusions, by C. E. Forman
  • A Dino’s Night Out, by Aris Katsaris
  • Downtown Tokyo, Present Day, by John Kean
  • Elizabeth Hawke’s Forever Always, by Iain Merrick
  • Goldilocks is a FOX!, by J.J. Guest
  • Guess the Verb!, by Leonard Richardson
  • House of Dream of Moon, by IF Whispers
  • Janitor, by Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn
  • Lost New York, by Neil deMause (would prefer no future cover art be created)
  • The One That Got Away, by Leon Lin
  • Rematch, by Andrew Pontious
  • Shade, by Andrew Plotkin
  • She’s Got a Thing for a Spring, by Brent VanFossen
  • Sins Against Mimesis, by Adam Thornton
  • Sting of the Wasp, by Jason Devlin
  • Theatre, by Brendon Wyber

Cover art submitted:

  • A Change in the Weather, by Andrew Plotkin
  • Delightful Wallpaper, by Andrew Plotkin
  • Hunter, in Darkness, by Andrew Plotkin
  • Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin

Cover art in progress:

Cover art requested:

Cover art “opted out”:

  • Building, by Poster

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Art in Competition

One of the questions I semi-routinely get asked on interviews about interactive fiction is whether I think the annual IF Comp is a good thing for the community. I find the question hard to answer: the competition is so essential to the community identity that I have a hard time imagining it away, and besides, my opinion wouldn’t change anything; it’s like someone asking whether the human body would be more aesthetically appealing if it didn’t have a spine.

Nonetheless, I’m constantly conscious of the con arguments brought up a few times a year: that the competition siphons off attention from other games released at other times; that it produces a trend towards small games rather than epic works; that there is something wrong or unfair about the voting scheme (opinions vary on what that might be); and — my least favorite — that “real” artforms, like novels and paintings, are not produced primarily for competition, and that therefore competition is an unhealthy or unnatural context for artistic production, and we’d be better off without it. (Here we touch another of my pet peeves: people who make sweeping statements about “real” art are usually talking about [what they know about] commercialized artistic production in the early 21st century. I run into something similar with freshman mythology students: they’re often convinced that “originality” is the defining feature of good art, and so object to the fact that ancient authors reused mythological material. Their conceptions about literature have been shaped by market forces and copyright law in ways they don’t recognize. They also, if pressed, don’t have a very clear idea of what originality means, other than perhaps refraining from reusing the same plot and cast of characters from another work.)

Lately I’ve been reading two books that have helped clarify my visceral sense about this problem into something I can articulate.

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Two readings of possible interest

The last couple of days have brought some interesting reads that weren’t announced on RAIF, so I’ll mention them here:

Trotting Krips’ review of Planetfall. I’ve never gotten around to playing this one myself.

Nick Montfort’s dissertation on nn, an IF development system he designed in the course of getting his doctorate at Penn. The dissertation runs to several hundred pages, so it’s not a light read, but I’d recommend a look to those interested in IF theory. Some of what he writes is fairly technical discussion of how his system works, and it’s difficult to judge its merits given that there aren’t any actual games written in it (as he admits himself); on the other hand, he also does a lot of theoretical definition of the different aspects of IF games.

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