The Act

The Act is a very unusual arcade game I’ve been hearing about for years but until recently had never gotten a chance to play. The player has a single dial, which she can use to move the body language of the main character along a spectrum. Typically (though not always) that spectrum runs from Bashful Dope to Hardened Pickup Artist. The gameplay centers on getting the character to moderate his behavior appropriately in a number of social situations, but especially when flirting: don’t come on too strong at first, but don’t be too slow to pick up cues. Get the interplay just right, and you can complete the scene and move on.

Given that even such supposed interactive narrative stars as Heavy Rain have characters who routinely walk into walls, the idea of a game that was pretty much entirely about reading and responding to body language intrigued me. (L.A. Noire tries that too, of course, but in a very different way.)

And now that The Act is out for iOS, I finally got a chance to play.

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Bundle In A Box – Adventure Bundle

Out today at is a very reasonably-priced bundle of adventure games, both graphical and text, including new work by Jonas Kyratzes (screenshot above). Konstantinos Dimopoulos explains:

We will exclusively debut the whimsical The Sea Will Claim Everything by Jonas Kyratzes and offer six more games: Gemini Rue, Metal Dead, The Shivah, Ben There, Dan That!, Time Gentlemen, Please! and – for the first time ever – the downloadable version of 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery text-adventure (previously only available as a physical product). Yes, we are indeed hoping to further fuel the current Adventure Game Renaissance!

While I haven’t played the graphical games in this collection, I’ve heard great things about The Shivah and Time Gentlemen, Please!. 1893 remains one of the most extensive settings ever offered in text adventure form, a meticulous historical recreation that is engaging to explore whether or not you choose to engage with the plot and puzzles.

Pricing for the Bundle In a Box follows the pay-what-you-want model with a low minimum; proceeds go to establishing an indie dev grant fund and to charity.

A Small Roundup of Interesting Things

Storybricks, now fundraising on Kickstarter, is an AI project to allow users to create generated stories in an MMO environment. The project provides an authoring tool for establishing characters’ desires, relationships, moods, and basic conversation:

The engine then brings the results to life within a 3D fantasy kingdom. The Storybricks team has posted a public demo that you can try out for yourself.

Playfic, Andy Baio and Cooper McHatton’s website for playing and writing Inform games online, has had a successful three months, with hundreds of new games posted and (collectively) around 85,000 play sessions. Now Playfic has added the ability (crucial, in my opinion) for authors to include extensions from Inform’s extension site, meaning that supported games can be more complex and make use of a wide range of pre-existing tools.

Cover Stories is a minicomp pairing artists and authors of interactive fiction. The first phase (now over) collected dozens of pieces of cover art; during the second phase (now running), authors may select one of the submissions and write a short game suitable for that cover. There are still some cool images unclaimed. Rules and details may be found here.

GDC 2012 Talk on Dynamic Dialogue

One of the more interesting GDC talks I saw was a Friday afternoon presentation by Elan Ruskin, talking about how dialogue snippets are matched to a continually changing world state in Left 4 Dead 2 and other Valve games.

It’s a neat rule-based system, designed to meet a couple of specific important requirements: easy for the writers to author a lot of content, responsive to a wide variety of different situations (what if we want a character to have a special quip if attacked while in the circus environment as opposed to elsewhere?), interruptible (characters should be able to exchange quips, but should sensibly break off if one of them comes under attack). Like Inform, it prioritizes rules and applies the most specific one it can find, using less-specific ones as fall-backs.

The resulting system is very well tuned to the specific case of having NPC dialogue that’s highly reactive. Characters aren’t planning or trying to achieve goals via dialogue, but they present a strong illusion of situational awareness, which is what those games require. (And there’s often a place for purely reactive NPC quips in IF, too.)

The talk also goes over a number of optimization strategies for speeding the lookup on these sorts of tasks, and argues for the importance of making tools that writers find comfortable to use. Solid stuff, both technically and in terms of project planning.

Elan has posted the slides and video here.

(Bonus: there’s a shout-out to Inform in the middle.)

Games from GDC 2012

This year’s GDC brought me in contact with a wide range of really interesting games, demonstrating the incredible spectrum of what games are good at and for: not just frustration, fear, exploration, and adrenal rushes, but many stranger and more nuanced emotional reactions.

Here are some highlights of many different types, several from the IGF Expo floor and others from other encounters:

Storyteller by Dan Benmergui is an expansion of an earlier work of the same name (that I actually reviewed long ago). The winner of the 2012 IGF Nuovo award, Storyteller is a puzzle game whose mechanic is essentially about understanding the rules of comics, in good Scott McCloud style.

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