June Link Assortment

stickerphotoMy casual storygame San Tilapian Studies is running at a free exhibition of play at The Wellcome Collection in London the evening of July 3. Many other terrific things will be there too. I can’t be there myself, but I am really excited to have the game played in such a cool space.

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The next Oxford IF meetup will be Sunday, July 12. Oxford meetups tend to be cozier than the meetups in London, making them a great place to bring works in progress or concept ideas to throw around with the group.

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Competitions are opening shortly: IF Comp starts accepting intents to enter on July 1 (tomorrow!). Meanwhile, the Windhammer Gamebook Prize starts accepting submissions August 1.

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When I wrote up Feral Vector, I couldn’t find a good online source talking about the game poems Harry Giles had introduced. Now there is one! Harry wrote up a primer on the form with some examples; it also discusses Twine poetry, art in text adventure form, and a number of other interesting topics.

Somewhat related: this page of 200-word indie RPG rulesets. They’re trying perhaps a little harder (sometimes) to describe something you could practically play, but again have an intriguing focus on getting across a core gameplay concept distilled to its essence.

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This actually ran last month, but I didn’t find it until June: Polygon’s interview with Tim Schafer is a fun read.

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Also really from the end of last month, Maddy Myers writes about why it is that strong female lead characters seem so seldom to have stable romantic relationships.

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Caballero says this kind of scene where a player looks into a character’s eyes can work far better in VR than on a screen.

Cali is a game for VR with a romance storyline (alongside the perhaps obligatory platformer elements), and the article raises some interesting points about what VR’s sense of presence might add to NPC relationship modeling. It also talks a bit about whether an NPC who wasn’t totally obedient might be more fun or more realistic in the context of a virtual relationship.

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Hamlet Ludens is a short essay about interactive fiction versions of the play, from Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be to some more obscure examples.

Personally I’ve never managed to like To Be or Not to Be as much as I want to like it: there’s loads of clever metafictional stuff, and the gamebook-within-a-gamebook bit is adorable, and Tin Man Games did a spiffy job of making it into an app, and there are Kate Beaton illustrations (among others), and many individual lines are funny, and yet… so much of the humor essentially turns on critiquing how ridiculous the plot of Hamlet is and how little its characters conform to modern mores. And while I can’t really dispute either of those points, they feel too slight and too shop-worn a set of observations to carry a work of this size, and I would rather have had something that either explored Hamlet slightly more seriously on its own terms, or else jumped off from the play to tell some solid stories about the other characters. To be fair, it never advertised it as anything other than a jokey project, so it’s on me if I wanted something else. But, it turns out, I did.

Anyway, other people have thoughts on interactive Hamlets too.

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Stepping into games is like arriving at a cheese-tasting party where most of the crowd is angrily murmuring that cheddar and swiss are always and objectively the best cheeses on grounds of utility and pleasure, that assholes offering a plate of mold-laced bleu are an affront to any real cheese-lover, that brie may simply be too soft to be a real cheese.

Naomi Clark writes about how people appreciate games, the received wisdom about what games should offer their players, and what sorts of people make the best playtesters. Also, mentions a lot of cheeses.

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Here’s a long review of Squinky’s Dominique Pamplemousse — particularly, how the noir genre conventions interact with the game’s themes about gender and economic justice.

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Cubus Games is running a Kickstarter for Frankenstein Wars, a project that appears to involve a post-Napoleonic army of Frankensteinish monsters, based on a concept by Dave Morris. He is eager to let us know that this is not a zombie story.

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Meanwhile, Chris Crawford is raising Kickstarter funds for Siboot, a social simulation interactive narrative project. This is working in an underexplored area of game development, and I’m curious where it’s likely to lead, almost regardless of whether it produces a successful game or not. There’s so very little being done in this area that every experiment is likely to offer valuable insights. And, in general, social simulation is something I’d like to see a lot more of.

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If you liked my interview with the Mysterious Package Company, you might also enjoy reading about God Rest Ye Merry, a weekend-long LARP experience featuring a rented haunted house, absolutely masses of props (including document packs sent to participants to establish their characters), flame bars, puppetry, smoke machines and video projectors, a stunt performer who jumped out a window, and the strategic application of an Oculus Rift.

