Transcript up from April 5 Discussion Club

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but the transcript from our April 5 meeting is now up. The next meeting will be on CYOA structures and is set for 8 PM British time, May 10. Suggested reading and other information can be found here.

Note also that at the end of the transcript, zarf proposes a speed-IF about time and action-scale modeling:

zarf says, “mess with these ideas we’ve been talking about for two weeks”
eu says (to zarf), “Good idea.”
zarf says, “post a link in the intfiction.org forum post about this chat”
zarf says, “and we can (on the forum) discuss in two weeks what we’ve come up with”

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III (Porpentine)

Once at GDC I heard someone give a talk in which the speaker said, in essence, “Don’t show your audience anything that isn’t already a common trope in a movie or another video game of the same genre.” Which is amazing if you think about it. Invent nothing. Observe nothing. Bring no original truth to your piece. Do not teach your audience anything, and do not imbue your work with anything of yourself. This is probably the worst writing advice I have ever heard. If it has any even notional justification, it’s that it gives the audience what they want, assuming they don’t want to be challenged or think new thoughts (and the marketing department has concluded that they don’t).

The opposite failing is author-service work: stuff that’s so personal to the creator that it’s inaccessible or overwhelming. To tell someone your secrets can be an intensely manipulative act. Certain emotions may be required in exchange: pity, surprise, a suitable horror. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I brace myself when I come across a piece that seems primarily designed to make me feel something about the author, or to exorcise the author’s distress.

But it’s not as though the mean is an easy space to occupy. It demands both craft and heart, and the discipline to sit with something you feel deeply and keep working on it over and over until it is also comprehensible and valuable to someone else.

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III both describes and exemplifies how art drifts back and forth in that huge space between creator and audience, occupying different positions, carrying different meanings. It shows how art can become a vessel for an intimacy that hasn’t otherwise been earned.

The following discussion contains spoilers, so be warned.

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On Time Units and Narrative Pacing in CYOA and Parser IF

two-star says, “Well, novels are capable of conveying widely different scales of passing time. Parser IF considers time at the pace of individual actions. Choice IF can do time at different scales pretty well though.”

– from the last meeting of the IF discussion group.

This is the contention that we’re going to be discussing at our next meeting (April 5).

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Oxford Tools Meetup

As promised, some highlights from today’s Oxford tools meetup:

Eric Eve took us through a demonstration of adv3lite, his slimmer library for TADS 3 for users who don’t want or don’t need all the features of adv3. It’s designed to be intentionally moderate in what it models, not intended to grow to encompass all possible features. Among the things he demo’d: adv3lite

  • does away with some high-end but perhaps less frequently needed features of the adv3 library such as postures, sections of a room, and complicated connectors between rooms
  • provides Inform-7-esque handling for scenes (albeit with a TADS syntax)
  • has a concept of regions and “sense regions”: this provides a way of doing sense passing that is a bit less fiddly than the one in the main adv3 library, in that information about a particular sense can be passed throughout a contiguous area
  • offers a more advanced conversation engine than adv3, including intelligent behavior about whether typed input should be directed to the parser or should be treated as conversation towards the NPC
  • handles six tenses and all persons/numbers for story narration
  • handles three-object commands, and commands with text input strings as one of those (e.g., “write ‘hello world’ on paper with blunt pencil”)
  • does not use the transcript function of adv3, but has an alternative way of collating reports for actions on related objects so that they can be printed together in an attractive way
  • can be used even without roughly half of its component modules for a VERY stripped-down library experience

Graham Nelson showed us features of the upcoming build of Inform, with the target release date of April 30, 2014. These include:

  • indexed text is no longer a different type from text, which means that anything that can be done with indexed text (the manipulation of regular expressions, etc.) can now be done with any text property in a game
  • floating point numbers are now handled natively in Inform
  • Inform now does global named constants, and has a sleeker way of defining global variables
  • Inform is able to put the story into various tenses and persons, so it is possible to change the story text output to, say, third person plural past tense, if you wish (and to change this during play); this was previously possible only with custom library message extensions
  • Inform now provides richer facilities for doing adaptive text in general so that extensions can also easily be written to change their tense and person
  • Inform has built-in algorithms for conjugating English verbs to help produce adaptive text smoothly
  • A new “responses” system provides a way to override any library message text or any message from a properly formatted extension, without having to replace the entire rules in which the text appears
  • The first groundwork has been done towards creating international versions of Inform, including some experiments with French verb formation; this does not constitute a total translation of Inform so far, but is necessary preparation with a view towards eventually translating the whole system
  • The supporting materials have been extensively revised, the index panel improved, and a full index for the documentation provided
  • There is now a panel in the IDE for Extensions, including an App Store-like system called the Public Library for downloading them from the Inform website. This panel allows the author to view which extensions are installed and which are in the library; to install or update extensions with a single click; and even to download the entire Inform extension collection at once, if that’s desired
  • The Mac IDE has been overhauled quite a bit, with Toby Nelson (brother of Graham) also working on it: the search box much improved, syntax coloring sped up so that typing an open bracket no longer produces a major stall, and various longstanding glitches removed

Afterwards, there was some discussion about the “what do you want in a tool” question of the last few days, and several people agreed that they felt there would have been more answers about commercial IF if the question had been differently framed.

We talked about the desirability of being able to publish IF to mobile device apps more easily, for which none of the parser systems currently have an easy solution. We also talked a bit about Inform potentially building choice-based games, and about the rise of such games in general.

Thanks to everyone who came, and especially our presenters. The next meetup will be April 8 in London, on dialogue and character modeling.