ifMUD IF discussion

Our scheduled IF discussion on ifMUD happened this evening. (“Scheduled discussion” sounds confusingly vague. This thing needs a name.) I’ll link from here once our transcript is posted; it was recorded but needs a bit of cleanup. It ran roughly two hours, in a slightly shambolic fashion.

We are going to do this again: 8 PM GMT / 3 PM Eastern / Noon Pacific, Saturday, April the 5th, on ifMUD’s theoryclub channel.

Some conclusions from our first try: Next time it would be good to be prepared with a list of relevant games, so that people will have more shared ground from which to build the discussion. It’s challenging to keep a flow going that both discusses and compares work and takes the time to explain what is happening in each piece.

Also, narrower topics may be better. We spent a lot of time brainstorming around examples, but also a lot of time discussing what even fell into the category of interiority. And there were a lot of different examples that pointed in different directions.

But first, we need to pick a next topic. What shall we discuss? I opened this question at the end of the session, but the consensus was that we should do the topic selection here, where people who didn’t attend the first meeting could also make suggestions. So. Thoughts?

(ETA: There is now a permanent page for this club here.)

15 thoughts on “ifMUD IF discussion

  1. I kind of like “scheduled discussion”. It sounds academic.

    As for discussion topics, here’s a few of my suggestions:
    - NPCs as more than gatekeepers, conveyors of information, and plot devices; making characters come alive
    - grounding the PC in the story vs. player freedom (touched on briefly with refusals)
    - gameification: does allowing the player agency inherently make it a game?
    - enjoyment: what does everyone enjoy about IF? And perhaps coupled with the above, does IF have to be a game in order to be enjoyed?

  2. Wait, are you planning on scheduling these on the first Saturday of the month generally? Because that conflicts with the San Francisco IF Meetups. That’s the only reason I wasn’t there for this discussion.

  3. I think this was a good first session, but we were all over the place with everyone interjecting comments at will. We might’ve unintentionally shut a few people out. I think we’ll need some structure in future meetings, although I’m not sure what form that structure should have.

    Some possible topics to consider:
    * Enjoyment/fun.
    * Simulation.
    * Commercialism of IF.
    * Promotion and publishing.
    * Puzzle construction.
    * Non-game works of IF.
    * Multiplayer IF?
    * IF construction tools.
    * Interpreters.
    * Beginner-friendly IF.
    * Testing IF
    * Replayability.
    * Licenses, translations, and remakes.
    * Choice-based IF.
    * Multimedia (color, graphics, sound, music, animation)
    * Serialized IF.
    * Recurring tropes.

  4. Pooper’s which I knew this was on sooner. So gonna try to come from now on. Personally I’d like to discuss the recent trend to ditch Text based Adventures with CYOA. The in’s and outs and why’s

    • That seems like a discussion about the community of authors rather than about the works themselves, and I fear it might shed more heat than light — since I’m not sure that it’s possible for anyone to definitively answer the question of why trends happen, but a lot of people have very strong feelings about them.

      That said, I can tell you why I write a lot less parser IF (as a proportion of my overall output) than I used to: accessibility. I’ve put a lot of effort over the years to making parser games that would be friendlier and more inviting. I’ve spent many many hours watching people play them, and reading responses from novice players, and showing off IF in classrooms and at conferences. I’ve experimented with different UI approaches, with adding graphical feedback, with buttons and menus and status windows. A good proportion of my messing around never saw the light of day because it was self-evidently ugly or inadequate.

      And I’ve finally, about fifteen years on, accepted that there is nothing I know how to do that will make a parser-based game a sufficiently inviting prospect for the majority of players. Tutorial text, external help materials, more synonyms, better error messages, attempts to highlight key nouns and list key verbs for the player — you can spend hundreds of hours on those sorts of helps and still not manage to make a parser-based game that is as immediately comprehensible as a choice-based game is by default. It doesn’t matter that there’s a map provided and a hint system and a novice mode and that the story is based on something familiar: with all that, Bronze is still a harder sell than Choice of the Dragon, because the parser gets in the way.

      And why do I care about accessibility? Because I want to engage with the larger indie game community, to participate in a dialogue around games outside just the group of hardcore parser-IF players. Because a lot of the people who played parser IF ten years ago or so have drifted off to do other things, and many members of the community of people into IF now are looking for something else.

