Latest Discussion Transcript

I’ve now posted last night’s transcript from the IF Discussion Club, this time on interactive nonfiction. It was a sparser session than some have been (people are busy on sunny summer afternoons!), but touched on a few different problems, including the question of how much “nonfiction” can be applied to anything interactive.

The proposed topic for next time, July 12, is testing. For perhaps obvious reasons, this doesn’t come with a reading list of games, but we’ll be interested to talk about testing methodologies and the various challenges that come with different forms of IF.

That said, if you want something provocative to read on the topic, may I recommend Mattie Brice on the Death of the Player?

Play- and player-centric design are usually interchangeable terms, but I’d like to make a stronger distinction between them. My main quibble with player-centric design is the fetishized iterative process, where you take a prototype and get players to playtest it. Sometimes, this is useful; if it’s very important to you that someone feels a certain way or does a certain thing, playtesting is a method to achieve that. When I made Mainichi, I released it without any playtesting and iteration. Because players have a tendency to want agency and a positive trajectory, their input would have been useless to me. As well, the game was made for a friend to understand something. I couldn’t playtest the game with them and then ‘release’ it after. It would be like asking your crush to read and edit the love note you want to pass to them one day. With games that use personal experience as a main part of their design, player input through playtesting washes out their voice. If your game leaves out traditional qualities and emphasizes voice, then player-centric design is a useless paradigm for you.

So perhaps it’s also worth talking about what testing does to a game — squeezes, squishes, alters, in ways that might be good or bad.

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.

Tools and Characters: March and April meetups

We now have two more meetups scheduled for the Oxford/London IF group:

2:15 PM, March 30, in Oxford: a session on IF tools. Graham Nelson will present his most recent changes to Inform 7, and Eric Eve will introduce his adv3lite library for TADS, and we’ll open to a general discussion of IF tools.

7 PM, April 8, in London: a session on character modeling, led by Nicholas FitzRoy-Dale. We’ll look at what has been done and what current mechanics support, and talk about possibilities for the future.

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.)

IF Discussion, Live Online

One of the things to come out of discussion at the first Oxford-London Meetup was the idea that it would be nice to have occasional scheduled discussion of IF on ifMUD. The MUD is always on and at least someone is almost always around, but much of the conversation is more general-interest. People also suggested that a) it would be nice to have a context for that discussion that was not exclusively about creation techniques, since so much of the existing mud conversation and intfiction discussion is so focused; and that b) it would be a good idea to provide some focus to these meetings by pre-announcing a topic to cover, so that people can think about examples to discuss.

I’m going to try this as a monthly Saturday thing. Sundays on ifMUD are used for weekly ClubFloyd meetings, and I don’t want to conflict with that. If you’re not familiar, ClubFloyd does group playthroughs of IF, often including recent comp winners or XYZZY nominees, and posts the transcripts. It’s been going on since 2007 and is by now a venerable institution, though attendance rotates quite a bit. If we can hit anything like ClubFloyd’s vitality and general usefulness, I will consider this idea a big success.

Saturday March 1, I will hang about at 8 PM GMT (= 3 PM Eastern, 12 noon Pacific) on the channel #theoryclub on ifMUD. (If you’re not familiar with the mud, see these instructions on how to get started: you will need to get an account, then @joinc #theoryclub to be able to see the conversation.)

Because this is something I’ve been thinking about a fair amount lately, I propose that the first session be on interiority, the inner life of characters. Some things we may discuss: What games do this particularly well? What mechanics are used, and to what effect? What aspects of interiority are not handled well in IF? Are there other possibilities we haven’t looked at? Are there experiences you’d like as a player that you’ve never encountered?

I’m open to suggestions for other topics as well — please feel free to propose future ideas.