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.

Continue reading

The Missing Tools

This Sunday (March 30, 2:15 PM) the Oxford/London IF Meetup group is having a meetup with guest presentations by Graham Nelson (Inform) and Eric Eve (TADS 3′s adv3lite library), and general discussion about what kinds of tools and toolsets we’d like to see in interactive fiction.

In prep for that, I’d like to open this question more generally: what do you wish you had an IF tool to do? What are you longing to write if only you had the right toolset to do it?

Counterfeit Monkey Release 5

Cover art for Counterfeit Monkey

…is now available. This version extends the game’s vocabulary by over a hundred items, provides better feedback on several puzzles that were causing player difficulty, fixes dozens of bugs and introduces a few additional solutions. It includes Dannii’s Ultra Undo extension, which may extend UNDO functionality to additional interpreters. Some spoilery highlights after the jump.

Continue reading

Love is Zero (Porpentine, Brenda Neotenomie, Sloane)

Love is Zero screenshot

Love is Zero is a Twine piece about vampire high school girls in a tennis school on the moon. It’s not really a piece with plot, per se: instead it’s a sort of meditation on how identities are formed. You have a series of choices — usually “STUDY”, “PLAY TENNIS”, and “BULLY”, though sometimes specialized other choices as well. Every time you make a decision, something new is added to the long sentence that describes who you are. And despite how it may look, all of those choices are rather harsh ones. Bullying is obviously problematic, but playing tennis is about winning and beating other people down, about getting hit with rackets and hurting and not minding. And studying is about kissing up to teachers and gaining knowledge that sounds frightening and dangerous. So the STUDY / TENNIS / BULLY choice is not a PET PUPPY / KISS PUPPY / KILL PUPPY style of moral choice. They’re all sort of KILL PUPPY options.

Sometimes things happen to you outside of your control and those can affect your description too. You belong to a randomized clique with a randomized uniform. The vampirism and the tennis are signs for something else — for the bloody and out of control violence of teen emotions, for the ubiquity of blood in puberty, for competitiveness. The game touches also sometimes on the relationships girls have with their bodies — there are some randomized events that touch on and talk about eating disorders.

That all sounds pretty heavy, but the game is very stylized and cartoony. It manages to talk about the real emotions that underlie teenage female experiences while at the same time not overwhelming the player with hyperrealism. Porpentine’s gift for capturing significant feelings and experiences in single sentences is once again on display here.