And here is the bit where, traditionally, I post my best-of-comp recommendations, as well as some thoughts about the field overall. To avoid spoiling, actual content goes after the break.
For some years, Chris Crawford has run a mostly-yearly convention on interactive storytelling called Phrontisterion. This year, he changed this a physical gathering to a virtual one, in which participants can get together online to discuss projects they’re working on or have just recently become aware of in the interactive story world. Last session I did a presentation on Versu. Future sessions will cover other areas of interactive story, which might include conventional IF, video games with a story focus, academic narrative experiments, etc. Sessions are designed to take one hour and meet the third Wednesday of the month at 9 AM Pacific (a time picked to accommodate the maximum number of current participants, given how people are spread over many time zones and many jobs). If you’re interested, there’s a blog and sign-up form.
Also: if you’re in Toronto on November 16, you might want to check out the WordPlay festival, put together by Jim Munroe and the Hand Eye Society. There will be an IF workshop with Christine Love. There will be a talk by the creators of Kentucky Route Zero. There will be many games on display, including my pieces First Draft of the Revolution and Counterfeit Monkey.
IndieCade is this weekend in Culver City. I will be there talking about narrative alongside Nick Fortugno, and also moderating a panel about Twine featuring Porpentine, Merritt Kopas, Kat Chastain, and Christine Love. Besides the Twine panelists, I know at least a couple other IF folks who will be there as well; some really cool games are nominated, including Kentucky Route Zero and Gone Home, a Twine compilation by Porpentine that includes howling dogs and several other works, Hide and Seek’s Tiny Games collection, and a new pen-and-paper game by Elizabeth Sampat.
PRACTICE is in New York, November 15-17. This is one of my favorite game-related conferences because it focuses on the details of craft and tends to involve really nitty-gritty discussion, far more than your average GDC talk. I will be talking there about Versu from a narrative design perspective.
November 20, Graham Nelson and I are speaking about publishing IF at an evening on transmedia publishing, run by the Oxford Publishing Society.
AdventureX is December 7th in London. I am not speaking, but am planning to go unless my schedule makes it impossible somehow. Jon Ingold (long time IF author and cofounder of inkle) and Dave Gilbert (Wadget Eye) are both lined up to speak.
If you’re planning to be at one of these and want to meet up, ping me! (Except the Boston one, obviously. If you’re going to be there, have fun, and I wish I were going to be able to do that too, but the scheduling just didn’t work out.)
As usual this time of year, the annual IF competition (the 19th!) is now in progress, featuring both parser-based and choice-based works in a range of systems, including games in Inform, TADS, Twine, Quest, Undum, StoryNexus, and some other hand-rolled systems.
Games can be downloaded or played online here, and most do have some sort of online option. As usual, anyone who didn’t submit a game can judge as long as they rate at least five games. (Some of the games are pretty short, so this is unlikely to be a very onerous task.)
I will review as I have time. My usual rule is try to review every game that a) either has beta-testers or has a reasonable cause not to list them and b) can be played on my machine with reasonable efforts. I make no guarantees this year that I can actually do that: there are 35 games, and I have a lot of work and travel in the next month or two. But we’ll see. If you’d like to check out what other people are writing about the same games, this thread on the intfiction forum is meant to list some of the other bloggers who are also reviewing.
You may also like to review the games yourself; people who don’t have blogs or sites of their own often do this by posting comments to the intfiction forum.
I’ve gotten a lot of email about yesterday’s post, and it’s clear that at a minimum I need to say a few things to clarify what I meant by it.
I intended to say:
— when I hear about things like the hate mail people receive, my instinctive reaction is to say something like “we would never do that!” “we are all far too decent!” or “that is not at all my experience!”; but this is not true, and I know it is not true. There are people in our community who would and do write threateningly to women. For me, because I know the community as a whole much better, it is easy to say “this person is a jerk, but not representative”; that is not always so obvious for recipients in a different position, and it gives us the reputation that the community is an unsafe place. I have had enough conversation with Porpentine about this situation to feel certain that it was neither invented nor from some random non-IF person.
