January Link Assortment

Sam Kabo Ashwell has some wonderful posts on the experience of This War of Mine (1, 2) and The Long Dark: the atmosphere, the emergent narrative, the experience evoked by their systems. This bit from his review of The Long Dark particularly struck me:

Having been lost in the Northwoods before, I can say with all confidence: the biggest, scariest threat you face is that you will walk for days and days and never, ever see a single trace of human influence. Never encounter anything shaped by humanity into something that facilitates transport, shelter or food. As moderns, we are hugely, continuously dependent upon the work of other hands. That fear, the fear of a totally non-anthropic environment, is something that is almost impossible to make interesting in the purely human-made context of a game.

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David Welbourn is one of the quiet heroes of the IF community: for years he’s been helping to maintain ifwiki, assembling the eligibility lists for the XYZZY awards, and creating loads of high quality walkthroughs and maps. He has an enormous amount of patience and an encyclopedic knowledge about many corners of IF history. If you have any regular contact with the IF community, you’ve almost certainly made use of some of his work, even if you’re not aware of it. I’m delighted that he now has a Patreon, which will help him with scanning and internet costs and make it easier for him to continue.

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Rowan Kaiser, Austin Walker, and Alex at While !Finished wrote a series of articles on choices in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and in particular about which of those choices are emotionally resonant:

Alex writes:

One of the most difficult choices in the game, for me, happened in the Solas romance storyline, which is only available to female elf Inquisitors and therefore a minority of players. Near the end, Solas reveals the true meaning behind the Dalish elf’s face tattoos: they were originally slave markings, from when elves enslaved other elves. The Inquisitor can let Solas remove hers, or she can keep them. Does the knowledge of their origin taint them? Or are they a part of her and important to her, no matter what their original meaning? What does she believe?

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The discussion of IF fanfiction brought up that there actually is some on archiveofourown: I found an alternate ending for Galatea and a prequel to Alabaster (which digs even deeper into some of the mythology around Eden and Adam’s wives before Eve). There’s also a wonderful story set in the 80 Days universe that explores some of the background of automata with souls, and the lion-like automaton of Burma, one of my favorite figures in the game. And here is an Inform game about a Fallen London character.

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minimetro“Learning from Mini-Metro”: a transit planner looks at Mini Metro (one of my favorite non-story games of the past couple of years) and gets into a wonderful, detailed analysis of how it does and does not reflect real life problems:

A great thing about Mini Metro, then, is that it accurately conveys the exasperation of transportation planners about transport-ignorant land use planning. Sometimes, there’s nothing but circles in one part of the map. You can either put them all on one line, which will go over capacity at once, or run a whole bunch of parallel lines to different circles, at huge expense. Either way is inefficient, and the emotions you are likely to feel about this impossible land use pattern — analogous to many square miles of residential with few destinations, all requiring travel in a single direction at the same time — are definitely putting you in a transport planner’s shoes!

It’s a longish article, but if you’re interested in the topic at all, it’s well worth reading in its entirety; some of the most interesting observations about the game’s design come near the end.

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Ben Serviss wrote The Last Monster Master for Choice of Games, and in this post he goes over his six-stage process for planning the game’s skeleton and fleshing it out, using a free tool called Chat Mapper. It’s a method that (probably unsurprisingly) focuses on plot structure first.

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Jenni Polodna and Ryan Veeder’s IF podcast Clash of the Type-Ins had me on as a guest. We played A Day for Fresh Sushi (briefly) and then did a longer episode playing through the first couple of puzzles in Bronze. The Bronze episode came out as a kind of directors-commentary-like thing: Ryan asked me a lot of design questions, we had a friendly argument about the value of GO TO ROOM, and we also got into some discussion about the different ways of implementing memory in IF games. Jenni interviewed me about coronation chicken. We had fun.

It’s probably not the way to experience the game if you haven’t played it before.

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I also did an IGDA webinar on interactive narrative. Since it was for the AI series, it’s largely focused on where AI can help with interactive narrative challenges, but if you’re curious, it’s on Youtube.

(Warning note: at one point I use the word “insanely” when I mean “absurdly much”. I’m trying to stop using ableist language, but I’m working against most-of-a-lifetime of habit, so occasionally I don’t catch myself in time when speaking. I apologize: I know it’s not okay.)

