March Link Assortment

preorderNow Play This is almost upon us, at Somerset House: April 1-3, a display of many intriguing and unusual games, plus microtalks and various other goodies. Birdland will be on display, as well as new work from S. Woodson, and Matthew Moore’s tabletop game Bring Your Own Book. (BYOB is in pre-order now, incidentally, and it may appeal to people with an interest in procedural text.)

Because I was doing scheduling before I had NPT’s schedule, there is also an IF Open Problems Meetup April 3 at the Red Lion in Oxford. If you have an issue of interactive narrative that you are stuck on or want to solve, bring us a description or demo of your problem that you can present in roughly 3 minutes. This could be anything from “how do I fix this puzzle in my text adventure” to “how to I get this multiplayer open air scenario to work”: we will brainstorm. If you do not have a problem, you are still welcome to come and answer others! If we run out of problems to talk about, we will declare victory and have snacks.

Also April 2, the SF Bay IF Meetup is gathering.

EGX Rezzed, April 7-9, London. Mostly a broader sort of games conference, but it includes the Leftfield Collection, an eclectic selection of curious things, as well as a panel featuring Jon Ingold (inkle) and Chris Gardiner (Failbetter Games); a talk on Firewatch; and a Sunless Sea retrospective.

April 7, nowhere in particular, also brings us the release of this year’s Spring Thing games.

Bot Summit, April 9, will be a set of presentations at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

London April 26 there is an IF Meetup focusing on tools: this time inkle presents ink, James Long presents the Top Secret tools designed for play-by-email narratives, and Matt Thompson presents a domain specific language similar to Inform, but designed to describe stories in terms of tropes. Please note that Failbetter Games has moved to a new location and that we have moved with them, so if you’re used to coming to North Greenwich for meetups, note the new address.

Boston’s PR-IF meetup is still to be announced, but it’ll show up here when there’s a date.

May 5 there is an event in London called Invisible Wall:

Invisible Wall is an event for women (trans inclusive) and gender minorities who want to work in this brilliant and fascinating medium, whether that’s as a journalist, critic or developer. We’ve brought together several women who already work in games writing to talk about their jobs and experiences, including Keza MacDonald, UK editor of gaming site Kotaku, Meg Jayanth, writer of award-winning narrative adventure 80 Days, and Olivia Wood, editor at Failbetter Games.

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This isn’t really new news, except that I didn’t know about it and so didn’t mention it sooner: there’s also an LA Meetup group for interactive fiction. I don’t see any events planned for this month, though.

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Failbetter Games’ funding initiative Fundbetter is accepting applications for support to develop narrative games, especially text-centric ones. (This is an investment, not free money; be sure to read the instructions and conditions about how it works.)

In particular, they note they’ve gotten almost no applications from women so far, and would welcome more. I find it hard to believe that the proportion of women writing narrative games is that small. I suspect the issue may be more about women’s tendency to disqualify themselves.

For those of you who might be inclined to self-disqualify: if you’re enthusiastic about your project and think it has potential, but feel like there are a couple questions on the question list for which you have less than perfect answers, I’d encourage you to a) seek advice/do research and see if you can polish those answers up, and then b) go ahead and submit, maybe even if one or two bits are things you’re still not sure about.

If you are having trouble thinking about their questions on UI, here’s a Pinterest collection of UIs from IF and text-based narrative games. They’re not all great! Which is itself something to think about.

Business and marketing plans are not so much my main area of expertise, but for what it’s worth, here’s a summary of one of an indie summit 2016 talk on strategies for the current market. One might Google the speakers to see if they’ve written more in-depth coverage elsewhere.

Meanwhile, over here Filamena Young is blogging about the process of applying to Fundbetter… complete with thoughts on the questions, and resources she’s using.

If you want a supportive place to talk to other IF authors, some of whom write for money, the euphoria &if channel is active. Even if you don’t want to go into detail about your plan in a public place, you may find a couple sympathetic listeners you can contact privately for further feedback. The channel is used very frequently for discussing work opportunities and beta-reading requests and other topics associated with being a semi-pro IF writer, so your request will not be out of place there.

Perhaps the polishing may not be enough to render your pitch sparkling and flawless in every regard, and that might be okay. If there’s something compelling about the project, Failbetter does sometimes work with people who have promising but not-quite-there pitches, to help them refine the marketing and the hook and other things that might need work. To be honest, just getting this advice might well be worth as much as the money they kick in.

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If you didn’t get enough GDC coverage with my posts, here’s Liz England’s takeAaron Reed has also written up his thoughts, and Andrew Plotkin has his.

Wrong conference? Here’s Nick Montfort on the panel we did at SXSW, along with Allison Parrish and Daniel Temkin, on IF, esolangs, bots, and other ways of hacking language.

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Post-GDC conversations have drawn my attention to this Project Horseshoe report on procedural narrative (what’s it good for? what are the tools, and what are the issues?).

Related: here’s a talk by Jason Grinblat about roguelikes as a generator of player stories, with reference to his Caves of Qud work, and a mention of Fiasco as well. The venue is the International Roguelike Developers Conference, a thing that I did not previously know about. And if you like that, you might also enjoy Cameron Kunzelman’s talk on The Artisanal Roguelike.