— I feel shame at being associated with a community known for such behavior, even if the reasons are not under my direct control and were not caused by me. Shame is not the same as guilt, and deals in perceptions and associations, not in technical justice.
— to the extent that I do harbor any blame towards someone other than the author of said email, that blame is directed first toward myself, not toward “everyone” or “the men of the IF community” or another nebulous group. I do believe there is some collective responsibility for the trends of communities we’re part of, and that sometimes it’s not enough not to endorse something; it’s necessary to explicitly call it out as unacceptable.
I have known for a long time that women in the IF community sometimes get threats or inappropriate romantic advances or inflammatory rants, because I’ve received them and heard from others who received them. But I’ve avoided talking about my own because it seemed self-dramatizing and self-centered; I’ve avoided talking about other people’s because conveyed privately. Porpentine’s public statement about her experience provides a context in which to explicitly say “this happens and is not okay” without betraying anything said to me in confidence about anyone else’s experience.
Here are some things I did not intend to express, but that other people have thought I did:
— that I agree with everything Porpentine wrote in the rest of her article. We’re different people with different experiences and views
— that I think most of the IF community would endorse this email-sending, or that I regard most of the IF community with animosity
— that I have the exact same take on Porpentine’s reviews that she did. I didn’t quote that bit for a reason. Most of nastiest feedback I saw about howling dogs came from sources outside the traditional community; but I’m not sure I’m interpreting the reviews in the same way that Porpentine does, and am not sure I’m drawing the lines of the IF community in the same place she would.
At the same time, I know there are things about IF community reviewing and expressions of community standards that do cause hurt and alienation, and I am fairly routinely told about bad experiences by people who bounced off the community; it seems like every time I go to a game dev conference, I’m guaranteed to have at least one of each of these conversations:
1) I love the concept of IF but hate the parser!
2) IF is the reason I got into writing my own games! (sometimes there are surprise hugs here)
3) I tried to engage with the IF community and I felt totally excluded/everyone was mean/no one was interested in me.
Over time, that adds up. You’d be surprised how many game designers are in the business because of IF or partly inspired by IF. And you might also be surprised by how many people have found themselves on the outside, looking in sadly, for reasons that I at least didn’t ever detect. Porpentine, again, is unlike most of the people I’ve talked to about this in that she’s articulated some reasons and issues aloud.
I am not sure what to do about this aspect of things. I am still learning to hear people when they tell me about this, because my instinct to say “oh no we are incredibly nice really” or “that’s not what happened to me (so therefore I don’t think it really happened to you)” is so powerful. I don’t know what to do, but I am trying at least to listen when people tell me about these encounters with the community and not dismiss them even when they come in forms I find painful.
inkle has been posting for some time about their Sorcery! project with Steve Jackson, and it’s now available for iOS. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but it looks gorgeous, with fun gamebooky play, a revamped combat concept, and a really attractive map. Here’s more about the making of, including discussions of the combat system and the creation of the user interface. It looks gorgeous, however, and is getting rave reviews at the app store, as well as positive coverage at Pocket Gamer. One unfortunate note: it’s not (yet?) really playable with VoiceOver.
The People’s Republic of IF in Boston is organizing another IF meetup this year, September 14-15, coordinated with the NoShowConf and the Boston Festival of Indie Games. This is an opportunity to hang out with other IF authors, share in-progress concepts, demo to the public (at Boston FIG), and attend game design talks (at NoShowConf). There may be some IF-specific programming there, though this isn’t finalized.
I’ve mentioned this before here briefly, but I’m speaking next week at the Inventing the Future of Games conference put on by UC Santa Cruz. That’s in Mountain View May 10. I’ll be talking about tools for interactive narrative creation, drawing on experience with Inform, Versu, and (to a lesser degree) various other IF tools.
XYZZY Award voting is ongoing through May 7. If you want to participate, check out the nominees and voting page.