      I want to push myself beyond what I already know, and writing parser games generally no longer feels like a way to make those discoveries. It did at one time. But now, for me, it doesn’t. And to be honest, if I brainstorm about IF that really impressed or affected me in the last year, things that modified my thinking about what interactive stories could do and be, I don’t think mostly of parser games. Instead I think of 18 Cadence and Solarium and Their Angelical Understanding and My Father’s Long Long Legs and Horse Master and Conversations with My Mother and Black Crown. Coloratura was good. Endless, Nameless was good. But they were good in ways that I was already pretty familiar with, for the most part. So I see this interesting stuff going on, and it’s inspiring. I see people doing intriguing stuff with the UI, with presentations of text and layering of graphics and timing and color. Five years ago on the rare occasions I saw anything like that going on, it tended to feel (to me) kind of gimmicky and unfinished, but the things that are happening now are, instead, polished and thoughtful and impressive. That makes me want to go out and play with the same tools.

      Meanwhile, a lot of the things people think of as unique to parser-based games — the inclusion of puzzles, the use of a gradual rather than rapid pace, the possibility of exploration and the sense of presence in the world — are not unique to the parser. Those aspects are usually mostly due to the world model rather than the fact that the player is typing in commands. And the world model can, with some modifications, be presented through a choice-based interface instead. I’m not really any more excited than I ever was about simply-branching CYOA that tracks no state besides the page you’re on. That feels like a severely limiting tool to me. But that is hardly the only option, and we’ve seen a lot of other possibilities in the last few years, so that I don’t feel like losing the parser is as much of a sacrifice as I once might have.

      So I only write parser-based games now if I am absolutely convinced that the game needs something that only a parser can provide. Counterfeit Monkey was such a game. There may be others in the future. I still like playing parser IF, and I still really like Inform as a tool.

      But my go-to approach now is always to ask myself whether there’s any possible way to present the type of experience I have in mind that doesn’t involve confronting the player with a command line.

  5. I see several votes here to discuss choice-based games, and would like to vote against that for April because I won’t be able to make it. :-)

    I suggest “ambiguity in the text.” Like mental interiority, it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to do in a text adventure, but supposedly easy to do in text. (In text, you can “just” directly report on a character’s mental state, or omit key details that would be difficult or impossible to omit in another medium.)

    • How about doing a choice-based talk the second Saturday in May (that is, May the 10th)?

      And I think we’re best off making the topic a bit tighter than just “choice-based games”, since there’s a huge amount that could be said there. I for one would be interested in a talk that delved specifically into different world/stat models — so e.g. ChoiceScript’s fairmath, inventory etc. systems in gamebooks, variables in inklewriter and Twine, qualities in Fallen London — and talking about how those modeling choices affect the player’s experience.

      Would that be of interest to people, or would people prefer a different take on this?

      • I still want that discussion on CYOA structures. I guess that’s a little like what you’re saying here, but I also want to discuss factors in the structure that aren’t directly connected to the world model. Like, we have the term “time cave”, and that’s helpful, but we really need a word for the type of structure that e.g., Choice of Games and Deirdra Kiai’s The Play use. I tried the word “time tunnel”, but there is probably a better name for it.

      • Fair enough. Okay, let’s say choice-based-game structures for May 10.

        For April 5, multimedia feels too open-ended to me, like we’d get a lot of names of games that had illustrations or real-time effects or wonky Twine typography or embedded video or whatever, without having enough space to dig in. I think we could find a subset of the topic that would be more manageable, but I’d like to think about that a bit more.

        Several people have requested “modeling of time,” though, and that I think *is* doable. The point is that typically most parser games run in something approximating real time, where each turn is understood to correspond to somewhere between 10 seconds and a minute; whereas in choice-based games, a single action can cover years; and of course there are some exceptions to both of those. And the way that a game handles time is going to significantly affect the experience of play, at a sort of textural level.

  6. Also, if CYOA subjects are off the menu ’til May, what shall we discuss next month? I like the earlier suggestion of multimedia.

  7. Pingback: ifMUD IF discussion | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling | Jerz's Literacy Weblog

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