Forgetting (Troy Chin)

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 1.26.00 PM

Forgetting is an interactive graphical story by Singaporean artist and author Troy Chin, and was exhibited at the Singapore ArtScience Museum as part of a show that ran concurrently with ICIDS this year (more about ICIDS in a future blog post or two).

The ArtScience Museum. Cool, no?

The ArtScience Museum. Cool, no?

Forgetting concerns a man who keeps experiencing amnesiac episodes, as well as memories of a relationship with a woman named Julia. It starts out with the hoary “amnesia in a non-descript location” trope, but it soon moves beyond that as the protagonist returns to full memory and starts trying to piece together what’s really going on. The Singapore setting isn’t the main point of the story, but it’s manifest in a number of subtle ways, from the details of the protagonist’s job to his comments on the changing nightlife.

As Chin explained during an introduction to his work, Forgetting is meant to feel linear. Clicking on different panels in a strip, or on different objects in some of the more location-based scenes, can lead to different outcomes, but the system does nothing to indicate that you’ve made a choice, or to tell you where or what the other options are. It’s only at the end, when you are told which ending you reached, that there’s any kind of tracking acknowledgement. Reaching new endings unlocks additional clips of information; conceivably, there may be some grand reward for reaching all of them, as in many visual novels.

I haven’t managed to get that far yet, though, because despite trying to play as thoroughly as I could and going through the story seven or eight times, I’ve only found three conclusions and I haven’t been able to work out what else I could be exploring; and there’s no way of bookmarking or going backward in the story or (a la visual novels) fast-forwarding through already-seen bits, so a complete run-through takes a little while. Ultimately, that’s left me a little dissatisfied: I would like to have gotten far enough to piece together the mystery, whereas all I’ve got at the moment is some hints. I think that might be the experience the author intends — he’s gone to some lengths to conceal the mechanical underpinnings of this work — but it leaves me itching for more information.

Still, this is worth a look. There are moments of exploration, where you’re examining objects in a space and then getting multiple comic panels of exposition about those objects, that felt somewhere on the spectrum between graphical adventure and parser IF. I’d also be curious to know if anyone else gets further than I did. (My endings were Bliss, Instinct, and Cleansed, fwiw.)

Upcoming IF Events and Competitions

Votes are due for the IF Comp no later than November 15; if you wish to judge, there’s still time to play and rate at least 5 games. Please do consider playing and voting, as the competition thrives on participation.

ClubFloyd has been on hiatus during IF Comp, but resumes meeting Sundays after the comp ends. This is an opportunity to play (usually parser) IF collaboratively with others on ifMUD.

Inform 7 workshop, November 18, Lowell, MA. Run by Brendan Desilets in tandem with the ACM meeting.

ECTOCOMP, the competition for short spooky games, is also currently running; the download package includes a voting form, which should be filled out and sent to the organizer by November 22 to participate.

Also on November 22 (8 PM British, 3 PM Eastern, noon Pacific), the IF Discussion Club will meet on ifMUD for a post mortem discussion of the IF Competition. We have an IRC bot set up now that should allow people to participate via IRC if they find the MUD interface daunting.

The next meetup of the Oxford-London IF group will be the afternoon of November 23 at the Jam Factory. Expect food, optional pints, and relaxed IF-related chat.

NaNoGenMo is for people creating 50,000 word autogenerated novels, concurrent with NaNoWriMo. Here is an awesome thing that Liza Daly did, an autogenerated Voynich Manuscript-alike. Runs through November 30.

AdventureX is a London-based convention for adventures, with a lot of emphasis on point-and-click graphical adventures, but room for IF as well. Some IF folks will likely be there. It runs December 6 and 7 this year.

ParserComp, a competition for parser-based games written within a timeframe of several months, organized by Carolyn VanEseltine. Authors may begin at any time; games are due in first draft form February 1, 2015, and in final draft February 14. Games will be judged in multiple categories.

Spring Thing has traditionally also had a competition format with an entry fee. For 2015, its direction is being somewhat changed: it is now a free-to-enter festival focusing on celebration rather than competition, with non-cash prizes only, and there is a “back garden” section that allows introductions, demos, and parts of games intended for commercial release. Intents are due March 1, 2015.

Ectocomp 2014

Ectocomp is a Halloween Speed-IF competition in which authors have three hours to code a spooky game. (They may spend some additional time before that preparing to write, though.) Capsule reviews follow. I mention a few things that didn’t work for me, but I want to emphasize that three hours isn’t much time at all, from a game writing perspective: rough edges are to be expected.

Recommended pieces are starred.

Continue reading

Hadean Lands (Andrew Plotkin)

map-nolabel-500

Hadean Lands is Andrew Plotkin’s massive parser IF game about an alchemy-driven spaceship. It’s been several years in the making, after a substantial Kickstarter. And it’s now available.

I backed the initial drive, I’ve been following the dev blog since, and I spent probably upwards of 20 hours beta-testing it, becoming (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) the first person to finish the game other than Zarf himself. (Yes, I am bragging. Play it and you’ll see why.)

So I can’t really claim any sort of unbiased reviewer status at this point. Nonetheless, I would like to talk about some things that I thought about the game.

The discussion below will be mildly spoilery for information found in the very beginning of the game and in the ABOUT text. It will reveal no significant puzzle secrets, but if you want to experience the game entirely free of such preconceptions, then don’t read on.

Continue reading

Writing in Collaboration with the System

I’ve written in the past about the value of a systematic mechanic.

What I mean by this is something that most game designers wouldn’t bother to preface with “systematic”: it’s just the mechanic, the thing the player does in the game in order to influence the model world and make progress. But adventure games, including but not limited to parser IF, often have mechanics that boil down to “move”, “take thing”, “drop thing”, and then a host of specialized object applications and unique verbs. So I add the word “systematic” to indicate something more coherent and consistent than that, a design in which consistent verbs are used repeatedly across the course of the game, and the player is taught to interact with the model world in such a way as to gain in effective agency as they are able to anticipate more and more of the results of their actions.

I’ve mostly talked about this in terms of how a good mechanic makes puzzle design easier and more coherent, and how it allows for consistent coding.

There’s another angle to this as well, though: a well-defined mechanic becomes a writing prompt. It shapes the kind and amount of content we need to write. At its worst it imposes a large burden of excess work, but at its best it inspires thinking about our setting and story in a new way. I find that real stare-at-the-blankness-of-the-page I-can-think-of-nothing-at-all-to-write writer’s block is not a common problem when I’m working on IF, especially IF with a strong mechanic, and I think that’s partly because the machine is always there, offering me prompts.

(I should also caveat what follows by saying that this is my interpretation, as an author and a player: I am inspired in different ways by different systems, but that does not mean either that these are the only suitable uses of the systems, or that other people are or should be inspired in the same ways. I don’t want to lard what follows with too many “I think” and “I find” and “for me” disclaimers, but this is all somewhat subjective.)

Continue reading