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ClubFloyd has posted a whole bunch of new transcripts — a backlog from the last year or so — which show Floyd participants playing and talking about a wide range of IF. If you’re not already familiar with it, the ClubFloyd collection is a fascinating way to see people playing IF and reacting to it live.

Or, if you’d rather listen to than read IF-played-live, there are new Clash of the Type-Ins podcast episodes, including several featuring Andrew Plotkin’s games.

Want some video as well? Lynnea Glasser has a Twitch TV channel where she has streamed playing IF Comp games, and there are a couple of recorded broadcasts on that channel (though I think they don’t cover nearly everything she’s played there).

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Apropos of game editing — a topic I’ve mentioned here a few times — at GDC I learned that there is an IGDA editing SIG, which is to say, a special interest group for members of the International Game Developers’ Association. The SIG seems to be semi-dormant, but there are a few links and resources, and perhaps if there were more interested participants it would get rolling again.

This information came to me courtesy of Jess Haskins at Paperback Studio. Jess offers freelance editorial services in the IF and games space.

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Another option for narrative game consulting, with a somewhat different slant: Dietrich Squinkifer has launched a consulting page, offering services in copy-editing but also feedback on writing style, mechanics, and representational issues.

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Spooky Action at a Distance is a new review site covering both interactive fiction and recent speculative fiction, pairing reviews on a single theme. It describes itself thus:

…a joint project between Arkady Martine and Cat Manning, covering exciting new writing in the disparate-but-overlapping narrative circles we love and work in. There’s so much cool stuff being published in both speculative and interactive fiction right now that it can be easy to miss exceptional, exciting work.

The first review post covers Solarium and a story called “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma.

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Robert Yang writes about environmental art in Firewatch and Witness.

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Here’s a neat article about what sounds like a fun event: a game jam bringing together digital game designers and people from pervasive games and video game design to look at storytelling through a large scale experience, designed for a large number of players in an urban environment.

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And here’s BardJam, an April interactive fiction jam:

The 23rd April 2016 is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. If he’d been around today and was creating interactive fiction or interactive plays what would he have written? Now’s the chance to show us by joining in this interactive fiction and text based game jam and create your own Shakespeare tale based on his writing.

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Of possible interest to people interested in things like room escapes and the Mysterious Package Company: an article on a for-profit “secret society” called Latitude that ran for a couple of years in San Francisco.

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Felicity Banks’ Scarlet Sails is now available in an expanded version from the competition release.

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Fool Them Once is a Twine piece looking at social anxiety and impostor syndrome from several different perspectives. I ran into a few typos and polish issues, but it speaks to a familiar subject. (And if you’re interested in the subject matter particularly, see also Dietrich Squinkifer’s Impostor Syndrome, and perhaps to a lesser degree Glass Rat’s Seeking Ataraxia and the anonymous parser game Freedom.)

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My inbox brought me the following press release this month:

AURORA, Illinois (March 08, 2016) – A demo to the upcoming text adventure game Lifestream is now available for the PC.  It allows players to play through the game’s entire prologue and is available for download at www.storycentricworlds.com/lifestream.html. 

In addition, Lifestream has launched on Steam GreenlightTM.  The game’s developer, Unimatrix Productions, is asking for the community’s help in voting for the game, which can be done at steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=639982476.

Lifestream is a haunting text adventure in which players take on the role of both Randolph and his son, John, in their search for an enigmatic realm known only as “the Lifestream.”  The game represents the pinnacle of interactive fiction, combining classic room-based explorative text game mechanics with a stylish graphical interface and plenty of modern bells and whistles like pictures and sound.  The result is an engine that looks and feels contemporary while remaining true to the essence of interactive fiction. 

The site goes on to explain that this is one game of many to come, and that the tool is also intended to be released for other users.

From the screenshots on the site, I’m not sure I agree that it looks contemporary, exactly — there appear to be a bunch of menu and inventory buttons that remind me more of late 80s/early 90s experiments with freeing the form from parser input. But as the demo is PC-only and trying to install it with WINE was asking me for permissions I wasn’t sure I wanted to grant, I haven’t played it myself.

I do think that there’s room for more tools that link trad IF methods with attractive output wrappers, though that itself brings some challenges. Part of what we tend to recognize as attractive in an app front end is “customized, not the same old standard thing,” which I think is why people have such a visceral reaction to many of the standard Twine templates even when they don’t objectively look horrible by web standards. The fact that we’ve seen them a bunch of times before tends to make us associate a given look with “standard,” and thus with “low-effort,” which in turn devalues the whole property… It’s a tricky problem. But even so, tools that export with UIs that could make plausible Steam and app store screenshots is a definite plus.

I wish the underlying tool/site/brand were named something else: Storycentric, StoryNexus, StoryStylus… the StoryThing tool names are starting to get a bit confusing. Yarn is clever, though also obviously riffing on (or acknowledging its debts to?) Twine.

(See also recently: inkle podcast #3 on naming stuff.)

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Bonus random link because you got this far: ASMR video of a woman fondling a 5 lb gummi bear.

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