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Digital Antiquarian is always worth a read, and this month Jimmy Maher brings us an article series on Trinity, one of the most loved and respected games of the Infocom era.

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YA SF/Fantasy novelist Sherwood Smith on why she and her writing partner went with self-publishing for the sequel in their series, after doing a first book with Viking. This isn’t specifically games or IF-related, but I found it interesting because I think the IF world could benefit from more people in the role of editor. On the other hand, it’s clear from this and similar accounts that the access to editing isn’t all rosy even in traditional publishing models. Perhaps non-traditional publishing models have some ideas that we could borrow.

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“Why the Unterzee Eats Ships”: Alexis Kennedy on the personal inspirations behind some of his writing for Sunless Sea.

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Bring Your Own Book is a party game, structured a bit like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, but in which you have to search a book you’ve brought with you for a phrase that matches the prompt. Tastes vary, but I find this concept more fun than Apples to Apples and less likely to be problematic than CAH. Also, it’s being Kickstarted by a friend who is an all-around cool person. If that sounds good to you, check it out. (There’s a free print-and-play version of the prompts, if you like the idea but don’t have Kickstarting funds.)

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Carolyn VanEseltine has been posting an on-going series of tutorials for Inform 7, demonstrating examples based on Colossal Cave. These are pleasingly focused, and are based on the latest version of Inform.

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V&A Spelunker is a data-visualization and museum-exploration project for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It starts out, narrative-of-objects-style, by giving you a front page with some randomly selected items that have something in common from their collections — but if you want to dig deeper, you can also push into data visualizations or sort their collections by various filters, a method that feels more scholarly but also less inventive. I find that the random selections do a good job of evoking the sense of curiosity that draw me into museums in the first place, even if the more methodical approaches are probably more conducive to research. It’s also reminiscent of IFDB Spelunking.

This blog post explains how and why it was constructed.

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Speaking of random selection as a way to encounter a large collection of things, Joshua Houk wrote You Were Here, a New Year IF that randomly generates starting room descriptions by pulling sentences from a corpus containing the starting text of every 2014-released game on IFDB. Like so:

The exhibition is now closed. It is cold and humid, cement walls surround you. After the buyers go, there are armloads and armloads of not-quite-perfect flowers that all wind up in Dumpsters.

The twilit streets of the doom-beset village lie before you. This is quite possibly the nicest condo you’ve ever been in.

Welcome to the future of computing power; welcome to GENE. The nun smiles at you and raises her cup in salute.

Both a Twine and a z-machine version are available; I have the impression that the latter is actually producing more randomness on the fly and that I was seeing repetitions in the Twine version, but I could be wrong about that. I only wished I could click on individual bits of prose to find out where they’d come from.

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SeraphsYou want still more procedural fun? If you enjoyed Liza Daly’s NaNoGenMo codex entry Seraphs, you may also like her recent procedural photographic project “Random Chance”, which juxtaposes human faces with a range of other photographs, maps, and diagrams. Eerie and bizarre; available as a full book; code on github. And if you haven’t seen Seraphs before, you definitely should check that out as well.

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Quagmire! The Making of a 1980’s D&D Module: a historical overview, with scanned documents, of how the Quagmire module came about. It’s as much about business as about actual game design decisions, but intriguing either way.

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Nathan Penlington’s blog covers CYOA and interactive works of all kinds, including obscure and older pieces (many of which I’ve never heard of before). Includes nice photographs of the physical assets.

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I’ve mentioned this elsewhere on this blog, but Forest Ambassador is worth checking out for the curation of indie games that aren’t seen anywhere else, often including Twine and related IF pieces.

5 thoughts on “January Link Assortment

  1. Output from You Were Here that might be of interest:

    “Marcus is a poet, with a wealthy general as his patron. It is a bit of a difficult commute, I’ll admit.”

  2. ‘ I use the word “insanely” when I mean “absurdly much” ‘

    But ‘absurd’ isn’t really nice to deaf people, is it?

    I guess it is quite hard to come up with “strong” words that do not have a less-desirable literal meaning, as that is what made them strong in the first place..

    • I think that absurd is far enough removed from its roots that people reading it don’t mostly think of surdus. I could be wrong, though. In any case, I’d be happy to have a better word for “something representing extreme amounts of effort, possibly outside the bounds of what most people would be willing to do” that doesn’t rely on any kind of mental health trope to express.

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