Shufflecomp’s Outcast: Barbetween

Barbetween is a Seltani age written for Shufflecomp but excluded from the final competition because it was impossible to archive. Seltani is an online multiplayer text space that combines Twine-like room and object descriptions with the capacity for live chat and exchanges with other players in the same area.

I’d like to talk about Barbetween, but it’s the kind of piece that benefits a lot from being played in more or less complete ignorance of what’s going to happen, so I really suggest you do that. (It doesn’t take long.)

I played with the song that inspired it on in the background, and that proved to be a good choice.

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Inform 6L02

Panel15A good deal of my IF-related time in the last couple of months has gone into Inform, and I’m pleased to say that the new build is available today for Windows and Mac (and other apps to follow shortly). There’s an introductory blog post here that gives an overview of what the new build does; there’s also a change log, which is absolutely mammoth, here.

There are loads of new things going on, but I’m particularly excited by Inform’s new adaptive text, which I see as a partial step towards making the system more capable of doing interesting things with procedurally generated text output. The adaptive text allows Inform to inflect verbs according to the current tense and viewpoint of the story, automatically turning “[We] [walk]” into “You walk” or “He walked” or “We will walk” according to the current settings.

But it goes considerably beyond this. The new example “Narrative Register” shows how to associate verbs with different actions, then have the narrator automatically describe what has just happened with a verb that is appropriate to a current “diction” setting. The “Relevant Relations” example associates verbs with relations as well, and shows a way of doing room descriptions in which the author tells Inform which relations ought to be described to the player, leaving the system to assign appropriate verbs and construct sentences around them.

These are all fairly early-days things; there’s a lot that would still need to be done in order to get from here to the kind of text generation I would one day like to see, including (especially) some code designed to do a good job of sorting and concatenating related sentences before printing them.

But Inform can now track the meaning of its output more deeply than it did before, and perform more grammatical functions automatically, and that’s a helpful step.

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.