Warning: there’s so much fascinating stuff here that if you share my curiosity about this kind of thing, you may be exploring this website for hours.

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Also, this line of investigation has also led me to discover that there are multiple companies distributing special scents for setting the appropriate mood in an RPG or similar context. I’m not talking about the Tahitian Vanilla Room Candle from your local bath shop here. I mean scents like Adventure Scent’s Mayan Temple or Dale Air’s Wartime Underground. For those looking for unusual wearable scents, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is still around.

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Advice from Safari about how to write job descriptions that will appeal to a more diverse range of applicants.

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Offworld continues to be one of my favorite sites for reading about games, and this month it brings us Daniel Starkey on Ehdrigohr, a fate-core RPG inspired by Native traditions and understanding of time. Meanwhile, over at Gamasutra, Katherine Cross writes about gender handling — specifically, the mechanical treatment of gender and sexism — in the Apocalypse World-based RPG Night Witches.

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Raph Koster has some useful, if moderately depressing, thoughts about games and pricing.

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The Future of Storytelling Prize gives out $10,000 to the top-ranked interactive story piece. I don’t know a huge amount of the backstory on this one; last year’s prizes look like they went to things with some interactive visual/film component, and I have no idea how receptive they’d be to something predominantly text-based. Also, I note the large “presented by TimeWarner” tag. But for what it’s worth, this is a thing that exists.

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Many students flourish when encouraged to respond to the text creatively. Creative work can be just as intellectually rigorous as writing an academic paper, and academic and creative writing can inform one another. The students learn to engage closely with the text by writing academic papers, and then are able to write creative pieces which are tightly interwoven with the text that they are responding to. Sometimes writing creatively about a text will spark an interest which can be taken up later in an academic essay.

This from an excellent article on teaching the Aeneid in prison.

When I was still a junior professor of Classics, I incorporated a fair amount of creative work into my classes alongside more conventional academic papers; among the assignments or class exercises turned in to me were a sketch for a vase painting of the underworld, a rap lyric about Polyphemus, and a first person (bow-)shooter pitch based on the life of Odysseus. One of my students choreographed and led the rest of the class in a dance that brought to life the relief sculptures on the Ara Pacis.

I did this partly because it worked: students who had a hard time understanding the concept of genre in Ovid got it a lot better once we’d talked about how stories might be adapted between genres they already understood. Students who mostly tuned out at the back of the class would get really invested when they were allowed to draw. Students who were not that excited about textbook descriptions of Mediterranean trade routes were able to engage much more profitably with the material when asked to think about designing a sim game of the region.

It was also partly because I was so thirsty for that in my own academic life: building artwork in response to Classics was generally considered a self-indulgent (at best) spare time activity when I could have been doing proper research. But there are ways we respond to and understand texts that are ill-suited to academic expression.

4 thoughts on “June Link Assortment

  1. I also felt the To Be or Not To Be app was somewhat painful to play with. It only lets you rewind to “checkpoints” and it takes a while to rewind back to a particular choice point and try something different. Occasionally I would forget I had already picked something and would have to click-click-click-click-click-etc. while I waited for it to get to the end.

    This is one case where I believe the book version is far superior a format. Technology isn’t always better!

  2. Wow. I just spent over an hour looking at the God Rest Ye Merry site. It’s fascinating. My favorite part was the game mechanics page, where they explained that some stuff was just done for effect. Where I live there is a group that just started historical tours that presented as a mystery game. It’s all in French, but I’ll try to get my hands on it and share it.

  3. Oh and, thank you for sharing the RPG rulesets. I will definitely use some of these in my ESL classes. The winning game seems a bit complicated to explain in an ESL classroom context, but I think that the 3rd place game, All Fall Down, could be easily used, and would evoke more dialogue and exchange. http://schirduans.com/david/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Untitleddocument.pdf

    I could also see adapting some of the concepts from these games to different scenarios, in able to highlight thematic vocabulary. Thanks again!

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